Over the past 15 years, I've probably interviewed a thousand rappers. Many of these interviews aired on my college radio station (WZND-FM) and later on the pages of DJBooth, but there are more than a few that never saw the light of day. The Detox of interviews, if you will.
One of these interviews took place in February 2009, with a then recently-signed MC from Detroit by the name of Big Sean.
Sean, who at the time was finishing up his second mixtape, Finally Famous Vol. 2: UKNOWBIGSEAN, was in Chicago for a performance at Wild Hare, a once iconic Wrigleyville reggae venue that shut down in 2013, and his management was kind enough to set aside five minutes before his set for us to chop it up.
We first sat down on a crusty, old couch in a private balcony in the back of the venue, but within seconds of starting the interview, the sound from the stage below made hearing one another impossible. I remember asking Sean's road manager at the time, Gumbo, if there was somewhere else we could go. To my surprise, he suggested we tape the interview in an adjacent family bathroom—you know, the extra-large, unisex bathrooms that have a toilet, a sink, no urinal, and paper towels all over the floor.
I've conducted my fair share of uncomfortable interviews over the years (I once spoke with Big Boi in a dimly-lit studio and I had a back and forth with J. Cole in an alley), but meeting Sean for the first time and interviewing him in a family bathroom takes the cake as the most awkward interview of my career. To Sean's credit, he was totally cool about the chosen setting for our conversation, but it certainly wasn't conducive to creating meaningful dialogue.
Aside from plugging his forthcoming mixtape and debut album and praising DJBooth for our early support of his career—his first feature on our pages was in 2008 when he released "Billionaire"—Sean would answer only two questions. At the time, I didn't believe his answers were worth running in the form of a feature, but nearly nine years later, what the hell, right?
To begin, I asked Sean how he planned to both meet and exceed the expectations that would inevitably follow his signing with G.O.O.D Music.
"I think I'm going to exceed those expectations by being myself," Sean replied. "You don't get signed to a label like G.O.O.D Music for no reason. And it's not a fluke. So I'ma just be myself and give the people everything that I like. Everything that I feel comfortable with. Whether you hear me talking about fresh shit, whether you hear me talking about real shit, relationships—I talk about everything. I'm just giving you me."
Three mixtapes and four solo albums later, Sean has definitely made good on his promise to talk about fresh shit (check), real shit (check) and relationships (and check). Piggybacking off his last thought ("I'm just giving you me."), I asked Sean what, exactly, makes him different than every other MC?
"[Being] authentic, I think," Sean said. "Not to say other people aren't [authentic], but I just know I keep it authentic. All I can offer is me. I'm not going to sit up and be like, 'I'm the greatest, I'm rippin' shit.' I'm just really going to do my best. And that's what I can give people, my best. And this is not a hobby, this is my life. I appreciate you even taking your time to cover this music, music I'm giving the people for free."
To this day, Sean has remained one of the most humble, sincere MCs in the industry, but as his star has grown, so too has his confidence. In several interviews prior to his last full-length release, the Platinum-certified I Decided., Sean was vocal about his desire to be mentioned among the "greatest" MCs in the game.
Whether or not Sean is one of the greatest MCs in hip-hop is certainly up for debate, but one thing is for certain: Sean's success isn't a fluke.