Interview: Grammy Nominated Rapper Big Sean On His Responsibility To His Community
Recently a photo from Roc Nation’s annual Grammy brunch went viral. Within the picture were a dozen artists including Jay Z, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Swizz Beatz, T.I., Big Sean and several other rappers, producers, music journalists and entrepreneurs. With an estimated net worth of over $1 billion, what should have been a celebratory photo of African American men who have gone from rags to riches, was instead criticized by the internet and some celebrities alike. Many people accused the men in the photo of being selfish with their riches and not investing their money back into the black community.
Having recently interviewed Big Sean for the third time, with two out of three occasions being in a community service setting, I was disheartened by the presumptuous bandwagon that many people had gotten on as it pertains to he and his peers not doing “enough” to give back.In 2016, I interviewed Big Sean while he and DJ Mustard gave out school supplies and backpacks to hundreds of elementary school students in Inglewood, CA.
During this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Big Sean was present at the Ford Foundation’s inaugural “Men Of Courage” event in Los Angeles. With the goal of combating the negative stereotypes that often plague African American men (cue the irony of the brunch photo) the “Men Of Courage” initiative is designed to allow “community leaders to rise up” said Big Sean.
He along with several other celebrity ambassadors including NFL Hall of Famer Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, former Detroit Mayor and NBA Hall of Famer Dave Bing, author Shaka Senghor, venture capitalist Erik Moore along with a room of entrepreneurs, artists, politicians and community activists were on-site for the think tank that took place in a downtown LA art gallery. According to their website, “Men Of Courage” is “committed to advancing the narrative and economic mobility of black men in America”. And in efforts to keep the momentum going following events in Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore and Los Angeles, there’s an opportunity to join the movement by signing up to be a mentor on their website to receive access to future events and resources to support sowing and nurturing relationships with the next generation of men who may be without positive male role models in their lives.
While many young men look to athletes and rappers like Big Sean for the materialistic trappings that come with being an artist, he encourages his fans to look beyond the surface and reframe the way in which they view monetary success. “There are a lot of us that have stepped up and changed our whole family’s trajectory. [We’re] on the right path and we’re just trying to share what we’ve learned along the way” he said.
The Grammy nominee added that his heightened sense of responsibility to pay it forward was instilled within him by his grandmother as well as his parents who experienced the perils of segregation during the Civil Rights era. “I respect everyone that’s standing up for what they believe in…I appreciate not having to go through a lot of the hardships that they went through in order for me to be here today” said Big Sean. In an exclusive interview, he shares his thoughts on Colin Kaepernick, gives insight into what he and his Sean Anderson Foundation are doing for Detroit and why he chose to participate in the “Men Of Courage” movement.
Zon D’Amour: There are a lot of celebrities who prefer to discreetly write checks for those in need. But year round, you’re very hands on when it comes to programming for your Sean Anderson Foundation. Why is it important for you to not only write a check but to also be the face of your non-profit?
Big Sean: Let’s not discount those that just write checks, I do that as well. But nothing compares to face time. Whether you’re doing business or giving back, when you sit face to face with people and see the direct impact you have and the exchange of energies, it just means that much more. And this is that important to me; to be here, to give back and to stand with my mom and my foundation. If I have something to give, I’m going to give it.
ZD: In 2017, your philanthropic work included raising awareness for the Flint water crisis as well as working with DJ Mustard & StateBags to ensure students had school supplies. What are some of your community service plans for 2018?
BS: We want to give more to education in Detroit public schools. Men Of Courage is definitely a big focus for us and just activating men around different communities in different cities. This is the first [event] in LA, we’ve done [events] in Detroit, Baltimore and in Atlanta where we’re letting the community leaders rise up. You gotta understand that they show black men in the world in certain light. In society, they show us in handcuffs, getting beat up, getting beat down, losing our lives, we need to see that but it’s a lot of us also doing things for our communities. There are a lot of us that have stepped up and changed our whole families trajectory. [We’re] on the right path and we’re just trying to share what we’ve learned along the way. That’s the whole purpose behind, “Men Of Courage” and it’s not excluding women at all, I’ve got my mom here with me. We all have our focal points and “Men Of Courage” is about African American men who are changing the community.
“…When someone would tell me something that wasn’t aligned with my future it felt wrong, so I’m thankful for that…”
ZD: Who are some of the people that have done courageous things in your life to help put you in the position that you’re in today?
BS: Too many people! I’ve got a lot of people that I’m thankful for that have helped me out and I’ve helped them as well in many ways. Of course my family: mom, dad, grandma. Of course Kanye, executives at Def Jam and LA Reid. There are a lot of people that took a chance on me and took time to nurture me like my principal and my English teacher.
There are also a lot of people that gave me negativity and told me [rapping] was a waste of time. That this was a ‘one in a million shot’ and that I had a better chance of ‘hitting the lottery’. There was all sorts of craziness that I used to hear and I appreciate that as well because whenever someone they would tell me that, it always felt wrong to me. When someone would tell me something that wasn’t aligned with my future it felt wrong, so I’m thankful for that.
ZD: There are a lot of people who criticize Colin Kaepernick despite his selfless commitment to social justice. Similarly, Martin Luther King’s untimely death was as a result of him fighting for injustice. Historically, it seems as if our most courageous leaders have been vilified. So why is it important to still publicly do this type of work even though it may be met with resistance?
BS: Anything worth fighting for is worth standing for. Anything thats worth something is worth your effort, worth the hate, worth the love. Whatever you believe in, you have to stand for it and do what’s right and do what you love. That’s why, I don’t know if that answers the question, but I respect everyone that’s standing up for what they believe in. Especially, like you mentioned, Colin and obviously Martin Luther King Jr. and anybody that’s made it possible for me to stand right here and not have to use the segregated bathroom. There are a lot of stories that my father, my mother and my grandma have shared with me. My father has told me stories about how he used to get beat up. I appreciate not having to go through a lot of the hardships that they went through in order for me to be here today.
“…Anything worth fighting for is worth standing for. Anything thats worth something is worth your effort, worth the hate, worth the love….”