Sean Forbes

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Sean Forbes
Birth nameSean Forbes
OriginDetroit, Michigan
GenresHip hop Rock
Occupation(s)Rapper, singer, speaker
Instrumentsdrums, hands
Years active2005–2006
LabelsWeb Entertainment
D-PAN Entertainment

Sean Forbes (born February 5, 1982 in Detroit) is a deaf American hip-hop artist. Sean became deaf from spinal meningitis when he was just a few months old. The cause was never officially diagnosed but Sean has said that they (the doctors) had suspected spinal meningitis.[1] Sean's parents bought him a drum set when he was 5 years old[2] and he started writing songs and playing guitar when he was 10. Sean grew up playing music with his siblings. His dad, Scott Forbes, is in a Detroit country-rock band called The Forbes Brothers. Sean's mom is a pianist.[3] "They played everything from The Rolling stones to The Beatles, all big band music and stuff like that."[4] Sean attended R.I.T./N.T.I.D. where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in multi-disciplinary studies focusing on management, accounting, and communications.[5] Eminem was one of the first people to actually see one of Forbes' music videos.[6] Sean's long-time producer and collaborator is Jake Bass, and together they have penned over 100 songs, many of which they perform live. Sean recently had Oscar award-winning actress Marlee Matlin co-star in his music video for the song "Let's Mambo." "Rapping is just something that I do because you don't want to hear me sing."[7]

Sean is a co-founder of D-PAN, The Deaf Professional Arts Network, an organization that has been making music accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community by creating American Sign Language interpretation music videos of popular songs. D-PAN has created videos for John Mayer, Christina Aguilera, Eminem, White Stripes, Owl City, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Clark Sisters, Imagine Dragons, and more.

Sean is prominently featured on "Motor City Rising" a television show on the Ovation about artists from Detroit.

In 2012, Sean released a full-length CD/DVD album titled "Perfect Imperfection" and toured extensively to promote the record over the past year.

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

When Sean was only a year old he lost 90% of his hearing.[8] Born into a musical family, Sean’s father Scott Forbes was one-half of the Detroit country-rock group The Forbes Brothers.[9] His Uncle, Dennis Forbes, the other half, was a well-respected engineer who worked closely with Bob Seger. When Sean was five-years-old his parents bought him a drum set[10] after seeing him follow along to all of the songs that his parents played on the radio, especially "Devil With A Blue Dress" by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Johnny "Bee" Badanjek, who is the drummer for Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels was a good friend of Sean’s dad and would come over to the house and teach Sean how to drum. This started a lifelong mission for Sean to find a way into the music business. In high school, Sean played in a band with childhood friends. He had dreams to be a drummer but knew first hand as a deaf person this would be extremely difficult. He attended the Rochester Institute of Technology(RIT)in Rochester, NY where the National Technical Institute for the Deaf is located. While attending RIT Sean noticed that there were many deaf and hard of hearing people that loved music, but didn’t have the same access to music Sean had while growing up. Fond with lyrics, Sean would often interpret into American Sign Language many of his favorite songs. After his 3rd year at RIT, he decided to take a leave of absence from school and move back home to Detroit to figure out what was next for him. While attending The Detroit Music Awards, Sean met recording studio owner and Eminem publisher Joel Martin.[11] As the story goes Martin gave Forbes a piece of paper that said "Free Eminem Tickets E-mail Me" which fueled Forbes to e-mail Martin asking if he could work at the studio.[12] Realizing that it would be tough to make it in the music business Sean returned to RIT to continue his education eventually completing a bachelor's degree in 2008

The Deaf Professional Arts Network[edit]

In 2006 while still a student at RIT, Sean went on spring break with friends to Gallaudet University a college for the deaf. It was during this trip that he started signing every song he knew into sign language. This spurred the idea of creating American Sign Language music videos for the deaf. Reaching out to a friend, Adrean Mangiardi, who was studying film at RIT Sean asked him if he could make a music video of him signing Eminem’s song "Lose Yourself".[13] Upon making the video Forbes called Joel Martin, owner of 54 sound, whom he had been emailing for over a year now if he could stop by the studio to show him something he had been working on. Forbes went to the studio and to his surprise Eminem was sitting in the room.[14] Forbes proceeded to show Martin and Eminem his American Sign Language rendition of Eminem’s academy award-winning song "Lose Yourself" to which they were both impressed with. They immediately asked Forbes what he wanted to do with this, and hired him to work at the studio that summer to "come up with a job for himself" Forbes realized that there was an abundance of talent in the Deaf community who had the ability to sign songs into American Sign Language and more than anything wanted to recognize these talents. Martin and Forbes co-founded the Deaf Professional Arts Network to make music and music culture accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community by featuring deaf performers expressing the songs lyrics in American Sign Language.

