It’s been exactly a week since Big Sean dropped his debut album, Finally Famous. Now, he’s on set in Chelsea to film the Hype Williams-directed video for his Kanye West-featuring single, “Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay.” While Kanye films his segment of the video, Sean and his stylist settle on a screaming-loud, all-yellow outfit, with a couple of Jesus pieces and gold pinky rings for full effect. Patience has been a virtue of the 23-year-old Detroit rapper, who signed with West’s G.O.O.D. Music label a few years back, and who released a series of Finally Famous mixtapes before finally getting the chance to drop his official LP. It debuted at no. 3 on the charts.
Before he’s summoned back to the set, Sean casually drapes a nearby fur accessory over his head, and settles down to answer a few questions. It’s been a big week. Is he feeling any nerves at all? “Nah. I’m about to kill it.”
It’s been a long countdown to your official album release. How were you feeling the day of? The day my album came out I had a show in Vegas and I spent about $5,000 on flights and hotels to get my mom, dad, brother, and my best friends out there. It was worth it because it was just that one moment. The show was great and I wasn’t thinking, so when it hit 12am EST time, I realized that my album had just come out. It was right after I got off stage and my mom was in her special balcony section, so I went to her and hugged her and cried in front of all these fans. I think I was crying on her arms for about 15 minutes like a little baby. I was holding her and my dad and crying with both of them. That was probably the best day of my life, straight up.
So June 28 lived up to all of your expectations? Yeah man. We went to the club and got drunk as hell afterward. It was me, Wiz Khalifa, my family—my mom and dad were in the club with me—with like six bottles of champagne and Patron. It was crazy man, my mom and dad were hanging with me, I couldn’t believe it. We went out to eat after that. It was like 4 in the morning and I was tired as hell, but they were more awake than me.
Did the high continue when you woke up the next day? I was still working the day the album came out. I’m never satisfied. Not till I sell like a million in the first week, or until I’m the biggest artist on earth. I think the timing is meant to be, because my whole journey and the work on this album have been really humbling.
Now that you’re officially ‘finally famous,’ will the Finally Famous title stick around? I’ve been ‘finally famous’ since I was 17, but I just had to let the world know. It’s a lifestyle, it’s a way of living, I’m not saying it in the sense of “yeaah I’m famous,” I’m saying it in the sense of getting recognized for doing what I do, and I put “finally” in front of it because we worked our asses off. I think I’m going to call the next album Finally Famous with a subtitle. Just like I did the first three mixtapes with Finally Famous, I might do the first three albums as Finally Famous as well.
You also shed a few tears at your album preview session in NYC a few weeks ago. Did you expect to get so choked up that night? I didn’t, but everything has seemed so far away at times. There were a lot of people in the audience, like Kanye, of course, who’s the head of my label, along with the whole Def Jam crew, all of the radio stations, all of these cool people…but what got me choked up was my friends being there. I just flashed back to high school, before Kanye or before anything was in play, with us talking about all the things we wanted to do. We always had the belief, like ‘man, we’re going to be big one day,’ and it was powerful to see them there with me. I’m not like a super sensitive dude or anything like that, but with tears of joy…sometimes you can’t even control it.
Do you have the drive and discipline to become the “biggest artist on earth?” Hell yeah I do. I’m gonna prove myself man, I’m gonna go hard. I’m gonna have a new album in less than a year, a new mixtape out in a couple weeks, and I’m still doing other tapes for other people. I’m gonna be that rapper. When I was looking at Biggie and Pac coming up, I wanted to be like them, and I’m going to be like for the younger generation. Somebody’s got to step up and do it.
What have you learned from the music industry crowd you run with these days? People like No I.D., Kanye, and Pharrell have shared their knowledge with me. I learned a lot of lessons just as a man on how to act, how not to act, and how to see the potential in music. I really used this album as a learning experience and picked up different lessons on how to make music. There were a lot of last minute deadlines, sample clearances, and stuff like that to deal with, so it wasn’t the exact vision I had, but the point of our lives is always to find perfection in imperfection.
You spread features from artists like Chiddy Bang, Pusha T, and Wiz Khalifa over 16 tracks. Were you worried about having too many guests on your debut? I was really going back and forth because I wanted this to be all me. I wanted to get my story across, the story of a kid who realized what he wanted to do in life, started doing it, and is now living out his dream. He does what young people do—parties hard, loves girls, and just gets high off of life—and I wanted the album to be a soundtrack for young people. If there’s one thing I want to be remembered for, it’s as someone who followed their heart and stood up for what they knew was right, no matter what people said. I’m not going to be 66 years old, wishing that I coulda, woulda, shoulda because whenever you follow your heart, whenever you choose to believe in something, that’s going to give you the best results. The track “Dance (A$$)” is pretty funny because you actually sampled MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” to make it. It’s crazy because that song came together all in my head. I was sitting with the interns producing another track and said, ‘I have an idea for a song man, it’s just gonna be called “Ass.”’ And I just started clapping my hands, like, ‘Ass, ass, ass, ass, ass, bounce now make that motherfucker hammer’ and they were like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy let’s do it.’
You got mobbed at the Adidas store in SoHo a few weeks ago. Have you been able to chart the growth in your fan base over the past few years? Yeah, even Twitter is a good gauge of your fan base. I remember at the beginning of last year I had about 30,000 followers on Twitter and now I have 500,000 or something like that. With every mixtape or new project that I drop, it just gets bigger and bigger, and that’s how I feel like it’s going to keep going. I got bigger off this album and I’ll get bigger off the next thing I drop. We’re going all the way, that’s what G.O.O.D. Music is all about, that’s just what we do.
At your shows, diehard fans usually sport the “Big Sean Look.” Can you describe it? They obviously don’t have the fur, but…. Yeah, not the fur, but I usually have on snapback hats and tisa hats with the POW chains, Jordans or fresh ass Adidas, and the jeans can be any color—black, blue, diamond-studded, as long as they’re fitted and not too baggy. That’s the Big Sean look, with a denim jacket sometimes.
Photos by Matthew Manocherian.