How Big Sean Overcame His Mental Health Struggles — 'Take a Break Before You Need a Break'
"I’m putting myself as a priority and that really speaks volumes," Big Sean tells PEOPLE, "When you do that, you start looking better and feeling better, and being better in everything you do"
Chatting with PEOPLE, as part of his recent partnership with McDonald's Black and Positively Golden Mentors program — in which he mentored 19-year-old aspiring rap star Nyla — Big Sean opened up about how he overcame his recent struggles with mental health.
"You just have to pace yourself and take a break before you need a break," the star, 32, tells PEOPLE. "It gets very real. Especially with a person like me. I live inside my head so much."
"I go over scenarios and I go over two or three things at the same time, and that creates an overwhelming feeling and a lot of anxiety, which leads to depression, which leads to all these things," he explains. "I had to learn how to pace myself. Not to say I still don't go through those things, I definitely do. It's just, now I know how to deal with them."
"I know how to get through them easier and I know what it is [I'm dealing with]. As opposed to before, when I was confused on why I was feeling like that, because nobody ever talked to me about it," adds Big Sean.
In recent months, he's learned to take care of himself, above all else. "I'm putting myself as a priority and that really, really speaks volumes. When you do that, you start looking better, and you start feeling better, and being better in everything you do. So, it's important," says the star.
Through Big Sean's mentorship with Nyla — who has a sparkling personality and contagious smile of her own — the young star-to-be has also learned to nurture her mental health. She tells PEOPLE: "For me, mental health was one of the biggest things I learned from him, because I am a person who will push myself until the wheels fall off, and that is not always a good thing."
"Taking a break and relaxing, and taking time to reactive yourself and start over is definitely the most important lesson I learned from him," she says. "It's okay to take a break." And for Nyla, her most exciting memory as Big Sean's mentee was the moment she saw him pop up onscreen for their virtual conversation. "That was a crazy feeling because I was like, 'Is that who I think it is?'" she says with a laugh.
Big Sean came head-to-head with his own mental health while working on his fifth studio album, Detroit 2. Says the "Wolves" hitmaker: "It was the going through that process, of wanting to grow as an artist the hard way, that did it."
"I've had songs on the radio and I've had club songs, but I was like, 'Okay, when I look back on my life when I'm an old man and I think about 2020, did I do all that I could do in that time when people needed something tangible to hold on to, something inspiring?' What I was saying was, 'When I look back, I want to make sure I did all I could do for my people who needed it.' That's why I made this album, and that's why I have the songs that I have on my album."
On his latest work, one of the most meaningful songs for Big Sean is "Deep Reverence," which features the late Nipsey Hussle — it is one of the last verses that Hussle completed before the rap legend was killed on March 31, 2019. He was 33.
"He was more like my brother. I definitely learned a lot from him," says Big Sean. Their collaboration has earned him a Grammy nomination for best rap performance. "One of the things that hurt so bad about seeing Nipsey go, was that we saw a lot of our best qualities in him. We saw how much he cared about his people and his neighborhood, and how pro-Black business he was. He was about making his own way and being a boss."
Adds Big Sean: "That type of empowerment in the Black community is what we all need, Black or not, but especially the Black community. It hurt to see him go." He says the dynamic duo actually go way back, as far as their teen years in the early aughts.
"One of the things I did learn from him, was to take care of your people and do it for all the right reasons — to be your own boss. He was also into a lot of the health things I'm into, like taking care of yourself."
Big Sean is incredibly proud to be up for a Grammy this year, which marks his sixth nomination. He tells PEOPLE: "It feels great. It feels amazing. The song, 'Deep Reverence,' for me and Nipsey Hussle is such an important rap song, so it's an honor and I appreciate the honor [the Recording Academy] gave me."
Nyla hopes to one day make a song with Big Sean, who supports the new women's movement within the rap industry. "It's their time. I think it's beautiful. I think they're really killing it too," says the rap star.
"I’m happy to be working with Nyla and looking forward to seeing her blossom into a superstar," Big Sean tells PEOPLE. "I'm happy to help her in any way I can. The reality is, coming from where I come from, it rarely happens. The fact that I'm here, and I'm able to provide for my family, and boss up and be who I am — the man I am today — it's a true honor, and I just thank everyone who helped me get here."
Big Sean concludes, "Shout out to McDonald's. Shout out to the Black & Positively Golden Mentors program, and thank you."
If you or someone you know need mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.
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