It's been a decade since Kanye West introduced Big Sean to the world by signing him to his G.O.O.D. Music label. He's since proven he's more than just a protégée, developing a sound of his own and releasing four studio albums—the most recent of which, I Decided., dropped last week.
Following the release of I Decided., we sat down with Sean to talk about his new work, why he's trying to be vulnerable through his music and what it's really like to work with Eminem.
TIME: I Decided. is your fourth studio album — what was the motivation behind making it?
Big Sean: I feel like my whole life changed when "I decided." That’s why I put the period on the end of it because it’s definitive. You go through life and you make the right or wrong decisions, but one decision could alter your whole life or your whole journey. So the album has a story to it and it’s based off the decisions that I can say I made myself. The concept is on the cover — the current version of me to the left and the older version of me to the right. I always think to myself, “what if I failed at everything that I did?" From love to a job to my family — and then I think then, what if this is my chance, that God gave me another chance to get it all right. So that’s just personally how I feel in real life, so it was really easy for me to incorporate it into the album.
Were there any things that happened in your life that led you to this conclusion?
I was looking to show a progression from Dark Sky Paradise, my last album, and I was trying to find a way to do that besides just trying to make better music. I wanted there to be a message behind it too. And that’s what happened. It just fell into place.
From listening to some of the songs, it seems like this album is really personal and at times, vulnerable. Is that different from your past work?
I made the commitment to lay it all out on the table as an artist. It’s a sacrifice and a privilege to be able to do that. It’s a privilege to be able to talk about my life, it’s therapeutic for me. If I can motivate somebody else or excite somebody else or inspire somebody else, that’s the whole purpose of it. The process is just me being real with myself on every song. I also always meditate before I go to the studio — I feel like it’s a spiritual process, the inspiration kind of goes through you. I don’t even write my raps, I just get in the booth and think them.
You don’t write them beforehand?
Not necessarily a freestyle process, but I’ll think of one line, I think of the next line, I just kind of lay it down, do a little more.
You’ve collaborated with Eminem, a fellow Detroiter before, but what was it like working with him for "No Favors" on this album?
It meant a lot to me because it was my album. Last time, it was for his project, which was an honor too, but I’m just happy that he got to be a part of it. It means so much to me and to our city, I feel like it’s going to be big. Just the things he’s talking about on there and brought to the table were things that definitely needed to be said. I was glad that he could bring that perspective to it. The true meaning of a feature is to add something that’s not already there to a song and he more than did that.
What do you hope your listeners will get from this album?
I hope they’ll get the inspiration that I tried to put into the music without it being too preachy. I tried to do it in a way where I didn’t sacrifice the essence of listening to music without having to think too hard, but also getting the message across. Hopefully, they’re able to take this music and live with it in ways that just help inspire them, especially in times like this when we need it.