Sociocultural Lessons from Big Sean’s Detroit 2: Deep ReverenceNov 08, 2021
Written by Sabrina Whittaker
Analyze the meaning behind a song that you believe has political or social meaning, and speaks to the black experience
In this piece, we analyze Deep Reverence by Big Sean, featuring the late Nipsey Hussle as an example of black placemaking and its sociopolitical significance. Double-meanings are a longstanding tradition of African American musical heritage, and their use extends to many popular genres today. The source of the song is an album named Detroit 2. To be sure, Detroit is the largest city in Michigan and saw the immigration of black bodies due to manufacturing opportunities last mid-century. Many people refer to it as “motor city” because of its car factories. If you visit Wikipedia, they’ll tell you, “Detroit is known for its contributions to music and as a repository for art, architecture, and design, along with its historical automotive background.”
So, if you're a music-loving entrepreneur, consider learning more about the woman that penned this essay. Her name is Sabrina Whittaker, and her research centers around business development and Black placemaking in the United States.
The introduction to Deep Reverence alerts the listener of the song’s motivations and complexity; it prepares them to search for a deeper meaning. “Look, fuck rap, I’m a street legend; block love me with a deep reverence.”. Rap being the chosen medium, it’s peculiar that Nipsey Hussle begins the song by downing its significance. The line is a literary motif. It’s repeated often and embodies themes discussed in later verses. Throughout the song, Big Sean and Nipsey Hussle help us understand the motif using examples of community building and obstacles to economic development.
Nipsey begins by describing his unusual morning routine, noting that most others might be having breakfast. He repeatedly gives credit to “the streets.” In this context, the streets are a more positive representation of the iconic ghetto; a fictional place thought to exist by Americans without knowledge of the black community. “First, you master grind; then your team catch it.” Nipsey doesn’t care about credit; he wants money, a means for obtaining resources for himself and his community. Nipsey Hussle was not just a rapper. He was also a business owner, philanthropist, and activist from Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he was killed in front of his own Marathon clothing store by a man he’d calmly advised against betraying their community, a gang called the rollin’ 60s.
Nipsey died March 31st, 2020, at the age of 33, a few months before the song’s release on August 25th, 2020. In interviews after the song’s release, Big Sean explains his grief. Nipsey’s death is mentioned in the song and highlighted in the music video. Its mention segues into another lesson, “after what happened to Nipsey, I reached out to Kendrick.” Big Sean is referring to Kendrick Lamar, a fellow rapper and artist who has earned “13 Grammy Awards, two American Music Awards, six Billboard Music Awards, a Brit Award, 11 MTV Video Music Awards, a Pulitzer Prize [for his album Damn], and an Academy Award nomination.”. Big Sean has been nominated for 55 music awards and so far holds 12, including the MTV Movie Awards, the ASCAP Pop Awards, BET Hip Hop Awards, Soul Train Music Awards, and the YouTube Music Awards. They’re incredibly busy people, but considering Nipsey’s death, the need to reconnect was more evident than ever.
Big Sean mentions, “Despite the hit songs, there’s just no escapin.” You don’t have to live in Detroit to understand this. As we know from the works of Zora Neale Hurston, although the sound and appearance of people changes from place to place, some messages are universal. The black experience in the United States is beautifully and tragically universal. The companion to the iconic ghetto construct is the concept of the fictional north, as imagined by black bodies. For these persons, it’s all “the south,” thus expanding Nipsey Hussle’s community to include Big Sean’s community, then again to include all black bodies within the United States (Kendrick Lamar, for example, who is also from Compton, CA). It’s difficult for black bodies to navigate the United States regardless of their success or what they’ve achieved because socially, they’re considered all the same. Hence Big Sean’s line asserting there’s “no escaping.”
“Niggas is bangin’ over blocks that they don’t own, thinkin’ that’s home. Boy, you think that’s where you from? You don’t really know where you from. You don’t know how deep your roots is or what your ancestors had done. So God bless all of the sons and daughters who knew they history so they where to take it farther” – Big Sean
Within Big Sean’s verse, he explains that the conditions he grew up in generated depression and that there were no resources available to help him cope. He explicitly asks how there could be people that don’t know him but hate him. He muses that they must not know his life’s purpose, to give inspiration. Remembering the motif, “block love me with a deep reverence,” we see that Big Sean works to relieve black Americans of cynicism and depression generated by the places they live. This is especially true considering Nipsey’s recent death. The socially linked fate of the black community means that it’s not unusual for a black body to want to help other black bodies as a response to trauma. Their shared experiences encourage the continued use of double-meanings to assist members of the culture with navigating places within the United States.
“Banging over blocks they don’t own” compares Detroit to Compton, another place within black geography and home to Nipsey Hussle and Kendrick Lamar. Following the loss of thought leaders from the sixties to assignation, the Bloods and Crips formed in L.A. as a means of protecting black communities. Ironically, between the years 1985 and 1990, they killed hundreds of their own members. Documents released years later show the FBI’s involvement. Although one could speculate why this happened, the critical takeaway is that it was in the FBI’s best interest to instigate these deaths.
A reoccurring phrase alluded to, but not yet discussed within this paper is “I’m the don cause the streets said it.” These lyrics imply the authority of the streets. An untrustworthy or otherwise negative reputation often leads to exclusion within the black community. This brings us to “Mama said it only takes one time to fuck up your whole Wikipedia, and as your son, I can see what kind of light that you see me in.”. Here is another example of the double-meaning we discussed in the introduction. In this verse, shook by Nipsey’s death, Big Sean recognizes his mortality and is encouraged to heed his mother’s advice. He simultaneously acknowledges his role as her son, how being her son influences her warnings, and nods to the life-giving light brought by the sun. Big Sean cites moving his mother to a new, better place as one of his highest achievements. The song concludes with a clip of Nipsey Hussle discussing a possible collaboration with Detroit rappers.
To hear more about Nipsey Hussle’s life and its contribution to the lyrics, listen to Nipsey Hussle’s explanation of his song, Racks In The Middle.
Deep Reference Music Video: https://youtu.be/0L8kRN_bPXM
Deep Reference Official Lyrics & Meaning: https://youtu.be/AbsTCI5D7WA
Deep Reverence Genius Lyrics: https://genius.com/Big-sean-deep-reverence-lyrics
How a Chance Reunion Led to Nipsey Hussle’s Death: https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/9347208/nipsey-hussle-death-timeline
Nipsey Hussle “Racks In The Middle” Official Lyrics & Meaning: https://youtu.be/pBV4tAAHiIM
Kendrick Lamar Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kendrick_Lamar
Big Sean: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Sean
List of Nominated & Held Awards by Big Sean: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_awards_and_nominations_received_by_Big_Sean
Big Sean Goes On a Spiritual Journey While Eating Spicy Wings | Hot Ones: https://youtu.be/4VoqwrEEAZM
U.S. Policy Helps Start Crack Plague Drugs Sold to Gangs; Profits Funded CIA’s Contras: https://www.spokesman.com/stories/1996/aug/21/us-policy-helped-start-crack-plague-drugs-sold-to/
FBI VAULT Blood & Crips Gang: https://vault.fbi.gov/Bloods%20and%20Crips%20Gang%20/Bloods%20and%20Crips%20Gangs%20Part%201%20of%201/view
Zora Neale Hurston: https://youtu.be/O3hqXO3pIrk
Bastards of the Party (History of Bloods & Crips): https://youtu.be/O3hqXO3pIrk