Thursday, March 29, 2012

Deaf rapper Sean Forbes talks about how critics motivated him

From The Kalamazoo Gazette:

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Sean Forbes went deaf at 1 due to spinal meningitis, but he wouldn’t let his love of music disappear no matter what people told him.

As an adult, Forbes said he was frequently told pursuing a career in music was a dead-end. He still uses those voices to take his motivational message and rapping to others, especially in the deaf and hard of hearing community.

“I took those nos and turn them into yeses. It lights a fire in my stomach. It pisses me off,” he said during a phone interview from Royal Oak.

Forbes is a deaf rapper from Detroit who burst on the music scene in 2010. He signed a record deal with Web Entertainment, the label that discovered Eminem, and released his debut EP and the music video for “I’m Deaf.” It features Forbes rapping and signing the lyrics, while the words also appear in the video. He’s also the co-founder of D-PAN, the Deaf Professional ArtsNetwork, a non-profit organization that translates popular artists' songs into American Sign Language music videos for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

He’s been featured on NPR, BBC, Parade Magazine, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, among other media outlets. He also performed on stage with legend Stevie Wonder, which he called his career highlight.

Forbes, 30, will perform and speak at 7 p.m. Friday at Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Dale B. Auditorium.

“It’s partially about my life story and growing up around the Detroit music scene and the different things I got to experience being a deaf kid and where it led me,” Forbes said of his talk, which will precede his performance.

Forbes, who also plays drums, can hear deep bass tones as long as they’re turned up.

As a child, his mother would lip-synch songs on the radio while they drove in the car. When he watched MTV’s “Yo MTV Raps” or “Head Bangers Ball,” his brothers, including younger brother Jeffrey, who attended Western Michigan University, would stand beside the TV and lip-synch so he knew what the songs were about.

“All those things I experience growing up, that’s what shaped me. They wanted to make sure that I was involved as well,” Forbes said.

Forbes said he and his friends were bullied. He was mocked for being deaf, but as with most things in his life, Forbes fought back.

“I had a pretty big mouth when I was growing up. … That was my way of defending myself and my friends. They (bullies) would be shocked I could talk.”

Forbes continues on his mission to make music more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing communities. He’s planning to release his full-length, 13-track album, “Perfect Imperfections,” in June. He raps about the economy, love and his upbringing, among other topics.

“It’s something I’m very proud of. It’s been a long time in the making and something I’m excited to share with people,” he said. “I am the perfect imperfection … I took that imperfection and made it perfect.”