'Broken on the inside': How rapper Big Sean battled depression and came out on top

The hip-hop artist seemed to have it all — success, riches, fame — but the reality was a different story.

The hip-hop artist seemed to have it all — success, riches, fame — but the reality was a different story

Man standing in Detroit Pistons shirt.
After battling depression, Big Sean was able to rekindle his passion for music and find a renewed purpose. (Universal Music)

Originally published on Sept. 30, 2020

Warning: article includes discussion of depression and suicide.

From the outside, it seemed like Big Sean was anything but broken.

In 2005, the Detroit rapper was discovered by hip-hop titan Kanye West and later signed to his GOOD Music label, then to Def Jam in 2008 and Roc Nation in 2014.

He released several mixtapes, then went platinum with his debut studio album, 2011's Finally Famous, which peaked at number three on the Billboard 200. His second studio album, 2013's Hall of Fame, hit the same high mark. His next albums, Dark Sky Paradise and I Decided, both went platinum.

His albums feature appearances by many of the biggest names in the business, including Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Pusha T, John Legend, Pharrell, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Tyga and many more.

In 2017, he bought an $8.7 million Beverly Hills mansion that was previously owned by Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash.

WATCH | Big Sean's full interview with Tom Power:

Privately, however, it was a different story: Sean was racked with anxiety and depression. As he puts it, he "felt broken on the inside."

"I bought the house that Slash used to live in and all these beautiful things, and I probably had the most money I've ever had, but I was the most depressed that I've ever been in my life," says Sean in an interview with q host Tom Power. 

On his just-released album Detroit 2, Sean reveals how close he came to taking his own life.

"When I say I had a Glock 17 in my hand, I really did. I don't know why I was feeling like that, but I couldn't stop feeling like it. It was deep," he says.

"And it taught me that all these conditional things are just that. You think you want the watch or the car and all that, right? But those things get old so quick."

'All these emotions just pent up inside of me'

Realizing he needed help, Sean stepped away from music and pursued meditation and spirituality, and started going to therapy — a move that inspired his dad to do the same.

"My grandma was one of the first female Black captains in World War II, and my granddad was in World War II as well," he says.

"So they were amazing people, but they didn't know how to express their emotions, and it trickled down, I feel like, to me," explains Sean.

"So I got confused when I got older and had all these emotions just pent up inside of me and had to figure it out."

One of Sean's primary aims was to rekindle the passion he had for music when he was a teen in Detroit and would go every week to the Friday night cipher, or sleep in the recording studio.

Now his battle with depression, his healing and his return are captured on Detroit 2 — which entered the Billboard 200 chart in the number one spot.

"When I really went back to those times, it relit my passion, and relit my flame and hunger, and I think that it reminded me of when I was working on the Detroit mixtape. So I brought those essences back, but as a new and improved version of myself," says Sean, who is quick to emphasize the battle is ongoing.

"I still feel a lot of the same ways sometimes. I feel like we all do," he says. "But it's just really about how you deal with them and how you're able to get through them and really bring yourself back to your core thoughts."

'Why are you really doing it?'

Of course getting through those tough times can be even tougher when you're a celebrity under the social media glare, where Sean says people often dehumanize and "pick you apart."

"They say 'Smash or pass' or they say 'Man this guy could have done better' or 'What happened to him?' or 'He's cancelled' or 'She's cancelled.' They hold you to these standards that are not even human — and I don't even know if they hold themselves to the same standards," he says.

"And that's kind of weird, because who are we really to judge each other? I grew up going to church and being told that God is the only one that could judge us, you know? So it gets confusing to me."

Still, Sean finds great joy in his craft, and in the responses to his music — especially from people he admires.

"The Rock hit me up and was like, 'Man, that song with you and Post Malone, I had that on repeat in the gym and that one really was pushing me,'" remembers Sean. "Or my aunt hit me up saying, 'You killed this album nephew, you really did.' That made me so happy."

Sean says his primary purpose is to uplift and motivate people, and to inspire them to dance and have a good time, or get in their heads and create.

"You've got to realize, why are you really doing it?" says Sean, who regularly posts inspirational messages on social media.

"I feel like my purpose is to inspire, so if I'm walking in my purpose, and realize that and accept that and I hear that in my music, it's way more fulfilling than any other thing I could ever do."

Written by Jennifer Van Evra. Interview produced by Vanessa Nigro.