The first ASL music video that they created was for a song called Where'd You Go (Fort Minor song) a group founded by Mike Shinoda famous for his role in Linkin Park. Upon completing the video, D-PAN shared the video with Shinoda who dismissed it and didn’t want to endorse the video. This upset Forbes thinking that musicians didn’t want to make their music accessible to the 30 million plus members of the deaf and hard of hearing community. D-PAN then set out to find an artist who had a song and message that would resonate with the deaf community. This led them to Waiting on the World to Change by John Mayer. The D-PAN music video features many members of the deaf and hard of hearing community, many who had never experienced music. This music video became an anthem for the deaf community. To date, D-PAN has created music videos for Christina Aguilera"Beautiful", Eminem "Lose Yourself" (featuring Forbes), Owl City "Fireflies" and with the support of Jack White from The White Stripes they created a music video for We're Going to Be Friends which has received millions of views on YouTube.

In 2008 D-PAN released "It’s Everybody’s Music" a DVD compilation that has sold over 10,000 copies.

"I’m Deaf" and "Let’s Mambo" (2010–2011)[edit]

While establishing D-PAN Forbes was writing lyrics and had dreams of performing original material. Due to a lack of a partner to work with and great music to write to, Forbes was making his own beats but didn’t feel that the material was strong enough to do something with. One day while working at 54 Sound, Forbes found a CD that said "Beats" on it and without telling anyone stole the CD and took it home. He immediately was drawn into what he heard on the CD, music that spoke to him and propelled him to write lyrics. Wanting to know who wrote this music, Forbes confessed that he stole a CD. Forbes discovered that it was a 15-year-old named Jake Bass,[15] whose father was one-half of the Bass Brothers. A meeting was set up and Forbes played him demos of what he wrote and Bass was interested. Forbes then gave him a tape that he had been writing to that just had Forbes rapping on it and asked Bass if he could write music on top of it. A few days later, Bass delivered what would turn out to be the first song that they wrote together called "I’m Deaf" a play on words and what Forbes felt was an introduction song to who he was and what he stood for, poking fun at himself throughout the song.

During this time Forbes was traveling the country going to deaf-related events sharing the D-PAN videos with audiences and making a name for himself. During this time he took the opportunity to perform material that he and Bass were working on. Adrean Mangiardi, who had helped Forbes create a video to show Eminem which helped form D-PAN, had kept in touch over the years. Forbes asked Mangiardi to come to Detroit and create a music video. Working together for the first time since college, they instantly bonded again and Mangiardi proceeded to film Forbes performing "I’m Deaf". While editing the video together, the batteries on Mangiardi’s cochlear implant battery died leaving him unable to understand what Forbes was doing in the video. Upon realizing this, Mangiardi decided to implement words in a phonetic style into the video thus making the video even more accessible for those who may not know sign language.

Forbes’ partner in D-PAN, Joel Martin, had no idea that Forbes was writing his own material. Mangiardi and Forbes showed Martin the video for "I’m Deaf" and instantly signed him to Web Entertainment and released a two-song EP called "I’m Deaf / Let’s Mambo" in physical format and on ITunes.

When the video was released it was an instant viral hit with the deaf community.[citation needed] Forbes was one of the first deaf artists to vocally rap and sign his own songs at the same time. While on a PR tour for the music video Forbes was on NPR Weekend Edition with Liane Hansen when he spoke about wanting to do another music video for a song he had called "Let’s Mambo" which was the B-side to the single "I’m Deaf" that talks about his girlfriend wanting him to dance, and how he can’t. Forbes mentioned that he wanted to do the music video with a certain deaf actress who was featured on Dancing with the Stars. Not mentioning her name, many people knew immediately whom Forbes was talking about, academy award-winning actress Marlee Matlin who happened to be the most famous deaf person in the world.

It just so happened that Matlin’s long-time interpreter and business partner Jack Jason was listening to the Weekend Edition and told Matlin about what Forbes had said. Matlin instantly reached out to Forbes on Twitter[16] asking if he was interested in doing a music video with her for his song. Upon working on this music video, Forbes and Matlin instantly hit it off and their chemistry was evident in the music video which featured dancing from many popular dancers in the Detroit music scene and was choreographed by Matlin’s Dancing With The Stars partner Fabian Sanchez.

Perfect Imperfection (2012)[edit]

On September 4, 2012, Forbes released his full-length debut album "Perfect Imperfection" on Web Entertainment. The CD and DVD album that was a first of its kind. "I always wanted to make my music accessible to everyone," Forbes said "and with this album, that was my goal". Featuring 13 songs that album was produced by Sean’s longtime partner Jake Bass, with Forbes writing all of the lyrics for the album. The DVD features music videos for all the songs making the album accessible to both hearing and deaf audiences.

