The sun is beginning to sit low in the sky as Big Sean takes to the stage at Manchester’s Emirates Old Trafford cricket ground. He’s only using a fraction of the mammoth stage that will set the scene for Rihanna’s Anti World Tour show later in the evening, but has the energy, vocal clarity and hits to rock the 26,000 capacity venue with ease. Kicking things off with his verse from recent G.O.O.D Music posse cut ‘Champions’, he walks a tightrope between fan-favourites and hits familiar to the casual listener, from last year’s DJ Mustard-produced ‘IDFWU’ to ‘Mercy’ and ‘Clique’.
It’s been a busy couple of years for the 28-year-old Detroit rapper. He got 2015 off to a flying start with ‘Dark Sky Paradise’ – almost unanimously hailed as his best LP yet – which scored him his first number one on the Billboard 200 and spawned 5 gold singles. He won an MTV VMA for ‘Best Video With A Social Message’ for ‘One Man Can Change The World’, and toured extensively with the likes of J. Cole and Rihanna. This year he followed up by joining forces with R&B singer Jhené Aiko to form a new group, Twenty88, which released their first project in March. And, all the while has been working on his own anticipated 4th album, which is expected to land later this year and has been lauded by collaborators with early insight.
Just before he hit the stage, we caught up with Big Sean to discuss everything from life on the road to Twenty88, his forthcoming solo album to what’s on his bookshelf…
How's this tour been so far? How is warming up for Rihanna on the Anti World Tour?
It's been great. I go on right before her and then Mustard goes on before me. I never would be able to tour Europe on this large of a scale, on stadium status. Not at this point in my career, at least. It's just tight to see that and look forward to that [for myself] and then work towards it like, "Ah, damn, I want to do stadiums myself one day in Europe." I also like performing for people who aren't necessarily my fans, so to say, may not listen to me that well but then at the same time may just be a little familiar. I like to draw them in and be like, "Oh, okay. He's good."
How have you tailored your set towards that kind of crowd then?
Just making sure I get the energy popping. I have a lot of anthems, a lot of songs that carry on pretty well, whether the crowd knows them exactly or not - ‘Clique’, ‘Mercy’, ‘I Don't Fuck With You’ and ‘A$$’, songs like that. But then at the same time I'm still giving them rap because I'm definitely a lyricist. I take pride in that, so I'm still giving them that too.
Last time we spoke, we talked about that clarity that you deliver with the live show, so it works really well for something of this scale. Have you done a stadium tour as big as this before?
No. No way. Arenas is usually the standard. There's only a couple people, like Beyoncé, who does stadiums. I don't even think Rihanna did stadiums in the US, I think she's only doing them here. I'm only on my third album so I got a lot to look forward to but I do rock the arenas, though, and amphitheaters and big crowds, 10,000, 20,000 on my own, and festivals too.
I was thinking about it myself earlier. The last time I saw a show in a stadium was Eminem when I was a teenager. Even Watch The Throne was an arena tour, it’s still very rare that hip-hop artists get to perform in stadiums.
And that's probably the only hip-hop artists who do stadiums, actually. Eminem is the only solo rap act, he's the biggest rapper in the world. Do you know what I mean? Kanye and Jay-Z together, that's about as big as you can get. It is something to look forward to, though. It is something I want to get to.