Published Aug 26, 2013After a successful album release party in New York at the top of the month, Exclaim! spoke to Detroit spitter Big Sean about his new album, Hall of Fame, and the journey he's taken as an artist since his debut album. While Big Sean reflects on his growth and dispels a few rumors, he also makes it evident that his sophomore album is just another stepping stone on the way to the top of the music industry.
With this being your second released studio album, how did you curate this album to avoid the infamous "sophomore curse?"
I wanted it to be something that people could really listen to in their darkest times and get spiritual with it, but also have a great time also. I didn't try to over-rap everything; I really just wanted to get the point across that it'd be great music that you could listen to. Some stuff are easy listens, some stuff are more complicated, but all in all, I just wanted to make a great body of work.
How did you find a way to balance that in the album?
I don't know; it's just how I did it. I didn't necessarily find a way or find a method, but it's kinda like... I did whatever I wanted and I wasn't like 'I need this club song, this other song…' It was just what I thought was right. I didn't really think about it too much as to where things would go and how they would do, I just wanted it to be something [that] felt right to me, and I think the album flows really well.
So essentially, it was very organic?
Yeah, definitely. I created songs for the album at one place, which was No I.D.'s studio. We recorded at a few other places but that was the main place we did it at. We had a lot of creative minds and a lot of great tastemakers, and I feel like we made something special.
Likewise, the production seems to explore multiple genres. What was your intention with that?
It was just wanting to try new things. There's one song with Ellie Goulding on it, it kinda sounds like that, but then it has a BLACKstreet vibe to it. It's really kinda trippy, but it's still fun and it still goes together. It's a familiar sound still, and it still sounds like me. That's a song that you can have fun to, that's an easy listen but still quality. I wanted to make something that I could listen [to] without effort. You don't have to listen to that song ten times to digest and understand it. There's a song called "All Figured Out" to where there's not even a chorus on it; it's just harmonies and it sounds like somebody is trying to sing. James Fauntleroy is an amazing writer and is all over the album. He wrote a lot of Justin Timberlake's last album and is working with Drake and everybody. That song on there, "All Figured Out," is something that you may have to go back and listen to. It's making a lot of points, a lot of creative references and it sounds like the chorus is going on, but it's a lot of melodies more so than words. Every song is different in its own way.
There are a lot of heavy features on this album, how did they come about?
I chose who was going to be featured on it by who brought depth to the song, who added to the song or a perspective. That's basically how the features got chose, whether that's Lil Wayne on "Beware" with Jhene Aiko, or... Jhene Aiko brought something to the table on the chorus and Wayne added a perspective that wasn't there on the song. I heard the song before and after Lil Wayne got on it, I enjoyed Lil Wayne's part and I think a lot of people do. That was kinda the process, but even though some people didn't get the featured credit on there, they were big parts of this. Like, Ellie Goulding isn't featured on there, but obviously she's singing the whole chorus. It was just technical reasons as to why she wasn't featured, because a part of it was sampled and all sorts of things like that. Even on the intro, it wouldn't have been the same without Pharrell's vocals on the chorus featured on there and James Fauntleroy's vocals. A lot of people contributed to it but more so on the production elements as additional vocals. But every featured added something to it, from Miguel to Wayne to Jeezy... a lot of people.
It appears as if a lot of this album is extremely personal, and really digs into your past relationships. Why was it important to include this, especially when you're in a "high-profile" relationship now?
It wasn't really going back. I mean, I was making this album when I met Naya. I mean, I've only been dating Naya for maybe five months or something like that, and there's a lot of songs that were already made and I wasn't going to not use them just because of who I'm dating. They tell stories; they told stuff that people could relate too. There's only two songs really, but a lot of people come up to me acting like I made it the whole album...
Which would be?
A song "Ashley" featuring Miguel, and "Beware" has some kinda situations but it's not exactly about my old, old romances to a tee. Some of those scenarios are taken from experience, but were made to tell a story on its own. It does come from a real place, but it's not all autobiographical on "Beware."
The song "First Chain" epitomizes the road to success as a rapper, so for you, when did you realize you were at the top of your game and what signified that?
