Sean is slightly groggy after having just woken up from a quick nap on the flight from Van Nuys, California, to Las Vegas. He’ll return home right after the Drai’s show to his 4,500-square-foot, five-bedroom, mock-Mediterranean estate filled with arcade games, abstract paintings, and a Big Sean slot machine.
The platinum album he’s alluding to was 2015’s Dark Sky Paradise, where Sean directly confronted the death of his grandmother, his tabloid breakup with Naya Rivera, and subsequent relationship with Ariana Grande. A thoughtful consideration of his Detroit roots, his place in the world and the pop firmament at large. Complex named it the sixth best album of the year, hailing it as “wonderfully plainspoken, impassioned, and dynamic.” In our conversation, he mentions that he’s already at work on the follow-up to I Decided—plus another undisclosed project that he can’t discuss.
“As artists, we sacrifice our personal lives, our story, our everything,” Sean says. “If you listen to my songs, you know that my grandma died and that she was a Captain in World War II and one of the first female black police officers in Detroit. You know about my mom. You know who I broke up with…you know it all.”
The rapper-as-motivational figure has been with us even before Outkast told us to “get up, get out, and get something,” but Sean’s connection with fans is practically umbilical. Whether you love or hate him, it’s hard not be struck by his unstinting positivity and optimism. The ethos can get almost evangelical at times, but he’s spent a substantial portion of his time and energy to make that attitude more than lip service.
Run by his mother, the Sean Anderson Foundation partnered with Adidas to build a state-of-the-art studio at his old high school. They’ve also created a Mogul Prep program, in which music industry professionals visit Detroit High Schools to tell their stories and various secrets of surviving and thriving in the business. Sean readily admits that not everyone graduates to getting six figures a show, but there’s an array of music-related jobs available from publicist to stylist, manager to video director.
We talk for a few more moments about the future. About how he sees himself as someone with a long way to still go, someone who continues to have a ton of untapped potential and refuses stasis. You understand why he made it this far. Even at a career zenith, he’s relentlessly dedicated to self-improvement.
“I want to be remembered as someone who stood for something… someone who did right by the city, who gave back,” Sean says. “Someone that people didn’t expect to go as far as he did—that makes the story even better.”
Then the publicist flashes that unmistakable “wrap it up” hand gesture. It’s time for the Drai’s performance. Sean shakes off the last bit of exhaustion and slowly ambles out the door, down the elevator, downstairs to the deafening crowd. He plays the hits, one after the other, including “Blessings,” which might as well be a personal mantra. Few are this fortunate, even fewer are so appreciative.