Defying seemingly unbeatable odds, Sean Forbes has emerged as a prominent entrepreneur and celebrated hip hop artist despite the loss of his hearing as an infant.
“A high fever caused me to have a 95 percent hearing loss,” he said. “But, my parents and brothers never looked at me as different and I didn’t grow up any different than my brothers.”
At five-years-old, Forbes’ parents bought him a drum set.
“It was a defining moment. My parents were telling me I could do anything I wanted. They shaped my life,” he said. “When I was about 10 to 12-years-old, I started learning to play guitar.”
Forbes attended Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills and his relationship with music continued to swell exponentially.
“When I was in high school, I formed a band with my brother,” he said. “My brother was the bass player and I wrote the majority of the material. This is what I wanted to do with my life, but the odds were stacked against me.”
Following high school, Forbes enrolled in the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. There he met his wife, JoJo, with whom he has one child. The experience exposed him to a dynamic new milieu of people who were also deaf/hard of hearing (HoH).
Forbes consistently pursued his music despite general misgivings regarding the ability of the deaf/HoH community to enjoy and create music. “When I hear a new song, I’ll be able to hear what the band or singer is trying to convey. I won’t understand the lyrics until I read them. I’ll listen to that song hundreds of times and maybe within the first 20 times, I’ll be able to get down the process. I’m able to actually enjoy the song after that. It becomes a memory in a sense. Music is stationary. I’m able to enjoy and expect the same thing every time I listen to it.”
Disillusioned by the lack of access to music for the deaf/HoH community, Forbes partnered up with Joel Martin, owner of 54 Sound Studio in Ferndale. The two created a non-profit organization to offer musical and informational resources to the deaf/HoH community.
“We (co-founded) D-PAN (Deaf Professional Arts Network) in 2006 with the sole purpose of creating sign language videos.”
Forbes created a video signing “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. Through a mutual friend, he had the opportunity to show the video to the award-winning artist. “(Eminem) was shocked. The first thing he said was, ‘Deaf people like music?’” The rapper was fascinated to learn that the deaf/HoH community are interested and capable of appreciating music on a different level.
D-PAN staffs nearly 35 employees and has expanded its resources to include news, entertainment, and educational content.
With notable songs “I’m Deaf” and “Let’s Mambo,” and his full-length debut album “Perfect Imperfection,” Forbes continues to work on his music and performs throughout the U.S. and abroad.
“It’s been a blessing to be able to do that and to create something so many people believed I couldn’t.”
Photo: Jean Lannen