Big Sean, “Tenacious D” (Originally Published December/January 2013)

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Big Sean’s sophomore effort, Hall Of Fame, is finally here. After months of delays, the anticipation was at an all-time high. Of course, Sean wasn’t sweating it and delivered an album that is his best work yet. Earlier this year, we followed Sean around during his first solo cover shoot for XXL. While he’s working hard towards becoming the face of the D, the city is still ridden with financial problems. Read on to find out how his hometown’s struggles influences him to becoming “that hero.”

As his city struggles to come back from the brink, the biggest rap star to emerge from Detroit since Eminem wants to be a symbol of hope. Can Big Sean take the weight?

Written By Adam Fleischer
Images By Juco

Big Sean slips a custom-made leather baseball jersey over his head and prepares for his first solo XXL cover shoot. The letters stretching across his chest announce his arrival, an essential aspect of his identity, and a message he brings to the world: D-E-T-R-O-I-T.

A few days later, sinking into an enormous dark blue beanbag in the corner of a room at a studio in the Valley Village section of Los Angeles, Sean talks about his aspirations—what he hopes people will be saying about him years from now. “I think people gonna look back and remember that Detroit player,” he says. “Somebody that was reppin’ the D that hard.”

It’s just after 7 p.m. in the celebrity capital of the world. The 24-year-old rapper is surrounded by flat screen TVs and thousands of dollars in recording equipment. Outside, well-manicured landscapes sit behind blossoming fall foliage, while jammed freeways fill bumper to bumper with shimmering luxury vehicles. Some 2,000-plus miles to the Northeast, though, where Sean is from, the picture is a bit bleaker.

Detroit is suffering like no other major city in this country. Though President Obama’s bailout of the auto industry (and Eminem’s awesome Chrysler commercials that came as a result) breathed a bit of new life into its downtrodden metropolitan headquarters, there’s waning promise in and around Michigan’s largest city these days. Homes are abandoned, jobs are scarce, crime is high. But it does have rap. Big Sean—the native son signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam imprint, has landed five songs in the top five of Billboard’s Rap/Hip-Hop charts in the year and change since his debut album, Finally Famous, hit stores. As he gears up for the release of his sophomore effort, Hall Of Fame: Memoirs Of A Detroit Player, due in early 2013, Sean knows his success shines like a beacon in dark days. As the first rapper from the Motor City to pop on this scale since Eminem did more than a decade ago, he proudly bears the burden of hope.

“It’s deeper than just comin’ up or making money,” he says. “We got the potential and opportunities to change the world—and still have fun with it. It’s a responsibility that I feel like I’m willing to take.”