Big Sean’s “IDFWU” has been one of those inescapable songs; a hot jam that seem to touch a nerve in popular culture and latch onto the public consciousness for months. The bitterness of the lyrics and gleefully profane chorus don’t exactly scream pop hit, but the single became the biggest smash of the Detroit rapper’s career.
Sean’s failed relationship to actress Naya Rivera provides the gossip-worthy backdrop to both his smash single and his new album, Dark Sky Paradise, but with a blossoming love affair with pop star Ariana Grande and his ever-controversial mentor Kanye West helping to push his art forward, he says that his outlook isn’t defined by resentment these days.
“I just wanted to do a project where I didn’t have a lot of people up in my ear directing me and trying to act like they know what’s best for me. I know what’s best for me,” Sean says. “I just wanted to keep it real. I was going through so much and I was just telling myself that I go through way too much to not rap about it. I built a studio in my crib after [his 2013 album] Hall of Fame and I decided to take it even more serious than I was already taking it. I thought that I was taking it as seriously as I could, but I got to a point where I was like ‘I really need to dedicate my life to this music.’ That’s what I did.”
The popularity of “IDFWU” wasn’t a total shock to Sean, but he didn’t think the track would become the crossover hit that it became.
“It even got a little bigger than I thought,” he explains. “I saw Gwyneth Paltrow singing it on Jimmy Fallon one time and I said this track is for real. People can relate to just real stuff. That’s what that song showed me, no matter how much cursing is in it or this or that, as long as you keep it real, people are going to support it.”
West’s musical stamp is also all over Sean’s new music. Kanye has never had a problem generating headlines and in recent weeks, Yeezy has come under fire for his controversial remarks following the Grammys and dissing his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose, while also earning raves for the performance of his new track “All Day” at the Brit Awards last week.
Sean admits that Ye’s influence on this album was immense and he says that the G.O.O.D. Music head honcho is in a great place creatively and personally—despite the ongoing roller coaster that is his public image.
“Kanye, since I’ve been signed, has just been going through so much. So many things,” Sean says. “Now I feel like everything is falling perfectly in place for him. His wife, his baby, his clothes, his Adidas situation—everything is going great for him. He’s on a roll. And that just makes everybody around him happier and more productive, including myself. That’s how it is with my team, too. If I’m in a productive mood, I lift everybody around me, too. That’s what he does. With my last album, he was going through a completely different part of his life and I feel like now things are way more in order. Musically, that affects his music, my music, and we’ve had a great relationship, but I feel like it’s stronger than ever. He definitely put his experience on my album. Songs like ‘All Your Faults,’ and ‘One Man Can Change the World.’ It reminds me of like old Roc-A-Fella, but with a new twist on it.”
Of course, Sean and Ariana’s relationship is a big part of his life right now. The two collaborated on the track “Research,” a song that features more jabs at an ex-girlfriend (presumably Naya) who’s been spotted hanging out with everyone from Chris Brown to Meek Mill. The rapper admits that he wanted to do a song together that wasn’t directly about them. No cutesy googly-eyed duets for the Motor City emcee and his superstar boo.
“That’s bae right there. And it was just like simple,” Sean says of their collaboration. “I appreciated her for being down to do a song that ain’t got nothin’ to do with me and her. Sometimes I feel like when you got your girl and you got her on a song and you’re rapping about each other, it can be cool sometimes and sometimes it can be like, ‘OK, we get it.’”
“But I appreciate her because that concept of ‘Research’ is so real and relevant for a lot of people. Even if it’s not necessarily real and relevant to me and her and our situation; I can’t speak for her, but I’ve surely been through situations like that. I feel like we all have. And it was cool to just get that idea off.”
Sean dismisses any notion that he has a fondness for high-profile relationships, having picked up with Adriana so quickly after things went sour with Naya. Despite the scrutiny that comes with having your love life plastered all over gossip sites, Sean says that he and his girl work well together and he wasn’t going to let any media glare sway him from something that felt right.
“It wasn’t planned, y’know? It’s not like I was just like ‘Yeah, I’m about to go right into this,’” he says. “It just happened. It was a natural thing. It wasn’t calculated or nothing. She was just there as a friend and I was there as a friend for her. It just built from there and everything worked out.”
He adds, “We just respect each other. She do what I can’t do, and I do what she can’t do. We just have fun with it. I do want to make more music with her.”