What was it like after you got signed? When you couldn’t even get a job in the mall?
Those were like the worst times of my life. I turned down all my scholarships to school. People thought that I was signed to Kanye, but I wasn’t. I got signed when in 2008, but I met him in 2006. Kanye said he wanted to sign me, but that shit took over a year and a half.

It was even a long process after I got signed because I got signed strictly off talent and not buzz. And he’s on tour and doing all this shit after he told me he wanted to sign me and I’m at home in the hood living with my mom and being broke as fuck.

I was spending my last money on studio sessions. I didn’t have having money for shit, [I was living] bummy as hell trying to put stuff together. But those times taught me so much and made me appreciate these times so much more. I made a lot of good music at that time. Those times are important in life.

My mom was supporting me and I was just making money on little dumb shit, like selling shoes. I was also throwing parties with my crew. We were called Finally Famous. I would scrap up money, throw a party, and get money out of that. And I would perform at all the parties. I would say that I was signed to G.O.O.D Music and I had a little buzz, in the city at least. I used that money to pay for a studio.

I got signed to Def Jam and they were all excited I was working on my shit. Then we had a single, it was time to go, and they weren’t going. I was like, “Man, what is going on?” It was “Getcha Some” but “Getcha Some” came out a year after it was supposed to come out to the point where I hated that shit. Plus, my voice was changing. I was developing as an artist and they put that out, but they didn’t go all the way with it. I was wondering, “What the fuck is going on?”

Gabe—the publicist at Def Jam—was like, “Man, you gotta get your buzz up.” I’m like, “What the fuck you mean? Just shoot this video, put it on TV, put it on the radio, and that’ll get my buzz up.” He’s like, “Nah man you gotta grassroot it.” And I didn’t know what the fuck that meant.

I realized that I had to give them incentive to mess with me as an artist, to get fully behind me. I didn’t have a strong buzz so why would they wanna put out my album over a Young Jeezy or Kanye or Rihanna? But then I realized that any song that I put out was posted on the Internet. I realized, “I could build my own following doing this. Man, fuck a label. I’m just gonna do me.”

I went harder than I ever went even before I got signed to a label. I would pass out CDs, do battles, open mics, shoot little weak ass virals. And it started paying off. I started getting my own fan base when I came out with UKnowBigSean and that raised the stakes a little. Then when I came out with [my last mixtape Finally Famous 3: BIG] that’s when my buzz really got big. And then with a mixture of the BET cypher and good ass looks, people started catching on.

 
When I first started, Kanye used to tell me my music wasn’t good enough. I used to be nervous all the time. Now he tells me I’m the greatest, but it’s something that I’ve really had to earn. He pushed me to my limits musically and that made me the artist who I am today.
 

Did you feel any pressure to add anything to the game when you made up the “Supa Dupa flow?” Do you feel any pressure now to add anything else?
Nah because I feel like when you try to focus on adding something, it never works. It just has to happen. You just gotta be creative and go hard. That Supa Dupa flow, that showed me I have the power to change hip-hop. A lot of people were like, “Man, were you mad that all these people took your shit and you didn’t even get popular off of it?” I’m like, “Man, that was really an honor.”

It was inspiring to know that I’m ill enough to make a style up that people embraced, even though I wasn’t the one to introduce it to the world. I was still the one to introduce it so it was dope. I thought it was dope as hell that Drake gave me credit for it too.

Kanye is a steep measuring stick as an artist. Do you ever feel pressure to live up to his standards and expectations?
Hell yeah. It’s fucking pressure like a motherfucker working with him. Especially when I was first started working with him. I used to always be nervous. He’s fucking Kanye. I used to ride to school listening to him. It’s nerve racking, he’s so harsh and truthful sometimes. He doesn’t hold anything back.

When I first started, he used to tell me my music wasn’t good enough. I used to be nervous all the time. Now he tells me I’m the greatest, but it’s something that I’ve really had to earn. He pushed me to my limits musically and that made me the artist who I am today.

A lot of me wanting to get better is that I always wanted his approval. And he’s a nerve-racking nigga man. He’s a nice guy though, don’t get me wrong. A lot of people get the misconception that he’s not a cool ass nigga. He’s cool as shit. Somebody who would ride me around in his Maybach, get me out the hood, sign me, and allow me to do what I love can never be a true asshole.

Who inspires you, fashion wise?
Don C was one of my [fashion] mentors. Ibn Jasper, Kanye, Nico, and Pharrell. When I first met Kanye, I didn’t really have that much style. I always had a style—it’s just an extension of you—but I didn’t know how to translate the style into my clothes, nor did I have all the money I needed to. [Laughs.] Sometimes you just can’t afford that shit. Even now, there’s a whole bunch of shit I can’t afford so it would be pointless for me to even get it.

When I see a belt that cost over a $1000 I’m like, “Ain’t no way I’m gonna spend like $1000 on a belt.” Even shoes, I’m not about to spend fucking $700 on some shoes, that’s just fucking ridiculous. You can make exception for the Kanye Louis Vuittons, but I ain’t even pay for those.

Has Kanye put you on to anything different art wise?
Nah, Kanye hasn’t put me on to anything art wise. But he’s into all that. It’s funny because he’ll show me some art shit and I’ll be like, “Man, you’re weird as hell.” Me and Kanye are homeys so he’ll just laugh and shit. But it’s cool though. That’s just him. He’s just being unique. That’s what he loves to do.

I’m not really into all that art shit yet. Not to say that it's an older thing, but I’m still young and not even trying to worry about that shit. I like Jordans, I like bitches, and I like fresh shit. So I can definitely see myself getting more into art. Kanye has introduced a lot of people to art, but he didn’t really introduce me to [art yet].

One thing Kanye has introduced me into is stuff like Balmain and gold accessories. That’s one thing he really turned me onto. Like, dope ass gold accessories. It wasn’t until I was around him to where I was like, “Damn, I really want a Rolex.” Or gold ass bracelets that’s fresh as hell. So he turned me on to gold jewelry heavy. Now, I feel like gold jewelry is necessary because I feel like I'm a fucking Pharaoh. You gotta rock gold if you’re a fucking Pharaoh man.

BONUS VIDEO—BIG SEAN TALKS ABOUT BEING "FINALLY FAMOUS":

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