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Sean Forbes is a hip-hop artist with a difference — while old-school rappers proudly proclaimed their rhymes were def, Forbes himself truly is deaf, and has dedicated himself to making a place in popular music for the hard of hearing. Sean Forbes was born in Detroit, Michigan on February 5, 1982. Forbes grew up in a musical household (his father is a member of a country-rock band in Detroit, and his mother plays the piano), and he and his siblings were exposed to music on a daily basis. When he was only a few months old, Forbes lost nearly all his hearing after a bout with spinal meningitis (he estimates that he's 90% deaf), but he could still feel the vibrations of music through this hands and his body, and his family noticed he had a keen sense of rhythm. Forbes learned to play drums and guitar while still in grade school, and formed a band with his siblings; he also began writing his own songs.
After completing high school, Forbes attended the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, where he received a multidisciplinarian degree in management, accounting, and communications. But Forbes still had a keen interest in music, and while interning at an engineering company in Chicago, he was offered a scholarship for graduate work, only to reply he had plans to become a rock star. "He laughed at me right there," Forbes told a reporter, "And I was kind of saying it in like a jokingly manner, but I was also pretty serious about it 'cause I knew that was what I wanted." While visiting a recording studio in Detroit, Forbes began writing rhymes to go with a demo CD of beats he'd found; the tracks were created by Jake Bass, the son of producer Jeff Bass, and soon Forbes struck a deal with Web Entertainment Records, a label run by Jeff Bass and his brother Mark Bass. Teaming with Jake, Forbes began writing songs that suited his skills as a rapper, with Sean dropping rhymes both verbally and with his hands, using American Sign Language.
After producing a handful of music videos in collaboration with filmmaker Adrean Mangiardi (who is also deaf), including a clip for "Let's Mambo" featuring Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, in 2012 Forbes released his first album, Perfect Imperfection, which included a DVD with videos for seven songs, allowing it to be enjoyed by deaf and hearing audiences. In addition to his career in music and his sideline as a motivational speaker and advocate, Forbes is the founder of D-PAN, the Deaf Professional Arts Network, which works with hearing-impaired artists and produces music videos that feature performers who interpret songs using American Sign Language, including hits by Imagine Dragons, John Mayer, Christina Aguilera, and the White Stripes. Speaking of the latter, Forbes said in a 2012 interview, "It was the first time that we had an artist actually really help us. That's what we want — to share your music with a community of 30 million people. That's how many are missing out on your material."