Sean Forbes has always cranked up the bass a little louder than most other people do. Given his love of music, he has to feel the bass to rap - and sign. He became deaf from spinal meningitis as a 9-month-old.Yet he hasn't allowed such an obstacle to keep him from pursuing his musical dream. He became deaf from spinal meningitis as a 9-month-old.Yet he hasn't allowed such an obstacle to keep him from pursuing his musical dream.
Sean Forbes has always cranked up the bass a little louder than most other people do.
Given his love of music, he has to feel the bass to rap — and sign.
He became deaf from spinal meningitis as a 9-month-old.Yet he hasn’t allowed such an obstacle to keep him from pursuing his musical dream.
“It was inside of me: something I was always passionate about,” said Forbes, 31, of Detroit. “It was what I was born to do — my mission.”
He credits his parents, both musicians, for his success.
Yesterday, amid the booming bass in the theater at Upper Arlington High School, Forbes performed eight original songs as part of the weekly “Kickin’ It Live” show.
About 9 a.m., perhaps a bit early for rap and rock, about 100 students pumped their fists and clapped their hands along with Forbes.
“I thought it was amazing,” senior Jeanne Cantwell said. “You start to forget he’s deaf. The signing seems so natural to him. He feels the beat and keeps up with the music.”
Forbes signs while rapping so that the music is enjoyed by both those with hearing and those without. Lyrics and videos flash on a screen behind him.
Mark Levin, his guitarist, is also deaf.
Forbes, who feels the music through vibrations, gained a sense of sound before he lost his hearing, said Scott Guy, executive director of Deaf Professional Arts Network, a nonprofit started by Forbes.
“Somehow he interprets it and is able to make music,” Guy said. “That’s the only way we can describe it after talking with audiologists. It’s something that is even hard for us to explain."
His parents turned speakers toward him and bought drums for the 5-year-old Sean as a Christmas present.His two brothers mouthed the lyrics to MTV videos.
“My parents would always play music,” Forbes said. “When I was 3 or 4, they realized I was always following the music.”
Forbes played drums in a high-school band but was drawn to rap because of its heavy beats.Plus, he grew up in the golden age of hip-hop — the late 1980s and ’90s.
While studying business at the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology, Forbes began videotaping himself signing songs.He signed Lose Yourself by fellow Detroit rapper Eminem and had the opportunity to meet the Grammy winner and show him the video.
“Eminem was like ‘Deaf people like music?’??” Forbes said.
The goal of his nonprofit is to make music accessible to both deaf and hearing audiences.
“He’s saying, ‘There’s nothing wrong with us,’??” Guy said. “??‘We’re waiting for the world to learn who we are and how we communicate.’??”
Forbes also tries to motivate fans with his original raps.
He preaches about standing up for others and not bullying.
On his song I’m Deaf, he mentions his idol Stevie Wonder and other artists who have overcome disabilities.
“I can feel the bass / Can’t hear the treble clef,” he raps.
His song Don’t Let Anything Hold You Back inspired freshman Israelle Johnson, a viola player who is deaf.
“It really hit home,” she said. “I feel the same thing: Don’t give up.”
Cantwell and fellow senior Madison Means, students in Amanda Fountain’s broadcast class, invited Forbes to the high school.
“If you told me about a deaf hip-hop artist, I’d say, ‘Really?’??” Fountain said. “We’re so lucky he is willing to make a stop at our school.”
While in Columbus, Forbes also performed last night at Kobo in the University District.
His debut album, Perfect Imperfection, will be released on April 2; he hopes to tour the United States in the summer.
“I never had any deaf role models while growing up,” Forbes said. “And the hearing students, they think, if a deaf guy can go into music, they can do anything.”