Q&A: Big Sean on new album, 'romance' with Jhené Aiko

Patrick Ryan
Big Sean, 28, sat down with USA TODAY Jan. 31 in New York to discuss his new album, 'I Decided.'

NEW YORK — Big Sean is certainly living up to his name.

Nearly two years after he scored his first No. 1 album in Dark Sky Paradise, the Detroit rapper (real name: Sean Anderson) just notched his highest-charting solo song with Bounce Back, which sits at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The swaggering, motivational hit is the first single off Sean's latest I Decided., out Friday, which boasts a star-studded guest list including Eminem, Migos, Jeremih and Twenty88 (his duo with R&B singer Jhené Aiko).

Sean, 28, who is Grammy-nominated for album of the year as a featured artist on Justin Bieber's Purpose, caught up with USA TODAY to discuss the concept album and working with his G.O.O.D. Music label head Kanye West:

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Q: Why the title I Decided.

A: I Decided. is definitive. I put a period at the end to emphasize that my whole life changed when I decided that all the decisions I've made — right or wrong — are the reasons I'm in the place I'm at. The story of the album is basically going through your whole life and feeling like you dropped the ball when it came to family, to love, to fulfilling your dreams. Then you somehow get a chance to get it all right and it goes back to current-day me, but I've got the wisdom of my older self. How I came up with that concept is that's how I really feel. And I feel like in 2017, with all the craziness we've got now, that's the way that people should be thinking. Hopefully it gives some inspiration or wisdom.

Q: Coming off the critical and commercial success of Dark Sky Paradise, how'd that affect the direction you wanted to take on I Decided.?

A: Dark Sky Paradise was definitely a blueprint for my next few albums: how I made them and just the process. Cutting all the extra-ness out, as far as people telling me what I should and shouldn't do. All it should be about is how you feel and how you want people to feel, and telling the stories you go through. You put your privacy on the line in hopes of people finding something to relate and hold on to.

Q: Although Kanye doesn't have a guest verse on the album, what kind of role did he play behind the scenes? 

A: For Bounce Back, he added some lyrics to it, and he had great suggestions for songs like Sunday Morning Jetpack and Owe Me. His presence is very much felt on the album, but Kanye got a lot going on. He has a family and his own music career, so it's not like he can sit in the studio and hold his artists' hands. But it's tight that he trusts me enough to stand on my own two feet and give me the little advice that he does, because the little time he does spend on something goes a long way.

Q: On your last album, you rapped about your grandmother's death (One Man Can Change the World). Did any particular experiences inspire songs here? 

A: Inspire Me is about my mom. Not just how much I love her, but how much better I have to do when it comes to her and really putting effort into your family. That's something I feel I lack in a bit sometimes, you get so consumed. Being awesome parents, they understand, but I thought my mom was owed a song about me and her, because I feel that's a story some people can relate to. It's one of my favorite songs on the album and one of the most special songs I've ever made.

Big Sean, Jhené Aiko 'bring out the best' in each other

Q: You and Jhené have collaborated many times in the past, on each other's songs and your Twenty88 joint EP last year. Why do you think you work so well together? 

A: Well, our chemistry in music. And obviously, we have chemistry outside of music — romance. It's undeniable. Her writing is crazy good and some of the stuff she says blows my mind. Everybody I work with, I have a personal relationship with. I never really do stuff with people that I don't know well. I respect her as an artist and she respects me. I just think it's cool to do that kind of stuff, it's like Marvel Universe. It's like when Captain America pops up in Iron Man's movies. Sometimes you have to create those types of worlds for yourself in music — at least that's how I look at it.

Big Sean poses for a portrait Jan. 31 in New York. His new album, 'I Decided.,' is out Friday.