He’s racked up over 127 million YouTube views rapping about exes and success, but for “One Man Can Change The World,” the third single from his debut album Dark Sky Paradise, Kanye protégé Big Sean finally tapped into something real, right on the heels of Wednesday’s church shooting tragedy in Charleston.
The G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam artist debuted his moving black-and-white music video just two days after Dylann Roof killed nine in a deadly attack on South Carolina’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In it, an elegiac Big Sean appears alongside lyrical imagery of a young African-American child confronted with violence, gangs, and imposing police forces in riot gear, conjuring a maelstrom of social issues ripped straight from the headlines of Ferguson and Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Baltimore’s Freddie Gray.
“The world is a mess right now,” Big Sean told The Daily Beast Friday as the video began trending on Twitter. In one scene eerily evocative of the Charleston tragedy, the 27-year-old Detroit native raps from the pulpit of a church as parishioners mourn a young life taken by violence.
The parallel to Charleston, S.C. is purely coincidental—the video was shot last month in South Central Los Angeles, in just one day—but “I consider the times we’re living in, and I consider what’s affecting me and what I’m going through and will always apply that to my music,” said Big Sean.
Directed with graceful restraint by L.A.-based filmmaker Andrew Hines, the piece finds the “I Don’t Fuck Wit You” and “Blessings” rapper in a reflective mood, joined on the track by Kanye and John Legend. He drops autobiographical verses inspired by his grandmother, Mildred V. Leonard—a WWII veteran who was one of Detroit’s first female police officers and spent 30 years teaching in the city’s public school system.
“It’s really emotional,” he said. “I lost my grandma, I had an older brother who was at one point into the wrong type of things, and I could have easily gone that way. I’ve been through so many personal deaths—of friends, family members—and I wanted to get all of that across.”
“It took me a long time to learn that the effect you have on somebody can be lifelong, it can determine success or failure—especially on somebody so young,” explained Big Sean, who’s currently touring his No.1 Billboard-charting Dark Sky Paradise in Europe. “It got to the point where I stopped being so selfish and started being more selfless. I used to only want to try to be popular and hear my song on the radio to have a hit. It’s way deeper than that now.”
“All I wanted was a hundred million dollars and a bad chick,” Big Sean recalls on “One Man Can Change the World.” Now that he’s landed the popularity, the radio play, and at least a few of those bad chicks is Big Sean primed to step into a more socially conscious phase and earn rap heavyweight status? “I believe in karma. I believe in being a good person because that’s how I was brought up,” he said. “I realized that if you have a platform and a voice, you have to make sure that you do your part to push culture, push society, push everyone forward and put everyone into a way of forward-thinking, because that’s the only way things can get better.”