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Detroit Rapper Big Sean Is Using His Music to Break Down Barriers Surrounding Poverty

This September, “music’s next big superstar” will make his first-ever appearance at the Global Citizen Festival in New York.  

That artist is Big Sean, and he’s ready to take the stage — and the world — by storm.

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"I believe as human beings we are much more alike than we are different. Music is able to break through the outer barriers we create to separate ourselves and reach into our inner spirits where we can realize our oneness with one another," Big Sean told Global Citizen.

Born Sean Michael Leonard Anderson, “Big Sean” was raised by his mother and grandmother in Detroit — home to another famous rapper: Eminem.

Rap was a central part of his life growing up: he performed in a weekly show for a local radio stadio and participated in the station’s rap battles. There, he was discovered by rapper Kanye West in 2005 and eventually signed onto GOOD music in 2007.

Nearly a decade later, the four-time-Grammy nominee has produced four studio albums, all of which have landed in the top five on the Billboard charts. His latest album, I Decided., released in February, landed at #1 on Billboard’s top albums of 2017.

No rookie to the music scene or the stage, critics and fans alike feel that Big Sean, age 29, is just beginning to take off. And according to the lyricist himself, he’s won’t be slowing down.

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His latest album relates closely to the fight against extreme poverty. It’s all about empowerment.

“It’s an album that’s for the dreamers, for the people who need that inspiration,” Big Sean told Billboard.

“Hopefully it can uplift them, inspire them, brighten their moods, hopefully they can dance to it, they can cry to it, whatever they want to do,” he said in an interview with Forbes.

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The artist and lyricist wrote songs like “Bounce Back” as inspiration for people looking to “boss up” and achieve new heights and take their world by storm.

Like other artists in this era, Big Sean has not shied away from addressing political and social issues.

“In 2017, it’s definitely necessary and needed right now, especially with all the craziness that’s going on. The concept of the album is really inspiring, so I’m just happy I got to execute it,” he told Forbes back in February.

Through his music, Big Sean frames issues related to poverty in a new light. He raps about violence against women, religious and racial discrimination, and empowerment more broadly.

In his recent music video for the song “Light,” Big Sean shines his light on racial discrimination and gun violence in the United States. He turns the victims of violence and hate crimes — a young girl in the crossfire of neighborhood shooting, two unarmed black teenagers wearing hoodies shot by police officers, and a hijab-wearing woman mugged and stabbed by strangers — into the video’s heroes, who ultimately inspire people to stand up to violence and hate.

The music video was nominated for the newest category of the Video Music Awards (VMAs): “Best Fight Against the System.”

“I’ve collaborated with a lot of great people, but the main focus for me is: What did the music mean? What did the message mean? What did he do for Detroit? He had that platform, what did he do?” Big Sean asked, in an interview with ABC.

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Giving back the to community that raised him has also been a common thread throughout Big Sean’s career.  

He founded the Sean Anderson Foundation in 2012 as a non-profit organization that raises money to improve educational, health care, and safety initiatives for school-aged children in Detroit. His goal for the foundation is simple: to make the live of young people better.

One of Big Sean’s greatest accomplishments through his foundation is Mogul Prep, an educational opportunity for Detroit youth from low-income families to learn the ins and outs of the music industry.

The program began as a one-time panel discussion for 300 high school students in Detroit to learn about careers in the music and entertainment industry. The high school students met with panelists from all areas of the music industry (publishers, row managers, tour managers, creative directors, and more) and to learn more about career opportunities in the industry.

"We received such positive feedback from the students and parents, we discussed how we could go wider and deeper," Big Sean told Global Citizen.

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“Those are long-lasting careers,” Big Sean told ABC. “Those last longer than a lot of artists’ careers. That was something that was never explained or taught to us in high school.”

Much like his own start, Big Sean sees music and entertainment as a way for these students to find a future for themselves that they love and that also helps lift them out of the cycle of poverty. He told Global Citizen that he hoped the program encouraged kids to be excited for school and that the Mogul Prep students came out of the program with the skills and confidence they need to be successful in any industry.

Mogul Prep is just one more way Big Sean is empowering people and making his lasting impact on the world. Soon to take the stage at the Global Citizen festival on September 23, he hopes to uplift and connect more people through his music.