Originally published for The Skinny.
Big Sean tells us about collaborating with Migos, how Twenty88 feels like a Marvel comic book, and embracing spirituality on his new album I Decided.
The Skinny: The new album I Decided. feels like a real turning point for you and you’ve talked a lot about how you feel like it’s a big moment in your career. Was there a moment where you felt like it was really going the way you wanted?
Big Sean: It was a tough road for this album. There were times where it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go but then it just all fell into place. That’s the fun part of it all sometimes, just figuring it out and learning from the whole process. That was definitely something that we experienced while making it. It was fun though, altogether. I’m looking forward to just taking everything I learned and applying it to my next one. It was a turning point though, for sure, in my life.
Was there any particular reason for that?
Well, I feel like the album before this – Dark Sky Paradise – was a monumental point in my life as well. This one was definitely an expansion on that album, it was a progression. I just felt good about the music I was making – what I learned from Dark Sky Paradise was just to do what you feel and follow your heart and not give a fuck about what people say as long as you get your vision out. That’s kind of what we did here so it was great.
I’m glad I took my time with it and I’m not slowing down at all. I’m ready to keep going… I just feel like I’m growing as a person and I guess that also affects my art because it’s what I do.
There are a lot of spiritual elements to the album, especially in the lyrics. Have you always been quite a spiritual person?
I have been a spiritual person for a long time. On my last album, I had songs like Blessings; I guess I’ve just been rapping about it more and embracing it more publically. But I meditate every day, or at least I try to. There’s no way that there’s any other reason that all these blessings keep happening to me, except for God and that’s why I got kind of into it. I try to live as righteous as possible because I believe in all that spiritual stuff. I believe in God and I feel like God gives me the inspiration to make music and gives me ideas.
You recently released the video for Halfway Off the Balcony – is there a link between the video and the album cover?
Yeah, there is. The vibe of the album cover and the concept of the older self guiding me and being a part of me, talking to myself and all of these different ideas and tones; we decided to put in that video. That was definitely something we thought about. Andy Hines, the director, executed it pretty well.
The videos from the new album seem to incorporate a lot of technicolour elements – was that intentional?
It’s something that we sit down and actively think about. Every album we try and put our creative minds to the test. Sometimes all the videos will be a certain way and sometimes they won’t but we always put an effort into it. I have a creative team and we sit down and go over everything – how to make the best possible music and videos and live shows and performances we can with what we have.
What were the kind of themes you were going for with this album?
Well, the storyline of the album is that you’re going through life and you’re failing at everything, then you get a second chance and start going through it again. At the beginning of the album, you’re dealing with realising your inner strength and all you need is what’s inside you and you Bounce Back from all the fucking losses you’re putting in, you’re charged up, you don’t need No Favours.
Then you go into the second part of the album, where you’re going after your one true love and you Jump Out The Window, you’re having fun and then all of a sudden it’s not going the way you planned. Then you go into the part of the album that’s a little darker, kind of like a depressive state of mind, you’re not really answering calls from your family or your mom. But then your family and God is eventually going to lift you up out of that rut and you finish off the album, realising it’s Bigger Than Me.
Those are all the underlying stories of the album but I did that just so people could walk away with some type of inspiration. I really feel like that’s needed today in music. There are a lot of inspiring artists and people; I just wanted to feel like I added to that. For 2017, I wanted to give something to people that they could hold on to, or feel like they could be the best versions of themselves, get them motivated a little. Even with the merchandise, really making the merch fit with the music, so certain lines like, ‘The underdog just turned into the wolf’… I know what it’s like to be the underdog and feel your full potential not being executed so I wanted to make sure we got that across too.
You collaborated with [Georgia hip-hop trio] Migos on the album’s stand-out track Sacrifices – how did that come about?
I met up with them a while ago before that, just to kick it, and they told me how much they respect me. I remember Quavo was like, “Man, you’re one of the people we look up to in this rap game. We fuck with you.” I thought that was really cool and obviously I’ve got crazy respect for them too. It was a natural thing. I was in the studio with Metro [Boomin; producer/DJ from St Louis] working and I was like, “Man, I think the Migos would be hard on this song,” so we sent it to them the next day and they sent it back a day or two later and that was it.
That was the last song we made for the album too. It was the last week of the album and I felt like there was something missing but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then I went to the studio late night – it was funny because I hit up Metro and he was in the same city as me; he was leaving in the morning and it was like 2am but I was like, “Fuck it, I’ve got to just come through.” So we ended up working until he left for his trip the next day. That’s how Sacrifices came about, it’s one of my favourites.
You’ve said that you plan to release another Twenty88 [Sean’s side project with girlfriend Jhené Aiko] album at some point – have you started working on that yet?
Yeah, it’s getting worked on for sure. It should be ready soon, hopefully. Jhene’s working on her album too though.
You’ve collaborated together a lot in the past but why did you decide at that point to do a full project together?
It was just a ‘why not’ type of thing. We were making music and the chemistry was undeniable. We had so many songs we did that I wouldn’t use for my album and she probably wouldn’t necessarily use them all for her album. It was like, we’re not just going to hold on to this, so we figured out a way to give it to the fans and create a whole other world in our universe, aside from me and aside from her, so we decided to make a group.
It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. It’s one of the coolest experiences to be in a group, especially with somebody you care about. It reminds me of Marvel comic books, like Iron Man, Captain America movies and stuff like that. I think it’s cool to create all these different worlds in your own universe. I was really excited that she wanted to do it too.
Do you have any plans to tour the new album in the UK?
We’ve been talking about that. I love the UK. I plan on making it over there, so I’m sure we’ll announce it soon. I had a great time there last year when I was touring with Rihanna and doing all those festivals. It was a great experience. I plan on it, it’s going to be something crazy.
I Decided. is out now via GOOD/Def Jam