SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Big Sean has discovered that in order to find the spotlight, sometimes you have to stay out of it.
The rapper put Miley Cyrus front-and-center in his recent "Fire" music video, with his face seen just briefly in the background. Then he released "Control," featuring an explosively competitive verse from Kendrick Lamar that overshadowed his own and has become the talk of hip-hop. Both are leading up to his second album for Kanye West's GOOD Music imprint, which blends Sean's signature wordplay with some unexpectedly serious introspection.
Sean says licensing issues prevented him from including "Control" on "Hall of Fame," out Tuesday, but he wanted the song out "for the betterment of the culture." On the track, Compton-bred Lamar, one of the year's breakout musicians, declares himself both "king of New York" and the West Coast, rapping that he wants to steal fans away from fellow rappers -- including Sean. Sean said he deliberately didn't rewrite his own lyrics after hearing Lamar's verse: "I'm from somewhere where you live by honor. I'm not going to be cheating, man."
"Kendrick, when he dropped the names, it was such a dramatic thing. I love it. ... I haven't seen a song this exciting in rap music in years, and that's what it's all about," the 25-year-old said in an interview. "I already knew that people was going to be like, 'Kendrick's verse is the best!' ... I'm happy I could provide that moment."
The choice to highlight Cyrus in his video came from directors at DONDA, the company that West launched last year and has thus far focused on performance staging, album art and music videos.
"I wanted her to be a metaphor for ... people in general that made it through their own fire and came out strong, and as beautiful as a rose," Sean said.
Sean's "Hall of Fame" features collaborations with Lil Wayne, Nas, Nicki Minaj and Miguel. It's the follow-up to his 2011 debut, "Already Famous," which featured the hits "Dance," "My Last" and "Marvin & Chardonnay."
Born in California and raised in Detroit, Sean Anderson launched his career by impressing West with a freestyle rap in a parking lot outside a Detroit radio station. Now like West and Kim Kardashian, Sean is enduring scrutiny of a very public relationship, with "Glee" star Naya Rivera.
"It's definitely something new for me and her," Sean said. "I don't look at her as my famous girlfriend, I look at her as my girlfriend ... it's just our jobs. It's my job to rap and it's her job to sing and act and stuff."
He's already collaborated with Rivera musically, on her song "Sorry." But his new album also includes the apologetic and heartfelt "Ashley" addressing his ex, longtime love Ashley Marie, written when the two were still dating.
"I played it for Naya and she loved it, so I had nothing to worry about on that end. It's a true song," Sean said. "I'm not going to just change that because of what's going on. It's a good song."