Before making his fifth studio album, the Detroit-bred MC had to rediscover himself. He speaks to EW about therapy, stepping back from the limelight, early health struggles, and working with Post Malone.

By Alex Suskind
October 15, 2019 at 04:18 PM EDT
Mike Carson

This feature is part of EW’s Fall Music Preview, in the December issue.

When he was 19, Big Sean was diagnosed with a heart condition. “I couldn’t even walk from one side of the room to the other without getting super-tired,” he tells EW. “I passed out once in the shower and got rushed to the emergency room.”

At the time, the future star was just beginning to release music after signing to Kanye West’s GOOD imprint following a chance encounter with the rapper. But Sean’s health issues left him at a precipice, facing a potentially costly and risky surgical procedure. On “Lucky Me,” a track off his upcoming fifth studio album (out this fall), the 33-year-old MC addresses the moment for the first time ever, crediting his mother’s holistic view of medicine as a cure:

“Lucky me, I was diagnosed with a heart disease at 19/ Doctors said they had to cut it open put a pacemaker on it to put it back on beat/ ’Til my mother took me to holistic doctors and they prescribed me magnesium for two weeks/ Went back to the regular doctors and they said, ‘Huh? damn, looks like we don’t need to proceed.’”

“I’ve never talked about certain things in my life,” adds Sean, on why he decided to include that story on the record. “It just kind of made me realize I need to really express some of these things.”

Personal reflection plays a major role on his next project, with Sean looking back on his upbringing, his health, and, as he explains here, the recent rediscovery process he went through. It’s all led up to his first solo project since 2017’s I Decided, one that Big Sean hopes brings fans some measure of self-fulfillment. As he explains over the phone from Los Angeles, “I want people to feel like the best version of themselves.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You tried to take a step back from the public eye over the last two years. What has that been like?
BIG SEAN:
 It’s been some of the most important years of my life. There comes a point where you sometimes have to rediscover yourself. I never had the experience of anybody in my family doing that, so I didn’t know how to do it; my dad never had the luxury of taking time off. It’s been a lot of pain. It’s been ups and downs. It’s been me learning a lot. Because at one point I felt like I didn’t even know myself. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t know what I didn’t like and liked. I had become so accustomed to what society was throwing in front of me and telling me what was cool and what wasn’t cool. And I really just had to cut all that out and see how I feel and what I like to do.

Was there a tipping point that made you realize you had to focus on yourself?
Yeah. When I turned 30 and I moved to Slash’s old house in Beverly Hills. It’s like a dream house, a dream neighborhood. And I was the most unhappy I’ve ever been in my life, and that really don’t make sense because these are some of the things that I always wanted. That’s when I realized that all these things that are conditional can’t really give me the unconditional love that I was in dire need of. That you come to a point in life where you realize that the car, the house, whatever it is that you thought you wanted, was just a temporary fix. And what I really was looking for was the fulfillment that only following your heart and being passionate can give you. I took some time to work on myself and I was able to have a good therapist, good mentors… I truthfully feel like it’ll really shine through on the full album.

I feel like there are bits of it on already-released singles like “Overtime” and “Single Again,” where you take a more adult approach to a previous relationship.
Yeah. [The other new single] “Bezerk” is just a fun song that me and Ferg did. I also want to make sure I have fun. One of the things I don’t want to do is just become very preachy like I’m talking over people’s heads.

You know you’re putting out something fun when the Rock shouts your song out while lifting weights.
Yes. Anybody who really hates on the Rock, I just feel got some real issues. Because he’s such a success story, such a good guy, and it was cool for him to be on that frequency and hit me [to tell me] he liked that song.

One of the new tracks off the album is “Wolves,” a collaboration with Post Malone. What’s the story behind that one?
[That song is about] my family growing up. Everybody’s in there, my grandma, my mom, my brother — it’s like they were a pack of wolves and they were the sweetest and strongest. It’s one of my favorites on the album.

How did you and Post connect for it?
Post Malone heard it early. I ran into him at a restaurant, and we were kicking it. It was like a mutual-respect-type of exchange. We were both working, so I’m like, “I got this song. See what you think.” When I sent it to him he was like, “Man, this is incredible. I have to, let’s do it.” A$AP Rocky is on there too, at the very beginning just doing some ad-libs.

I thought that sounded like Rocky’s voice.
Rocky had a verse on [the song originally], but he ended up doing the verse to another song that he and I felt fit a little better with the album. That’s another song I got with MadeinTYO. But I just kept it dialed-in throughout. There’s a song where Meek Mill just says two lines, and Puff had a couple of lines.

You have an upcoming track called “Lucky Me,” which touches on a lot of personal topics, including the difficulty of dealing with social media as a public figure — something you also do in the video for “Single Again.” Why was it important for you to tackle that?
I just want people to remember to be individuals. Social media is such a great tool. I never want to bash it because it’s definitely helped me be who I am. But I feel like it also can manipulate us. “Oh, he said it. He said and she said it, it must be true.” As opposed to, “Okay, let me use my own intellect and let me really analyze this.” I feel like our communication as people has just been at an all-time low because we’re not talking to each other the same way. There are memes and GIFs and s‑‑‑ that describe some of our moods better than we can, and I think that’s pretty funny sometimes — I love the SpongeBob memes. But at the same time I feel like we also have to make sure we don’t lose the ability to express ourselves.

Did you question using social media again after facing cheating allegations on Twitter in 2017?
I never questioned it. One thing I realized: People will love you and hate you, man. There’s just so many times I’ve been counted out. It’s just people’s opinions, they’re always changing — and you always have the power to tell your story. That’s something I didn’t always have the confidence to do. Sometimes I felt that, “Oh, if I don’t talk about it, then people understand that it’s not true,” and that’s not the case. So I didn’t hesitate on coming back. I just realized that you can’t let everybody make you feel a certain way. Just be in control of your own happiness. Be in control of your own s‑‑‑.

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