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Sean Forbes sees himself as more than just a ‘deaf rapper’

Rex Rutkoski
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Sean Forbes
Sean Forbes, a deaf hip-hop artist

Though he lost his hearing as a baby, Sean Forbes has known from an early age the impact music can have on people and the emotions it can convey.

The Detroit-area resident grew up in a musical family (his uncle was an engineer for Bob Seger) that still made music accessible to him, lip-syncing songs for him.

He says he soaked up the beats and the vibrations, experiencing great music in his own way, inspired by what he refers to as “The Three B’s,” the Beastie Boys, the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

“I was born with the knack to follow the rhythm. I wanted to share what I knew with the deaf community and create a pathway to music,” he says.

Now, with a goal to help transform the way deaf people perceive music, Forbes is opening the door to musical expression, a world that some considered off-limits to people in the deaf community.

In one respect, Forbes, 32, who will perform with his band — whose members are all deaf, except for one — on March 7 at the Trust Arts Education Center, Downtown, is a voice for his own generation as well as deaf culture. He produces professional music videos with a focus on those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

He is co-founder of D-PAN, the Deaf Professional Arts Network, a nonprofit organization that translates popular artists’ songs into American Sign Language music videos.

He says he wants to be part of a “badly needed” bridge between the music industry and the deaf community. Much music is not accessible to this community because, in part, bands do not caption their videos.

“I want deaf people to feel like they belong and always have. They buy iPods, have iPhones, purchase Beats by Dre headphones, buy songs on iTunes, purchase posters of their favorite bands and jam along to the current biggest hit on radio,” he says.

He emphasizes that there are many degrees of deafness. “One person might have a 70 percent hearing loss and the other 30 percent is able to pick up on things,” he says.

“There is often a misconception that people with any kind of disability are unable to do things,” Forbes says. “I know so many people that have a disability that are shakers and movers and have something to prove, and they want to prove it. I think many could take a lesson from them and see that no matter who you are, we all have a special gift to share.”

He says he loves to share his own gift live, and his concerts are meant for all ages and for both the deaf and hearing audience. He wants to be viewed not just as a deaf rapper, but a talented entertainer who happens to be deaf.

Though his primary genre is rap, he says his music and performances embrace several styles, including rock, pop, blues and jazz, “something for everyone to enjoy.

“I’m not your ordinary rapper,” he insists. “I’m the kind of rapper that your grandma would like. Most rappers move their hands and aren’t saying anything, but when I move my hands I’m actually saying something with it. Hearing people like to say, ‘It’s like watching someone dance.’

“I try to make it feel like I’m hanging out with my friends, sharing stories and sharing music with them.” There also is comedy and audience participation. “Our show is visual. We have video screens that project my lyrics on the screen and bass that you can feel,” he says.

He likely will draw material, in part, from his debut album, “Perfect Imperfection,” available on iTunes and Amazon. Forbes is working on his next CD. (His music can be heard and videos seen on his website: www.deafandloud.com) “With the production on this next record, you’ll feel like you’re going to meet the next Motor City Madman,” he says.

He hopes his music and performances inspire others, both the deaf and hearing communities, to follow their dreams.

“My primary message is, ‘If you set your mind to it, you can do it,’ ” Forbes says. “If I can become a deaf rapper, what’s stopping you?”

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or [email protected].

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