Q+A: Big Sean

by Eric Woodyard / @E_Woodyard

Big Sean, the rapper, is finally famous. Sean Michael Anderson, the basketball player, was once a standout on the hardwood.

Growing up in Detroit, basketball was Sean’s first love. He played seriously in middle school but gave it up to pursue his new passion: hip-hop. His decision turned out to be a smart one. Kanye West’s 23-year-old protege is now one of the hottest young artists in the game.

In June 2011, he released his debut album Finally Famous. Sean’s project featured a pair of No. 1 singles. His hit song “Dance (A$$)” featuring Nicki Minaj, is currently the No. 2 rap song on the Billboard charts.

In the midst of his first world tour, Eric Woodyard of Flint, MI, caught up with Big Sean [and Wizards guard Jordan Crawford to talk hoops, hip-hop, Detroit and more in SLAM 155—Ed.]. The self-proclaimed “Detroit Player” had a lot to say to the Flintstone…

SLAM: How was it to grow up in the D? Talk about your Detroit background a little bit…

Big Sean: Man coming up in the D made me who I am. I feel like Detroit is a city of originality. A city of soul. If you just look at the soul—that it just glows and that it gives out even from the Motown days—and fast forward into people like (producer) J Dilla and just like Eminem. It’s tight now that I can be one of the best that’s from there and help carry the city.

Especially my upbringing, I like lived in the hood on the west side of Detroit off Curtis (Street) between 6 and 7 Mile. But when I was younger, my grandma and mom paid for a private school so I went to a private school every day and I saw a perspective that I think a lot of people didn’t get to see because I would go to school and have best friends that were white, Jewish, black, purple, green, yellow and all different colors and then come home and have my best friends that was hood as hell. So I kind of got a perspective on the city that a lot of people didn’t really get to see so I really think that helped me have a very big mind for what I’m doing now. Kind of early on taught me not to be so one-minded and to always see different sides of things and I feel like that’s kind of how my music is. It’s not one-sided. I go to my shows… I see White people, Black people, Asians, Indians and everybody. You know?

SLAM: Were you into basketball at all growing up in the D? I know y’all got y’all hoopers in the city and y’all are big on basketball…

BS: Yeah, hell yeah. I was a hooper! Before the rap thing I was hooping. In middle school I took my team to the state championship and we won and I was really serious into it. I played point guard and 2 guard but I was also into rapping and I just kind of fell off hooping and really got more into rapping. But yeah, I definitely was a hooper though. I could probably dunk [laughs].

I don’t know if I still can. I had hops.

SLAM: What school were you at?

BS: I went to that private school in Detroit. It’s called the Detroit Waldorf School. DWS.

SLAM: Obviously Detroit has a few pro basketball players. Did you know anything about (Washington Wizards guard) Jordan Crawford back in the day?

BS: I didn’t know anything about him when we were younger but now, though, yeah.

SLAM: I know you had to hear about him dunking on LeBron James. Were you bragging at all about it since he’s from your hometown?

BS: Yeah, you already know I was. But you know LeBron the homie though so I couldn’t brag too hard but hell yeah. I’m proud of him just from doing so well and being from the city.

SLAM: I talked to Jordan Crawford a little bit too and he was telling me that growing up in Detroit, people have that swagger about themselves because it’s so hard to make it. He made some comments this summer saying that he wants to be the greatest of all time and better than Michael Jordan. Obviously you made some similar quotes in your song “Get It” (Ft. Pharrell) when you say you want to be the greatest of all “Bigs” and greatest of all “Seans.” Is that a city thing? Do you guys have a knack for wanting to be the greatest at what you guys do?

BS: Yeah I think just dreaming big and having aspirations is important. So you know I want to be the greatest of all time at what I do and if you’re not trying to be the greatest at what you do then you’re not doing it for real. Detroit is definitely a city of dreamers but Detroit is a hard city though. Detroit’s a city where you have to earn their respect.

They will know somebody who raps better than you—their cousin, their brother—and they’re like I can hoop better than you or do whatever. But once you earn their respect they show you that unconditional love and I think that’s to the point where I’ve gotten. Even when Jay-Z and Kanye West shouted me out at the Watch The Throne tour in the Palace of Auburn Hills. The whole Palace erupted and that brought tears to my eyes because I remember performing at Club Bleu (in Detroit) when it was 30 people in there and they was just pretending like I wasn’t even there and then to be rocking crowds for 12,000 is crazy.

SLAM: How cool is it to be a rookie in the rap game making such a stand from Detroit that they haven’t had from a new artist recently?

BS: That’s a honor to be so accepted with my first album. My first time really out and to have sold so many records. I’ve got all of these gold plaques and stuff and it just means a lot. I can’t explain how thankful I am and I feel like this is just the beginning. I feel like I’m going to take it to new heights every time I do something because that’s how I always do and that’s how I was brought up, that’s how I was raised. So it’s tight to be recognized and for people to even look at me as one of the good rookies. It means a lot for real.

SLAM: I’m from Flint, MI, so we ain’t too far away from Detroit. We have a young artist on the rise, Jon Connor. Have you heard about him?

BS: Oh hell yeah! That’s my homie.

SLAM: So what’s in the works for you now? Are you working on a new album or what?

BS: Yeah, we’re working on new album but first we’re working on the G.O.O.D Music album with me, Kanye, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Sa-Ra, Common and everybody. We’re all putting out a label album. We’re putting that out early next year so y’all can get that in the spring and then my album should be coming out right after that. You can get it in the summertime or late summer and before that I’m going to drop a mixtape too because I feel like the mixtapes is what really put me on and what really got me my following before any of this album stuff. So I’m going to drop another one of those like real soon called F.F.O.E. for Finally Famous Over Everything. So you know we just go hard for real. It ain’t no time to fall off. I’ve been waiting my whole life to get my foot in the door.

SLAM: I have to admit man, I got a little jealous when I watched Nicki Minaj with you in the Dance (A$$) remix video [laughs]. I was looking and going, Wow. How was it working with an artist like her and getting her to dance on you and do all that for the video?

BS: It was great. Nicki’s a hard worker and she’s fine as hell so it was easy for a Detroit player to handle all of that [laughs].