Sean Forbes, a rapper out of Detroit, recently spoke about being one of the only deaf rappers in hip-hop and having his music reach out to non-deaf audiences. While some may not think that those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing can’t be successful in hip-hop, his shows across the country have brought out at least 150,000 fans, including a sold-out show at the House of Blue in Los Angeles.
For a deaf musician that’s quite above average. But Forbes isn’t just a struggle rapper who’s video went viral. He’s been making some clever moves under the radar.
Forbes has been signed to Web Entertainment since 2010, which is the same label who released Eminem’s first album Infinite and The Slim Shady LP. He’s been on the road for a 60-city tour for his debut album Perfect Imperfection, which dropped in 2012. While it may seem like his music is designed for a specific audience, Forbes actually presents it for the hearing an deaf to enjoy together.
“When I sign rap music, I try to follow the beat with my body. I try to paint a picture with my hands. You really have to see me to get me,” he told The Washington Post.
His long-time producer Jake Bass, son of Web Entertainment co-founder Jeff Bass, met Forbes in 2005. Their partnership resulted in over 100 songs and six videos with Jake on production and Forbes writing the lyrics. His first video “I’m Deaf” has raked in at least 650,000 views and his follow-up “Let’s Mambo” features him rapping alongside fellow deaf icon Marlee Matlin. Soon afterwards, Forbes got his contract to sign with Web.
However, Forbes doesn’t liken himself to other deaf rappers like Prinz-D and Signmark. During his off time, Forbes co-manages his nonprofit organization the Deaf Professional Arts Network (D-PAN), which produces videos featuring deaf musicians and translates popular songs into sign language. He sees himself more as a “liaison between two cultures.”
“Some people think of me as a deaf rapper, but I like to think of myself as an entertainer,” he said. “There aren’t too many things hearing and deaf people can enjoy together. I’m one of those things.”