4 Lessons From Rapper Big Sean About Success and Seizing Opportunity
Grammy-nominated rapper Sean Anderson, a.k.a. Big Sean, has had two consecutive number-one albums on the Billboard 200 chart, but he knows he couldn’t have reached such success without the support of his crew. From recording engineers to publicists to lawyers, dozens of individuals make his albums and shows possible.
That’s one reason why Sean teamed up with his mother, Myra, a former schoolteacher, to launch Mogul Prep. It’s a curriculum for middle- and high-school students designed to teach them about possible careers in the entertainment industry outside of being the talent onstage. It’s one of the mother-son duo’s many initiatives through the Sean Anderson Foundation, a nonprofit they run together out of their home city of Detroit.
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At four stops on his I Decided tour this April, Big Sean is bringing music industry leaders with him. They’ll take questions from more than 200 students, who will have the chance to outline career pathways for themselves.
He recently spoke with Entrepreneur and shared advice about what it takes to turn passion into success.
1. Have a vision and dedicate yourself to it.
When Sean hosts Mogul Prep events around the country, he says the main values he tries to instill in young people to help them achieve success are vision and dedication.
“Everybody who works for me, if my career ended tomorrow, they would still have jobs,” he says. “There are ways to be in different industries without always being the front person. There are at least 30 people who go into what I do, and that’s something that I feel like isn’t really taught or expressed."
He notes that, in many cases, they aren’t familiar with all of the other jobs that go into supporting a rapper’s career, such as a creative director or a publicist -- although they may have talents suited for those roles. He points out that part of developing a vision is understanding the value in it.
“I think another thing that it really does is it exposes kids to a lot of technical careers,” Myra says. “I think we need to get over the idea that everybody needs to go to college. Or that people who go to college are somehow smarter or something. So many college graduates are getting out now and they can’t find jobs. But a lot of technical careers pay extremely well.”
2. Make it exciting.
Mogul Prep teaches kids about entertainment careers as a gateway for them to learn skills that they may apply in other industries. It’s one thing to tell kids about behind-the-scenes vocational opportunities. It’s another thing for them to hear about those opportunities from Big Sean and his crew.
“It’s something to excite them about school,” Myra says. “The music industry excites kids.”
When it comes to advice for people who have interests or ideas but might not know what their options are or what to do next, Sean has two simple suggestions:
“Do your research,” he says, and “approach it with love.”
3. Embrace your personal brand, but build a strong team.
Many people, once they identify their vision and understand what possibilities lie before them, are inspired to start their own businesses and brands. Sean made a name for himself through his music, and he has a tip for others who find themselves becoming the face of an organization or idea: Don't "be scared of it" and don't "try and bury it.”
Equally important, and tied to the underlying theme of Mogul Prep, is to surround yourself with the right people, he explains.
“It’s a team effort,” he says. “It’s never just me by myself. You have to put your pride aside and make sure you work with other people.”
To that end, Sean says, the people you choose to work with have to be people who share your goals. But be warned that these might not be the people you initially expect.
“All your best friends, the friends you grew up with, aren’t always going to be around you when it comes down to business,” he says.
4. Give back.
Myra and Sean started the Sean Anderson Foundation five years ago. Since then, they’ve participated in several fundraisers, benefit concerts and charitable programs in addition to launching Mogul Prep.
Sean says his mother taught him how important it is "to give back and to boss up and to really be the best that you can be.” The two say they hope that Mogul Prep and any educational programs it inspires will eventually help contribute to reducing high school dropout rates and even the unemployment rate.
“I want to be an inspiration to young people by showing them that hard work and determination pay off,” says Sean’s vision statement on the foundation’s website. “To be an example of what can happen when you follow your dreams and to be an instrument of encouragement for us all to help ourselves and to support one another. Detroit and the entire country have shown me much love and I passionately want to return that love.”