"First Chain" is something that touches on... it's kinda similar to a song I have called "Fire" in the same sense that it's very soulful and it touches on many stories at once. It's a song that, to me... I talk about Detroit, how crazy things are economically there. Nobody else in Detroit, well there's no other black man from Detroit who's on a platform who can be heard, so I thought that it was my responsibility to make sure that I inform people about my city and my perspective on it, know what I'm saying? Coming up from 6 Mile, there's a little bit of that perspective on "First Chain." I take it back to when my mama used to pick me up from school and to buying her a car and just a lot of things were emotionally great for me. It all goes back to having a "First Chain" record. For somebody else it could be a watch that they used to wear to high school all the time or something you just really had to put on, that was a piece of shine that made you feel better. Like for me, in high school I had a Technomarine watch which costs almost $200 and back then, it was like wearing a Rolex, which was like $20,000. I couldn't leave home without it. Every time I didn't wear it to school I felt crazy and messed up or weird, which is silly, but it's just how it was. So you know, it touches on all those type of things. Nas tells his stories about he was first starting out and Cudi does his thing... it's great; it's a great rap song.
A rumor about a song with Eminem, Royce Da 5'9 and production from Mr. Porter surfaced a while back. Will that be released?
Yeah, you know, hopefully. Eminem is somebody who was in the studio and said 'I admire your album, play it front to back for me,' and he was definitely feeling it. It was one of those great moments for me. Soon you guys are gonna get a Big Sean and Eminem song. Sooner or later, at the right time.
I know Kanye had a lot of input on Pusha's album, so I was wondering what role, if any, he played on 'Hall of Fame.'
Definitely the same. He's definitely somebody who added value to the album in many ways; from advice to his opinions. He even gave me "Fire," the actual track. He didn't produce the track, but he was the one who brought it to the table and was like "Yo, I think this would be great for you. It sounds like a classic Big Sean song". He's always done things like that, always gives great suggestions, always coaching. It definitely wouldn't have been the same without him. That's what he does for a lot of people from Pusha to 2 Chainz, a lot of people he's involved with and cares about.
Was there any one particular piece of advice?
One of them was just not to care, not to give a fuck, nothing like that. At first I was trying to make this album too about me and personal and all this stuff, but I still had songs like "Mona Lisa," which is basically a party song. It doesn't require too much thought, it's just about having all these fine ass girls around you and threesomes and all sorts of wild shit, wild night stuff. And it's like, Kanye's favorite song. It's like a crazy song. He has his ways that he'll always remind me of how to think and not be too critical, not really care or give a fuck. That's something I always kept in mind.
Having recently dropped the video for "Fire" which features Miley Cyrus as the leading lady, a lot of the hip-hop community was confused by your choice and even more confused by the tweets you sent out about it. So for the record, Miley Cyrus represents your music in this video how?
Well she's a good friend, a cool person. I just wanted to do something different for "Fire," I didn't wanna just be on camera rapping. I wanted to tell stories in different ways artistically and metaphorically. The song tells so many stories about making it through your own fire, your own problems and growing up. I start the song saying "I woke up this morning, rolled a joint, got to it / Dealt with real life shit, manned up and got through it." I wanted to find a way to tell this story and she did that. I think she's a representation of someone who's transformed, somebody who's evolved, and somebody who's had heartbreak. I wanted her to be a metaphor for women who have had heartbreak and who came out as beautiful as a rose, and were elegant.
People always look at Miley as pop thing, literally twerking and doing all this other shit and I wanted to show her in a different light and something that's elegant, and like I said, a metaphor for strong people making it through their personal fire and strong women. I think that's what she represented. I wanted to tell the story that I was already telling through the lyrics, so on top of the story I'm telling, I feel like she's telling a different type of story about making it through the fire.
After making this album, do you still think you have something to prove to anyone or to the music industry?
Yeah, I mean there's always stuff to prove. But I didn't come from a perspective of trying to prove myself. Sometimes you gotta to be an artist and express yourself. I didn't become a rapper to prove myself all the time. I mean, I try to prove myself on all these features I do, I try to prove myself on "Clique" or "Burn" or "All Me" with Drake and 2 Chainz. I'll drop more songs where I prove myself and show I'm a good rapper, but I also wanted to make songs. I also wanted to express myself and be an artist without having the pressure of always having to trying to find new flows or do this or do that. I just wanted to do good music and I feel like that's what I accomplished. Of course there's flaws and nothing's perfect; you can work on an album forever if you wanted. But I'll get better next time, and my next album's gonna be better than the last one always. That's something I can promise.