With his new single “My Last” (featuring Chris Brown) climbing the charts and debuting on iTunes today, Big Sean is gearing up to make a big splash with his debut album, Finally Famous: The Album. Born in California but raised in Detroit, Sean got his first taste of fame when he met Kanye West at a local radio station in 2005. ‘Ye eventually took Sean under his wing and signed him to G.O.O.D. Music in 2007. A year later, Sean signed with Island Def Jam as well. That’s when the real work began. Sean started building his buzz on his own using the Internet and releasing his acclaimed Finally Famous mixtape trilogy. Although he doesn’t have a firm release date for his album just yet, he does have a legitimate single out. We caught up with Sean while he was out in L.A. finishing up his album—which he claims is 85% done—to talk about the making of “My Last,” what his mentor No I.D. has taught him, and how he took his career into his own hands.
As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
On his single “My Last” f/ Chris Brown
“It's crazy because that was [one of] the first songs that No I.D. gave me when we started working on the album. He was like, 'Man, do this song.' He gave me the beat and I wasn't feeling it, at all. I was like, ‘Man, I ain't about to do this.’ He was like, 'I swear, if you do this it's gonna be big.' I didn't see his vision at first until I really tried to hear out what he was saying. I told myself I'd do it just to do it. I ended up doing it and it turned out real good. One of the things that taught me was to always see the potential in a song because after I finished the song he made the beat better. He adjusted [the beat] and I loved it. So, that was one of the things I learned working with him and people like Kanye—you gotta see the potential before you're quick to say, ‘No.’
“At first, I was singing all those parts. But it was a little more monotoned. I can sing a little, not as good as Chris Brown. Chris Brown reached out to me, really. He came to one of my shows out of nowhere and I was like, ‘Man, yo what's up?’ He was like, 'What’s up, man?' He told me he really fucked with my music and I'm like, ‘Damn.’ He gave me his number and was like, 'Man, let's work.' At first I thought like, Yeah, whatever. This is Chris Brown, he's on a whole other level. But dude really reached out. We ended up getting into the studio in Miami and we got in the studio in L.A. a few times. I did something for his album and he did something for my album. So you can expect me on his album when that comes out. He's just a real cool guy man, he's really become one of my good friends.”
On feeling abandoned and starting his own movement
“There was one point in my career when I felt like I was abandoned by everybody. [That was] just how I felt. This was around 2008. Kanye was busy all the time, but Kanye is an artist himself. It was just a miscommunication between us. I felt like my management wasn't on point at the time. I was just home in Detroit having to work on music myself. I didn't really know how to do that. I was fresh in the game, I had just gotten signed, and I didn't understand what the hold up [was]. Even at Def Jam I was like, 'Man, why isn't my stuff coming out? What's up with this? Why isn't Kanye making me my single?' There were just a whole bunch of things going through my head, but I just had the completely wrong idea. Def Jam wasn't in the wrong, Kanye wasn't in the wrong, G.O.O.D Music wasn't in the wrong. I realized that it's not that I was abandoned, it's just that I needed to still work like I wasn't signed. They were supporting me as much as they could, but they had nothing to work with, honestly. It was like, 'Man, how you gonna want us to put a single out and we're not gonna make anything off of this? This isn't gonna happen because you have no leverage.' I was strictly signed off talent, but I had to gain my own leverage and I didn't understand that at first.
“I needed to virally pick up. I had an advantage because people would post me on blogs because I had co-signs from Kanye West, Def Jam, and G.O.O.D. Music. Everything I put out, the blogs would put up. When I realized that, I used that to my advantage and helped build my following on my own. And then Kanye came back around and was like, 'You got your own movement going on. Man, that's the shit.' And I saw that he respected that so much more. I'm glad that everything went the way it did because Def Jam really respects me for doing all these sold-out shows and getting my own movement going. And I respect myself as a man, I took it in my own hands. Kanye didn't sign me to hold my hand and walk me through my career. He signed me because he believed in me as an artist and gave me a co-sign. I didn't see that at first. I saw it as him about to hold my hand and I'm about to be the biggest artist because he's the biggest artist, you know? It definitely wasn't like that and I appreciate him more than anything for that.”
On working with Wiz Khalifa on Cabin Fever
“Me and Wiz are homies, that's one of my best friends in this music game. He's a real G. He let me know the other day that he reached out to me in like '07, back on Myspace. I told him I never saw it, but he said he's been fucking with me since then. I always respected him. Years ago, when he came to Detroit to perform I reached out like, ‘If you need anything let me know.’ So, we just been homies for a long time. And I was just at his crib out in L.A. [recently] and we were just kicking it, chilling out, and he was like, 'Man, let's do some music together.' And that's how that happened. Two days later, he put it out. Me and him got a lot more work coming together too.”
On his relationship with No I.D.
“I met No I.D. through Kanye. Kanye took me under his wing when he was working on Graduation before I signed to him. He just took me under his wing and had me in the studio with him and No I.D. was always there. That's Kanye's mentor and he would help out a lot. Then, for a while, No I.D. was appointed the president of G.O.O.D Music. He's not [the president] anymore but he was for a little while. I was one of the acts that he really wanted to work with first. We just had a great working relationship. He's a real O.G. and I'm a young G, so when you’re both G'd up you just can relate on a personal level. And our work started speaking for itself. We just had a click. And a click between an artist and a producer is sometimes hard to find. He's my favorite person to work with. He's definitely been a mentor for me, along with Kanye. They're both my mentors. [No I.D.] sheds a lot of knowledge and he's an example of how somebody in the game should welcome young people. You know, there are some older people that are trying to solidify their spot and they don't wanna share with younger people because they feel like this and that. But he'll have young producers come in and he'll try to show them what’s up. [He’ll] give them game instead of trying to conceal anything from them.
“One thing I learned from him is, when people do you wrong, don't shut them out or become their enemy. Just know them for what they are. Even with friends—I feel like once I started getting a little more popular, some of my friends kinda turned on me a little bit. [They were] thinking I'm supposed to be putting them on too and it's like, ‘Man, I'm not even on myself.’ It was just a real big misunderstanding. [In the business] everybody is not your friend [so] don't get too attached because it's a cold business and people will turn their back on you quick. Don't always be so open to being somebody's friend. Another thing he taught me is to be yourself and not care. You can't forget that music isn't how you feel really. Sometimes, when you get labels behind you, you get wrapped up in this game and you forget to have fun with it. One of the things that he reminded me to do is to just have fun with it.”
On his relationship with Mike Posner
“We knew each other before we were signed. I met him about five years ago when we were seniors in high school. I used to go to this radio station [102.7 FM, a local radio station in Detroit] all the time—that's how I met Kanye. It was through my relationships at the radio station and doing this show called the ‘Friday Night Cypher’ where emcees would rap on air. We'd have to battle each other and we'd rap on air for like 30 minutes. [Mike Posner] was an intern at the radio station. People don't know this, but Mike Posner used to rap. He was a rapper, but he made beats and I was like, ‘Man, what's up on some beats?’ It was crazy because we were complete opposites but we connected. I'm black from the hood, and he's like white, Jewish, and from the suburbs. He had money and I didn't have money, but we still connected on the music level. It's crazy how music can really bring people together and create the best friendships. We’re buddies for real. We're actually gonna do a project together. Either an LP or just a mixtape. It's something we're doing real soon though. I'm not sure if it's gonna be before my album or after, but we'll see. It's for sure gonna happen though.”