Plus he and Jhené Aiko cozy up in an exclusive photo shoot.
If Jay Z and Beyoncé are music’s foremost power couple, Big Sean and Jhené Aiko are its biggest power non-couple. While the Detroit-bred rapper and his ethereally-voiced best friend are officially circumspect about their relationship status, their debut last year as sexy-slow jam duo Twenty88 has riled up a legion of fans obsessed with their undeniable chemistry. Since the release of that surprise album, the 28-year-olds have also made waves for their stylish-as-hell public appearances. In fact, few couples straddle so well the worlds of trendy streetwear and elegant sportswear—so of course we had to call them up for our Spring issue fashion portfolio featuring the best easygoing tailoring of the season. (On set, Jhené noted that Sean sometimes styled her in his clothes, “when I’m going for the oversize look,” to which Sean replied that Jhené obviously “looks way better” in them.) In the meantime, Sean released his fourth album I Decided at #1 and inked a deal with Puma, and Jhené continues to record her second full-length. We recently caught up with Sean to ask him about his friendship with Jay Z, how to pull off an unconventional suit, and what’s next for him and Jhené. (And stay tuned for the full fashion portfolio, featuring over 20 sartorialists of the moment, later this week.)
GQ Style: I Decided is the first of yours that’s a narrative-driven concept album. Did you wake up one day and say I want to do something different, or did it develop that way?
Big Sean: Every project I try to change it up for the better, show a different side of what I’m creating and the music I’m making or what I’m going through. I feel like Dark Side Paradise was a very good, well-rounded album, but the only reason I Decided has a story to it is just ’cause that was how I was feeling. It was something that was real true to me, and how I truly felt in real life. So I wasn’t out to make a concept album, it kind of like fell into place as the songs developed and ideas developed. But I also felt like it was very right for the time, especially at the beginning of 2017—I wanted to leave that message that when you get yourself right individually, that’s how you really progress and you really boss up at life. I feel like that’s a message that a lot of people needed to hear, and I wasn’t really hearing it that much in music right now, so I just wanted to play my part.
You’re hitting the road in a few weeks. What are you bringing to your first-in-a-while headlining tour? What can fans expect?
Very high production value. I mean we’re playing a lot of theaters, Radio City Music Hall, a lot of venues like that that’re legendary to me. And they’re somewhat intimate too—not that small, but they are intimate. I feel like in any of the venues we’re playing you can feel every single person in there and they can feel your energy. So I’m looking forward to that aspect of it. We really want to give people a show that when they walk away from kind of a similar way we want people to feel when they’re done listening to the album. Like Man, that was just good vibes, a really good feeling, that got me supercharged, ready to take on any shit I gotta deal with, anything coming up. It’s something I’ve never seen done, too, so I’m excited about that.
Never seen done in what way?
I’ve never seen it executed like what we’re doing for the tour—like the concept of it, the story of it, the production of it, the exact setup. It’s really cool. It definitely is a production. Me and my creative team always sit down and try to do something different. I haven’t done a headlining tour in a while, and I think it’s overdue, and I think we really will deliver an experience for people every night.
What does it mean to you to have gotten a Roc-A-Fella chain from Jay Z after I Decided came out?
I thought that was real cool. I’m managed by Roc Nation, so I’m always getting knowledge from him, I get to talk with him, play music with him, stuff like that. I think it was just cool for him to do that, I know he doesn’t give too many of those out. It kind of felt like a respect, you know what I mean? People like Jay Z, they’ve done so much in the game that when they humble themselves and show interest and like spread the stuff that they’ve learned with you, give you the knowledge that they’ve acquired, I think that’s real cool for people who been in the game to do that, for people who’re still getting into it. I just think it was a gesture of respect and love.
“Style is just really how you feel honestly, it’s an extension of how you feel on the inside.”
Can we expect some Big Sean x Puma kicks or apparel this year?
Yeah you can expect an announcement about what the deal actually is soon. There is a partnership between me and Puma. It kinda sucks that it leaked or something, I don’t know how that information got out, but we’ll announce the details soon. It’s just cool to do a partnership where I can grow creatively with. Do the type of things I’ve never been able to do with anybody else. I think it’s cool that they’re giving me that type of opportunity.
You’re clearly pretty tuned in to what’s going on in fashion. Have any designers or brands influenced your style and thinking about the collab? Kanye?
There were definitely influences on me that keep coming up during my life, Kanye, Pharrell—I mean Jay influenced all of us in some way shape or form. But just over the years, you know, style is just really how you feel honestly, it’s an extension of how you feel on the inside. You know what I mean. That’s what I’ve been recognizing more and more, is that when whatever you want to do, what you’re wearing, that’s when you feel the best, not when you’re trying to dress like other people or anybody else. But I definitely get inspiration from Ye, from Pharrell, from Nigo, from a lot of people like that.
You’re known to pull off a tailoring look or two—like at Elton John’s party (or in this shoot). What’s your secret to looking fly in a suit?
That was vintage Gucci. Man, I feel like you gotta stand out when you wear a suit. There has to be something special about it, whether it’s the color, the cut—something you know. You don’t want to just look like a bartender, like you’re serving champagne and shit. You gotta find something that stands out whether it’s the tie, the color—or, if you’re going for a real traditional look just figure out accents and make that work in your favor. If you do wear a classic black tuxedo with a bowtie and a white shirt, how’re you gonna finesse it, what’s going to be the difference, you know? And that’s when you can play with the materials—ok, I’m going to do a black bow-tie, but it’s gonna be, I don’t know, a different material. It’s not going to be cotton or satin… It’s gonna be chinchilla. Just an example, you know what I mean. Something crazy that still looks right. Nothing that looks too ridiculous. That’s just my opinion. But that’s what I try to follow when I wear suits. It has to be something unique, and on top of that it has to fit really well. You have to know what fit you’re going for, whether it’s a looser fit or real tailored, hugging you, sleek type of fit, or even in the middle, you have to know how you want the suit and the tuxedo to fit.
Right, these days you can wear suits super baggy or super slim, or somewhere in the middle, as long as it looks intentional.
The hardest part to pull off about the vintage Gucci [that I wore to Elton John’s party] was the green fabric. I’m from Detroit, so there’s a lot of players in Detroit that wear suits like that, just to events or to go out and party. So I feel really Detroit right there. Rocking that green.
Your favorite color, no?
Green’s my favorite color for sure. And it complimented Jhené’s dress too, I really thought her dress was super cool. I actually based what to wear off of what she was wearing.
That’s the real secret to looking good on the red carpet, is to make your date look good.
What’s next for Twenty88?
I put out my album, obviously she’s working on her album, so Twenty88 is in the works, I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s definitely actively being worked on, and we really, really want to get it out this year for just the fans, the people who appreciated the project and appreciated the effort, ’cause it took a lot of effort to just do something aside from what I was doing and what she was doing. We appreciate the love for it and we look forward to delivering something special. We’re not slowing down.