Big Sean Explains How Rapping For Kanye West Outside a Radio Station Changed His Life

Big Sean at the Hot 100 Music Festival, 2017
Aaron Richter

Big Sean photographed at the Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater on Aug. 19, 2017 in Wantagh, New York.

Festival season is almost over, which may come as disappointing news for music fans and Big Sean alike. Before the Detroit rapper's set at Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle earlier this month, he told Billboard how he loved the festival scene. 

“It’s an energetic exchange of people who got love for you, people who know every single word,” he said. “That’s the greatest honor any artist can have is to share that.”

But before he could see his name in a bigger font on festival fliers, he told us that he struggled to make it to the top.

Growing up in Detroit, he attended a “real artistic school,” he said -- the Detroit Waldorf School: “It was a school that just specialized in being like in tune with yourself, expressing the artistic side of yourself, the poetic side. So, we did poetry. I was the only person in the school turning those poems into raps.” Deservedly, his 8th grade superlative says, “Most Likely to Be a Rapper Actually From Detroit.”

By the time Sean got to high school, he was hustling to make a name for himself as a rapper by selling CDs and rapping at the radio station. Then a DJ told him, “you should go out and holler at Kanye.”

When Sean got his chance to meet Kanye West in 2005, he asked the superstar, “Can I rap for you?” Kanye was late somewhere, but he let Big Sean rap for him while they walked out of the 102.7 FM radio station. “He told me I had 16 bars,” Sean said. “I ended up rapping for 10 minutes and it changed my life.” West would sign him to his record label, GOOD Music, two years later.

Ten minutes before Sean's Bumbershoot Festival performance, he huddled with his crew to pray: “Dear God in the universe, thank you for bringing us together again today to do what we love to do. … Let us give the crowd 110 percent. Let them give us back 120 percent.”

Praise for his fans became a recurring focus of his interview with Billboard. “My fan base is G’d up. You know, they downtown. They think they bosses,” he said. “They’re people who got my back no matter what. They’re beautiful people, and I love every single one.”

When he gets to the stage, his performance is high energy. He’s surrounded by a relatively minimalist setup for a festival stage ornamented with flashing lights and fog machines, but his outsize personality takes over the negative space.

Watch the full Artist Pass video on Snapchat Discover to find out more about Big Sean’s experience as an artist from backstage.