April 21, 2014

Deaf Artist Sean Forbes Reflects on Influences

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Deaf hip hop performer Sean Forbes spoke at Cornell Monday, in an event sponsored by the Cornell University Deaf Awareness Project, which is part of Cornell Public Service. After the event, The Sun interviewed Forbes and asked him about his musical beginnings and commitment to the deaf community.

The Sun: How did you first get involved with music?

Sean Forbes: I grew up in a musical family. My parents were musicians, and I was always surrounded my music from an early age. They made every effort possible to include me.

Sun: What message do you hope to send across to your fans and audience?

S.F.: If a deaf person can go into music then what’s stopping you from what you want to do? That message kind of says it all right there … There were so many people that told me I would never be able to do what I’m doing, and just to be doing it, just to be traveling all over the place and sharing my story with other people, is awesome.

Sun: What are some of the hardships you have had to overcome?

S.F.: What many people would view as hardships I don’t necessarily view the same way. I have tons of haters out there, and I love the haters. I love those people because when I see someone hating on what I’m doing, it only makes me want to do it even more. I wouldn’t necessarily call those hardships, but it’s not an easy thing. I get emails from other performers asking me, “How do you deal with that?” When I tell them that I love it, they’re like, “What do you mean?” But if everybody loved you, there’s something wrong with that. That’s just the way I’ve always looked at it.

Sun: Can you tell us about the Deaf Professional Arts Network and its creation?

S.F.: I started it at the beginning of the year for deaf and hard of hearing people that enjoyed music but were not getting everything that music had to offer, especially lyrics. I’m a lyricist myself, and I’ve always appreciated the words artists are conveying, so it’s very important to me to share that with my deaf and hard of hearing friends. The music portion is one part, but what the artist is saying is another. Not only that, but there are so many talented deaf and hard of hearing performers that I wanted to show that there was a community of these performers out there.

Sun: Do you only make hip hop music, or have you explored other genres?

S.F.: I grew up with so many different styles of music that I try to incorporate a lot of those into my performances. Most people would call me a deaf rapper, but I like to say that I’m a performer. I’m an entertainer. There’s more to what I do … Some of my songs have rock elements in them. Some of them have pop elements in them. It’s not just straight hip hop music that you would normally listen to on a rap, hip hop radio station. There’s a lot of crossover.

Sun: What made you get involved with rap in particular?

S.F.: There’s something about rap that spoke to me. A rapper drums his words in a sense. I’m a drummer, so when I heard rap for the first time I [said] “Oh my God, he’s drumming with words!” It captivated me, and I wanted to try to mimic what they were doing. I would hear an Ice Cube song or a Snoop Dogg song, and they’d have all of these interesting flows. It was the first kind of music that I really discovered on my own. I grew up with my brother always playing heavy metal and my parents played classic rock and roll. So it was the first music that I really owned myself. I could feel the music, and believe it or not, I could really follow all of what the rapper was saying. I just had something in me that had the ability to do that.