His rap name is an oxymoron. Physically, Big Sean is anything but big. His waifish, 5’8″ frame isn’t exactly gargantuan in stature, but there’s no denying that he has a royal flush in his hands. It’s a winning hand which, if played correctly, could turn him into Detroit’s biggest hometown hip-hop hero since Eminem.
Big Sean, born Sean Anderson, is no overnight success. From the time the 17-year-old rapped for Kanye West outside of WHTD-FM 102.7 in 2005 (if only that infamous 16 bars would surface) to his record deal in 2007 with West’s G.O.O.D. Music to 2009’s first installment of Finally Famous Vols. 1-3 mixtape to his 2011 major label debut, his rise to fame is something like that of the tortoise in “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Slow and steady wins the race.
Big Sean’s following continued to grow after he captured the ear of hip-hop heads with his three part mixtape series. The cadence of his versatile voice, the witty punchlines and super duper flow also impressed both Sean’s peers and veteran MCs. Artists he’d once only dreamed of meeting were now co-collaborators. But even with big name features—Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Lupe Fiasco, Rick Ross and his boss—Finally Famous didn’t exactly push the numbers expected of a Kanye protégé. Sure, he debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts when the record was released in June of 2011, but his major label debut has yet to go gold, selling 351,000 copies in the U.S to date. It was back to the drawing board, and that’s when Detroit was born.
Detroit, arguably, is the best mixtape of 2012. The most noticeable difference between the 24-year-old’s debut and his most recent collection of tracks is the palpable sense of hunger he puts on display here. The element of rejecting failure, the necessity of survival (or else its back to the ‘hood) pulls out different material from the rapper, and marks an artistic evolution from his Famous days. Additionally, Detroit showcases his freshest lyrics to date. “I got dreams worth more than my sleep,” he raps on “Life Should Go On.” Sean also took heed to his mentor’s advice who told him, “Your raps is good, but you’ve gotta have your own ad-libs, people gotta know it’s you on a track.” He coined popular phrases like “boi,” “swerve” and “oh, god!” which makes him memorable.
Over the weekend, the rising star performed an hour and 50 minutes at the Palace of Auburn Hills in his hometown, a breakout show in which he was joined by his G.O.O.D. Music compatriots Kanye West and Common. According to Detroit News, Sean is the first Palace alum since Kid Rock and Eminem to make it to this level of mass acceptance in his hometown. “I’m from 7 Mile and just sold out the Palace!” he said. All of Sean’s career highlights and not-so-polished moments have led up to this moment—a moment certain to pique in 2013.
After the highly praised Detroit, the pressure of delivering an immaculate sophomore album is combustible. All eyes are on Sean as he prepares for the release of Hall of Fame early next year. Its first single, “Guap,” dropped last month, but quickly became an afterthought. The single isn’t a song you’d immediately send to the trash bin after downloading, but it’s mostly underwhelming because it isn’t better than anything on Detroit. Fortunately for Sean, the buzz from the highs of 2012—Cruel Summer, Detroit, Palace performance—are enough to set him up for a big 2013. Perhaps even superstardom.
Detroit birthed Motown. At the center of its blue heart is great music. Motown’s heyday has long passed, and the dying industrial city’s vibrancy has been shook to the core with its failing economy. Big Sean is from the impoverished west side of Detroit. Like Eminem, he knows struggle. And like his rap predecessor he has the city behind him, the city that wants to see one of its own succeed on a stage for the world to see.
Sean Michael Anderson has traveled far beyond 7 Mile. With each calculated step he’s shown growth, progress, elevating his star power. In 2013, Big Sean will live up to his name. Big things are on the horizon for the man whose long since learned success in the rap game is not a sprint, but rather, a marathon. Slow and steady wins the race.
[Photo: Getty Images]