The real story behind Big Sean’s “Celebrity”…The hit that never was
(THOMAS DISHAW) If you’re familiar with Detroit’s flourishing Hip hop scene you’ve most likely heard of Filthy Rockwell. This uber talented producer has worked with industry power players like Kayne West, Slaughterhouse, Royce Da 5’9, Clipse, Big Sean, and Street Lord Juan, to name a few.
One of Filthy’s best and most underrated records to date is the song “Celebrity” by Big Sean featuring Dwele. The track appeared on the deluxe version of Sean’s debut album titled “Finally Famous,” but just like most great songs there is a story behind the inspiration and the handling of the finished product. I’m here today to share with the world the untold story of a song that almost didn’t happen.
This story starts with a simple stack of records. Damon, one of Filthy’s friends had been bugging the producer to come and retrieve a milk crate full of old albums for the last few years. You see Filthy is that guy in the neighborhood that everyone knows is on the come up in the music industry and Damon is hopeful this pile of records will turn into a pot of gold once Filthy adds his musical expertise to it.
After flipping through this dusty stack of vinyl, Filthy thinks he has found a diamond in the rough. He can hardly believe that Angela Bofill’s song “The Only Thing I Could Wish For” from her 1978 album “Angie” has never been sampled, and after a few hours in the lab he thinks he may have a classic on his hands. All he needs now is to find the right artist to bring his vision to life.
At the time Big Sean was a newly signed artist that was only a stones throw away from fame. On a hot summers day in Detroit, Filthy, Sean and Street Lord Juan are in the middle of a parking lot talking. This isn’t just any parking lot, its Capital Park studio where Sean is enthusiastically looking for new beats and Juan just happens to have the plug. Sean wanted validation, so he asked Juan, “Is Filthy dope on the beats?” to which Juan quickly responded “Yeah, he’s the coldest.” Filthy then quickly handed Sean a CD with his most recent tracks.
Sean wastes no time critiquing his new product in the studio, and quickly falls in love with track 2 on Filthy’s CD which just happens to be the Angie Bofill sample. Sean wasn’t the only one that was feeling the beat as the whole room went crazy as soon as they heard it. The overall reaction was from the artists in the room was “Oh my God, that beat is crazy.” Artists are notorious for being very picky when it comes to tracks, so these kind of accolades were no small feat. Sean decided to go with Filthy’s track and shortly arrived back at Capital Park to record his bars. Filthy ultimately was pleased that Sean had chosen the Bofill sample because he knew it would be perfect for him and truly suited the type of artist that Sean was aspiring to be.
Unfortunately Filthy had no idea he was about to get a lesson in music industry politics.
Shortly after Sean had finished recording the track and submitted it to Def Jam Records, Filthy received a troubling phone call. It’s 4 A.M. in Detroit and on the other end is super producer NO I.D. with some bad news. “Filthy, this kick is lighting their ass, the upper executives at Def Jam want you to re do it.” These are not the words you want to hear when Big Sean’s debut album is scheduled to get mastered at 8 A.M the same morning. After a few frantic phone calls one of Filthy’s engineers was able to meet him at Capital Park Studios to recreate the kick and get a final copy sent back to Def Jam before the 8 a.m. deadline. This task of course was not easy as Capital Park had no internet access at the time, forcing Filthy and his engineer to use a hotspot to send the finished session to the label. But if Filthy thought this was the end of the uphill battle with this song he was sadly mistaken.
Not too long after the mastering incident Filthy receives yet another phone call. This time it is from an exec at Def Jam Records informing him that Angela Bofill was not going to clear the use of the sampling from her song. In fact, at the time, she had never cleared a sample for an artist to use. Management at Def Jam wanted Filthy to recreate the song without using the sample but still providing the same feel. After one phone call to the A&R Filthy was able to make a connection with the person in charge of sample clearance which would change everything. After getting in touch with this particular executive and discussing each others background the two realized they were both from Detroit; Filthy was from the East side, and he was from the West side. This common ground gave the two an instant connection, and the exec vowed to do everything in his power to get the sample cleared. A few hours later, Filthy got a phone call letting him know that the sample was approved.
After jumping through all these hoops and over all these hurdles Filthy was dealt one final blow. Despite the fact that everyone that heard the song instantly loved it, and that all the music execs at Def Jam felt it was the strongest song on the album, “Celebrity” would not be included on the official release. Instead it would be used as a bonus track on the “Finally Famous” deluxe edition album. Filthy was certain the song was going to be a single, based on feedback he had received from Sean, but later he was told that the President of Def Jam records decided against it. This sparked outrage not only from Sean and Filthy but other artists as well. Kanye West, an early supporter of the song who considered it one of his favorites from the album, had a heated exchange with the President about his decision as West also strongly believed that “Celebrity” deserved to be a single. Unfortunately not even Kanye’s star power could change the President’s mind.
In the end, after all the hard work, false starts, and determination Filthy received $12,000 for the track, and still receives royalties today. While the song has not brought forth the fame it should have, Filthy still considers “Celebrity” to be one of his proudest achievements.