Forbes went on tour in support of the record and played in front of over 50,000 people across North America. The performances feature Sean’s longtime producer Jake Bass and his longtime friend Mark Levin. Adrean Mangiardi,[17] Forbes’ visual partner created videos for the performance so that audiences could watch Forbes and also see the lyrics behind him creating a multi-media performance that could be enjoyed by all. Perfect Imperfection was well received by the Detroit music community and enabled Forbes to draw large audiences across the country. His music videos were also featured on MTV and he has garnered articles in Vibe (magazine),[18] XXL (magazine),[19] Spin (magazine),[20] and more.

Forbes released a music video for "Watch These Hands" on July 30, 2013. The song was inspired by Forbes’ background and the journey that he took to get to where he is today. It was well received. Forbes was also featured on a TV show called "Motor City Rising" on Ovation TV following him around for weeks and documenting his journey. Forbes went on a 2-week tour of Israel playing performances in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem to rave reviews with his band. Forbes penned the ending credits song for the film "No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Story" with a song also titled "No Ordinary Hero".

Present (2016)[edit]

Forbes is continuing to do shows across the country and working on a follow-up to Perfect Imperfection. He was featured on Fusion (TV channel) in an in-depth feature with Jorge Ramos (news anchor).

Personal life[edit]

Forbes married his college sweetheart Joanne "JoJo" Forbes whom he met at Rochester Institute of Technology / NTID. They have one child together and reside in the Detroit area.

Music Videos/Discography[edit]

  • I’m Deaf (2010)
  • Let's Mambo (2011)[21]
  • Hammer (2011)
  • "Perfect Imperfection" (2012) Web Entertainment/D-PAN Entertainment
  • Watch These Hands (2013) D-PAN Entertainment


  1. ^ "Sean Forbes Not Hard To Hear", "Ability magazine", February/March 2011, accessed May 3, 2013.
  2. ^ NPR Staff "Sean Forbes Paves The Way For Deaf Musicians", "NPR", August 8, 2010, accessed March 22, 2011.
  3. ^ "Sean Forbes Paves The Way For Deaf Musicians", "NPR", August 8, 2010, accessed May 3, 2013.
  4. ^ "Sean Forbes Paves The Way For Deaf Musicians", "NPR", August 8, 2010, accessed May 3, 2013.
  5. ^ Jessica Nunez "Deaf Rapper Sean Forbes signs record deal with label that helped launch Eminem", "M-Live", May 13, 2010, accessed March 22, 2011.
  6. ^ "Sean Forbes Paves The Way For Deaf Musicians", "NPR", August 8, 2010, accessed May 3, 2013.
  7. ^ "Sean Forbes Paves The Way For Deaf Musicians", "NPR", August 8, 2010, accessed May 3, 2013.
  8. ^ "Sean Forbes Not Hard To Hear", "Ability magazine", February/March 2011, accessed May 3, 2013.
  9. ^ Stone, Alex (2015-01-25). "Deaf rapper Sean Forbes makes himself joyfully heard on the hip-hop scene". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  10. ^ NPR Staff "Sean Forbes Paves The Way For Deaf Musicians", "NPR", August 8, 2010, accessed March 22, 2011.
  11. ^ "Sean Forbes, 28". Crain's Detroit Business. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  12. ^ "Sean Forbes' 'Deaf' Jam - Hour Detroit - May 2013 - Detroit, MI". Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  13. ^ "Meet: Adrean Mangiardi and Mark Levin – who make music videos in American Sign Language!". The Limping Chicken. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  14. ^ Jessica Nunez "Deaf Rapper Sean Forbes signs record deal with label that helped launch Eminem", "M-Live", May 13, 2010, accessed March 22, 2011.
  15. ^ Stone, Alex (2015-01-25). "Deaf rapper Sean Forbes makes himself joyfully heard on the hip-hop scene". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  16. ^ Stone, Alex (2015-01-25). "Deaf rapper Sean Forbes makes himself joyfully heard on the hip-hop scene". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  17. ^ "Deaf Talent Everywhere! Part IV". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  18. ^ "Detroit Rapper Sean Forbes Connects Being Deaf and Hearing Music". Vibe. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  19. ^ "Hearing-Impaired Rappers On The Rise - XXL". XXL Mag. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  20. ^ "Deaf Jams: The Surprising, Conflicted, Thriving World of Hearing-Impaired Rappers | SPIN". Spin. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  21. ^ Crain's Detroit Business "20 in their 20s", "Crain's Detroit Business", April 22nd 2010, accessed March 24, 2011.

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