CHICAGO — An aspiring South Side rapper Monday said he was inspired and moved after hearing the candid words of hip-hop star Big Sean over the weekend — even after the Detroit artist warned a crowd that the profession is challenging work with sometimes little reward.
“He said you have to work really hard, and that even when he was sick, they were still working him like a dog," recalled Tomas Arjona, 16, of Englewood, who goes by the stage name "Schoolie." "He kept it real, and a lot of artists don’t share that part of the career.”
Big Sean spoke Saturday at “Behind the Mic,” a lecture series created by the Chicago nonprofit Donda’s House, at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Donda’s House creative director, Grammy winner Che “RhymeFest” Smith, and Kevin Coval, founder of Louder Than A Bomb, conducted a Q&A with the Detroit artist. The Sean Anderson Foundation and the Chicago Track program also sponsored the program.
Big Sean spoke freely about breaking into the industry after he was signed in 2007 by G.O.O.D. Music, Kanye West’s label, only two years after freestyling and sharing his mixtape with the Chicago-born superstar.
But when the Motor City rapper struggled answering an audience member's query about whether hip-hop contributes to the prison pipeline, Big Sean's mother weighed in.
“I think you have to always decide does art reflect the culture or at what point does art lead the culture," Myra Anderson said.
Big Sean told aspiring musicians that they likely won't get rich and advised those who are only looking for money to consider another career.
“I have to pay my manager, my lawyer, my business manager, my tour manager, my publicist. I have to pay another publicist, I have to pay my [record] label, I have to pay all of these people yet I’m the one busting my [butt] every night on the stage,” he said. “There’s money in being a manager, money in being a publicist, and sometimes they make more than the artist.”
After the question-and-answer session, Big Sean told DNAinfo Chicago that his goal wasn’t to dash anyone’s dream of becoming an entertainer.
“People need to know what’s real and what isn’t, because you can get led down the wrong path if you don’t know,” he said.
Attendees said they appreciated his honesty.
Kendall Williams, a 22-year-old Englewood rapper who goes by the stage name “Mos Hiii,” said that Big Sean’s warning to pursue music simply for the money was right on.
“I’m not doing it for the money or the fame, I’m doing it because if I didn’t write music, I would really go crazy,” he said.
Mos Hiii also said that his music is different from many of the other aspiring rappers.
“I have songs that talk the about the violence and the state of [black] communities, but it’s never glorifying it. If anything they are exposing it, shedding light on it to, say hey this is a problem, we’re better than that,” he said.
Arjonas said that listening to Big Sean speak was a “life-changing experience."
“When he said that you have to work really hard to be in the industry, that this job is not for everybody, that set with me,” he said.
Rhymefest praised Big Sean's candor.
“I think it’s important for Big Sean to say there are people that work for me that make more money than me and don’t have to do half the work, so it’s important for young people to hear that so that they’re not one dimensional about their dreams and aspirations,” he said.
Rhymefest said that Donda’s House — started in honor of Kanye West's mom Donda West — wants to bring artists in more frequently and the organization is considering having rapper and record producer Nas as the next "Behind the Mic" guest.
For more details, go to www.dondashouseinc.org.
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