Big Sean has had a lot to smile about lately. Having scored his third consecutive Number One album on the US Billboard charts with ‘Detroit 2’, the sequel to his acclaimed 2012 mixtape, he’s also announced that he’s launching his own label, Don Life Records. But the reasons to celebrate don’t stop there for the Detroit rapper. After battling a number of personal demons over the past few years, he’s finally in a place of peace thanks to a spiritual cleanse that has resulted in him adopting a new and improved positive mindset.
We caught up with Sean to discuss his new album, his battles with depression and whether that fabled second ‘TWENTY88’ album with Jhené Aiko really is on the way.
Your original ‘Detroit’ mixtape was released in 2012. Why did you feel now is the right time for a sequel?
“Before making ‘Detroit 2’ I was burnt out, mentally. I felt broken on the inside and I needed to take some time out to get myself back on track. For the first time in my life I needed to put myself first, which meant spiritually grounding myself a little bit more.
“When I was meditating, I was going back to parts of my life where I was super-passionate and super-hungry because I felt like I’d lost that a little bit. I started going back to when I was 16 and was doing the Friday night cypher at the radio station and I asked myself why I did that. I went back to when I was 21 and spending all night in the studio. These moments felt similar to when I was making the ‘Detroit’ mixtape, but this time I was coming back with a new and improved version of myself. So it felt only right that I called this project ‘Detroit 2’.”
What was it that made you feel broken inside?
“I was feeling the pressures of the music industry, the pressures I put on myself, and I was just not vibrating on a level that I knew I was meant to be on. I felt out of whack and I just wasn’t happy. It sounds dramatic but it was hard for me to just get through the days. I enjoyed going to sleep so much that I started staying in bed more and more. I didn’t wanna get up and be creative. I still deal with anxiety and I still deal with depression, but I just know how to deal with them a little better now and get through them.”
What have you done to help deal with the anxiety and depression?
“I’ve changed the way I think about things. We’ve lost so many heroes, so many friends: Mac Miller, Nipsey [Hussle], Kobe [Bryant]. A few years back my old assistant committed suicide. There’ve been so many losses. We also lost our freedom in a sense, with us being on lockdown, which made us really have to focus on ourselves. This time made me realise that if God has taken away all these special people and I’m still here then there has to be a reason. I’ve gotta live for that reason and for that purpose.”
On ‘Lucky Me’ there’s a line where you mention buying Slash’s old house. Is that true?
“Yeah, it’s in Beverley Hills and it’s crazy – it even has a night club in it. I renovated the whole house but I kept the night club, even though I’m not really a club guy.”
Did he leave anything behind?
“He left a couple of skulls on the wall that I kept. There’s also this super colourful door that I kept and a big, big painting on one of the staircases. So there’s a couple of things I kept for keepsake just to be like, ‘This is Slash’s’, you know?”
You brought back the skits that featured on the original mixtape, where famous friends recount their experiences in Detroit. Did your dad tell you about meeting Dave Chappelle before Dave told the story on the record?
“Yeah, but it’s really crazy. My dad called me one night while I was in the studio and was like, ‘I was just backstage with Dave Chappelle. Son, he loves your music.’ This was before I met Dave Chappelle and my dad swore he was a fan of mine. My dad can over-exaggerate things sometimes, so I was just like, ‘Okay – cool, dad.’ Then I ran into Dave when I was hopping off a plane one time and one of the first things he said was, ‘Yo man, I love your dad.’ He started telling me the story of how my dad impacted him and how he was a real one. So I immediately called my dad and I had to apologise to him and we laughed about it.”
On ‘Guard Your Heart’ you talk about being conflicted when it comes to relationships with artists who have fallen out, like Kanye West and Jay-Z. How do you manoeuvre that as a friend of both?
“Well, Jay and Ye, they’re brothers. So I always feel like it’s just a matter of time before they figure their relationship out. Kanye obviously introduced me to Jay and he was the one who told me to sign a management deal with Roc Nation. So I feel like there’s really no point in picking sides and getting involved in personal disputes because I personally believe they’ll work them out.”
Eminem is also on your album, appearing on ‘Friday Night Cypher’. How did your relationship begin?
“The first time I linked up with Em was when we did [2014 track] ‘Detroit Vs. Everybody’. Royce [Da 5’9”] was one of the ones who brought us together; he was like a connector. So we went in the studio, it was just me, Em and the engineer. We were eating pizza and debating which was better between South Park and Family Guy.”
Which did Eminem say was better?
“He said South Park was better. I was saying Family Guy was better at the time because I was a huge fan of the show. But in hindsight, South Park has been very clutch. It’s an amazing show.”
Speaking of collaborations, in 2018 you posted a photograph of yourself in the studio with John Mayer. What were you guys working on?
“Me, John and James Fauntleroy did a 17-hour lock-in session. Those guys are legends, man. We came up with some fire ideas that we’ve still gotta finish. I linked up with John one other time after that but we really gotta link back up soon. There’s at least two or three great ideas there.”
What about the follow-up to the follow-up to the 2016 ‘TWENTY88’ album you released with Jhené Aiko, which you keep teasing?
“We were actually talking about it last night. Ideas have definitely been started, but nothing like all the way done. ‘Time In’ was a TWENTY88 track but I loved it so much that I had to use it for ‘Detroit 2’. So, there’s definitely some ideas we’ve started, with her producer Julian [Quan Viet Le]. We’ve definitely got some stuff with Fisticuffs and some stuff with my producers too. It’s definitely there, we just gotta lock in on it.”
– Big Sean’s ‘Detroit 2’ is out now on Def Jam/EMI Records