As artists achieve, it’s common for them to lose their edge. Especially in hip-hop. So after stepping out of big brother Kanye West’s shadow last year, dropping a solid debut album, and putting a few solo hit records up on the board, one might assume that Big Sean is too busy shining off one of his several necklaces to worry about what a hater has to say. Wrong. He hears the whispers, and is aware of the critics who clown his beloved ad-libs (“Boi” and recent favorite, “Swerve”) and his colorful, ornate raps. He’s going to change their minds, too.
“I’m going to make people respect it,” Sean said of his grind when Complex pulled him aside at G.O.O.D. Music's cover shoot a few weeks ago. “Everybody who’s not respecting it, they’re going to see. I know they hear me eating up these records. People talk shit like I can’t rap. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
With hits like “My Last” and “Dance (A$$)” from his 2011 debut, Finally Famous, he’s got proof. The coming months will likely provide even more. He’ll be a key player on Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music compilation album, Cruel Summer. And Sean’s dropping his second album in the fall. While at the shoot, he talked about growing as artist under Kanye’s tutelage, when we can expect the single from his sophomore set, and the Cruel Summer album.
Interview by Brad Wete (@BradWete)
Complex: Let’s talk about the spirit of competition. Where will Cruel Summer rank amongst the great hip-hop compilation albums?
Big Sean: I just feel like we're the best. I’ve heard a lot of the collaborations. I’ve heard what people have been doing. Of course you’re going to listen to it and try to make your music the best, so that’s what we’ve been doing—making our music the best it can be. The best quality, the best raps, the best concepts, and it’s going to be unique.
As a crew, G.O.O.D. Music is taking it to levels that really haven’t been done collectively. Kanye is someone who knows how to make classic albums, a true thinker. He got me in the mindset of being a true thinker and always planning out every move you got going.
Your crew isn’t a conventional rap set.
There are a whole bunch of songs on the album that I wonder what the world is going to think, but it really don’t matter. We like it. That’s all that matters. You do what you want to do and if you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you keep hating. We’re going to keep getting this paper. We’re going to keep getting this money, keep buying my mama new stuff, keep sending her those spas because that’s what life’s about.
A lot of people criticize me because I be making up my own words sometimes in raps to rhyme, but I don’t understand how you can criticize someone trying to bring originality to the game.
What’s it like to be around great talents all the time and not always be the top dog?
It’s cool being around my fam, my crew. Everybody got different personalities. Everybody brings something different to the table. Me being from Detroit, I just bring that player aspect. That Detroit player. I always come up with new words, new ad-libs, that “swerve” or, you know, “Oh, God” or that “SMDTMD” [Suck my through my draws]. It’s all fun. It just makes you a better artist when you’re with people who are great artists themselves. Being around Kanye, soaking up all the knowledge, all the stuff he got. Pusha, Teyana, everybody do their thing. I can’t even complain. It’s a blessing to be a part of a group like that.
Is it true that your "Mercy" verse started out as a random freestyle for Kanye?
Yeah, I was really freestyling with Kanye backstage at the Watch the Throne tour and he was like, “Man, you got to say this on the record.” I was like, “Man, I ain’t about to say that. I just put out ‘A$$.’ I don’t need to be talking about no ‘ass-quake, ass-tate.’” But I just laid it to see how it sounded and then for a while, there were no other verses on “Mercy.”
It was just my verse and we were vibing to it, so it naturally fit on there. I don’t really write any of my raps down. The same, Kanye don’t write any of his raps down. Common. It’s easy that way. For me, personally, I figure I will lose some of the inspiration in the time of me writing it down or I’ll say it a certain way because I wrote it a certain way. When I go in there and do it, it’s easier for me.
It must be hard keeping all the ideas in your head. Do you have an iPhone full of recorded ideas?
Yeah, I record on voice memos. I got like 1000 something memos. If I’m in the middle of something and I can’t get it done, I’ll jot it down, but I never write a rap out, ever.