Big Sean Talks Helping Students Break Into Music Industry
Rapper Big Sean is embarking on an unusual tour next month: instead of storming arenas behind his latest hits — “Bounce Back” has been inside the top 10 for five straight weeks — he will be leading small workshops for middle and high school students in four cities to expand his education initiative named Mogul Prep. The program aims to close the information gap that can hamstring kids, especially those from low-income backgrounds, when it comes to music industry jobs outside of performing.
“That’s the point that these kids need to see: You can still be in the music industry and not necessarily be a performer,” the rapper, whose real name is Sean Anderson, tells Rolling Stone. “When I stand on that stage, there are at least 30 other people that have something to do with me standing there. Business managers, publishers, publicists, agents, booking agents, creative directors, lighting technicians, sound guys — all these different jobs that they don’t teach in high school.”
Mogul Prep is the latest initiative from The Sean Anderson Foundation, which the rapper launched in 2012 in conjunction with his mother, former middle school teacher Myra Anderson. “It does take a little getting used to when your son is your boss,” Mrs. Anderson jokes. “But we get along well.”
The foundation focuses on expanding opportunities for students in and around Anderson’s hometown of Detroit. Last year, the rapper helped put a recording studio in his former high school, Cass Technical, and donated $25,000 to Wayne State University to assist students in need of shelter, childcare or food. In January, during an interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, he announced that his foundation raised roughly $100,000 for victims of the water poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan.
With Mogul Prep, the MC hopes to give a boost to kids who aspire to work in entertainment.
“It’s a cool idea to show [students] all the ins and outs of the industry,” Big Sean explains. “These are jobs that, coming out of high school, are lucrative careers, and also careers that last longer than a performer’s career.
“Long after my career is gone, my lawyer will still be working.”
“We all know that being a singer or rapper is [a] one in a million [chance]; I’ve seen a lot of rappers and singers come and go just since I’ve been in it,” he continues. “But long after my career is gone, my lawyer will still be working.”
From Mrs. Anderson’s perspective as a former educator, Mogul Prep has two primary benefits beyond the career preparation aspect. First, she believes that kids are more likely to come to a class on the music business than a session on traditionally drier topics like U.S. history or literature. “We use the music industry as a hook to get the kids in and get them interested,” she says. “The kids are excited about music and sports. Those are the things that attract them.”
But she also suggests that the Mogul Prep courses may demonstrate how important other classes are, even if a topic like math does not initially seem relevant to a planned career in entertainment. “I was down at Sean’s old high school, and one of the kids there was interested in working for Def Jam,” Mrs. Anderson remembers. “I told him about Kevin Liles, who started as an intern and then was the youngest president at Def Jam: Kevin had told me about how he went into meetings with all these statistics. The music industry, with sales and demographics, is very math-focused. When kids get that goal [of a music business career] in mind, they are inspired to do well in math.”
The Mogul Prep program consists of around 100 hours of material put together by professional curriculum developers. It includes course plans and methods of evaluation that can be used by teachers, an interactive component for students and video interviews with various associates of Big Sean — his tour manager, business manager and more — who discuss their experiences on the job.
Big Sean and his mother tested the program in Detroit in 2015 with around 300 students. On his upcoming tour, the rapper will host another Mogul Prep event in Detroit and also introduce the program to groups of students in Silver Spring, Maryland, Atlanta and Miami. Those in attendance will hear the stories of Sarah Roundtree and Towalame Austin, from the entertainment company Roc Nation, Big Sean’s production manager Maceo Price, his DJ Mo Beatz and Mike Carson, who serves as the rapper’s creative director.
The program is not solely dependent on Big Sean’s tour schedule; interested schools from other cities can license the Mogul Prep curriculum for $149 per student per year. Since many of the institutions the rapper hopes to reach are in low-income areas, The Sean Anderson Foundation is in the process of obtaining corporate sponsorships to help place the program in schools. This model has worked in the past: Ally Bank, PNC Bank, MGM Grand Detroit and Riverfront Conservatory sponsored Mogul Prep’s 2015 test run, and Adidas helped install the recording studio in Sean’s alma mater. The goal is to have 2,000 students work with Mogul Prep in the fall of 2017, and the foundation will track those students in the future to determine if they go on to college or careers in entertainment.
“It’s a new fresh thing; it’s still in the experimental stage,” the rapper says. “But it’s needed: a way of learning that’s straight to it, no fluff. That’s what kids want in 2017, when our phones and the internet have made everything so direct. You just need to get to the information.”