Big Sean's emotional homecoming show closes out Mo Pop Festival

The rapper took to social media after the concert to declare, "Just had one of the best shows in my life in Detroit!!!!"

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Big Sean performs during the Mo Pop Festival in Hart Plaza on July 31, 2022 in Detroit. Michigan (Photo by Dave Reginek-Special to The Detroit News)

It was a family affair for Big Sean on Sunday as he was joined on stage by his parents, his brother and Jhené Aiko, the mother of his child-to-be, at Hart Plaza during his headlining performance at the Mo Pop Festival.

The Detroit rapper immediately took to Twitter at the conclusion of the concert. "Just had one of the best shows in my life in Detroit!!!!," he wrote. "Thank you!"  

The emotional 70-minute performance saw the rapper performing in the shadow of the Renaissance Center, which was directly in his sightline from the stage, which he noted at one point during the performance.

He spent a lot of time detailing his climb and the early days of his career, and he doled out one new song, which may have been called "Yes" (sample lyric: "when they tried to tell me 'no,' I said 'yes'") and several mixtape favorites — "Higher" and "MULA" from 2012's "Detroit," "Supa Dupa Lemonade" from 2010's "Finally Famous Vol. 3" set — that he said were dusted off exclusively for the Detroit audience. 

"I forgot the (expletive) words after that," Sean said, laughing, after firing off a verse in "Supa Dupa Lemonade." "That song is over a decade old!"

A crowd of more than 15,000 fans packed Hart Plaza to see Big Sean, whose set came at the conclusion of the two-day festival that saw nearly two dozen rock, pop, hip-hop and alternative acts perform on two stages in the concrete park in the heart of downtown Detroit. 

It was Big Sean's first hometown concert since his Fillmore Detroit show in 2017 and his biggest Detroit engagement since he played Joe Louis Arena in 2015.

He's since become a markedly bigger Big Sean, as he's added considerable muscle to his once lanky frame. And the show was his first local concert since the release of "Detroit 2," his 2020 studio album, the spiritual sequel to the "Detroit" mixtape.

He talked at length about the spirit of the city and its hustle, as it's powered by "the soul of Aretha Franklin," in his words. "It's an absolute honor to be from this city," he told the crowd, a largely twentysomething set and the most sizable audience of the day.  

His family joined him on stage as Sean paid tribute to his late grandmother, Mildred Virginia Leonard, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was one of its first Black female captains. Leonard and other members of her battalion were awarded with a Congressional Gold Medal earlier this year, and Sean did "One Man Can Change the World," which was written as a tribute to her, in her honor. 

Aiko, who performed a full set earlier in the evening as part of the festival, joined Sean for a pair of songs, "Beware" and "I Know." Aiko is pregnant with the couple's first child and she showed off her baby bump underneath her colorful summertime dress during her performance. 

Jhene Aiko performs.

Sean gushed over Aiko and for a few seconds it seemed like Detroit was about to bare witness to another high-profile engagement of one of its own, following Jack White's proposal and quickie wedding at the Masonic Temple in April.

"I just want to take the time to say how much I love this woman and how much she means to me," he said, embracing Aiko. But there was no such proposal and she went backstage as he continued on with the show, rolling into his smash "Dance (A$$)," one of more than 25 hit songs, guest verses and snippets he tore through during his high energy, high perspiration set. 

It was the capper on a weekend that also saw Big Sean playing Montreal's Osheaga Festival on Friday and Lollapalooza in Chicago on Saturday.

But Sunday was clearly special to Sean, who has always put a little bit extra into his Detroit showcases. The 34-year-old, who said he's currently working on his sixth studio album, tossed his shirt into the crowd at the end of his performance and promised it won't be another five years before his next local concert. 

"I love you guys from the bottom of my heart," he said. "And I'll see you soon. See you on tour!" 

It was Mo Pop's first outing since 2019, after taking two years off during the pandemic, and its first in Hart Plaza. The fest, which launched in 2013, started at Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights and spent its last several years in downtown's West Riverfront Park.

In addition to Aiko, who performed a slinky set of R&B (complete with harp accompaniment!) as machines at the foot of the stage shot bubbles into the crowd, Sunday also saw upbeat performances from pop singer-songwriter Ashe, charismatic TikTok-approved singer Tai Verdes and Utah pop-rock outfit the Backseat Lovers. Saturday's lineup was headlined by British alt-pop hitmakers Glass Animals. 

The band Khruangbin performs on the Eastown Stage.

Disco space rock trio Khruangbin overcame a sound blowout 10 minutes into their Sunday set (guitarist Mark Speer filled the five minutes of downtime by tapping out a beat on a glass bottle) and turned in a funky, fuzzy, textured set of psychedelic instrumentals, including one thrilling suite that saw them seamlessly segueing from segments of Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day" to Warren G and Nate Dogg's "Regulate" to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's "Nuthin' But a G Thang," and on through interpolations of Ol' Dirty Bastard, A Tribe Called Quest, the Notorious B.I.G., P.M. Dawn and Chris Isaak. 

The festival's two stages — the Grande stage and the Eastown stage, both named for iconic Detroit concert venues — were set up adjacent to Jefferson Ave. and the fountain in the center of Hart Plaza; the site's large bowl, which typically houses the main stage during the Movement Festival, was not integrated into the fest grounds. 

Acts alternated between the two stages, so there was little downtime. In addition to the two stages of music there were also food vendors and a free arcade which housed old school video games and offered festgoers a reprieve from the sun and the mid-80s temperatures, which put shade at a premium throughout Hart Plaza. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

Fans get into Big Sean as he performs on the Grande Stage.