Detroit rapper Big Sean has always had a bit of a weird place on hip hop’s totem pole. He’s not really big enough to be compared to, say, Drake or Kendrick Lamar. By the same token, he’s obviously bigger than rappers like Kevin Gates or Wale. So he’s somewhere in the middle, past the point where casual hip hop fans might say “who?” but not quite at the point where your cool uncle will know who you’re talking about.
The same logic can also be applied to Sean’s music. No one can doubt his rapping ability, as his flow and witty wordplay are some of today’s best. However, his ambition to create something more than your run-of-the-mill rap project is his Achilles heel, as it highlights his weaknesses rather than his strengths.
Look, no one can fault Sean for wanting to be recognized as a complete artist: being around Kanye West can do that to you. However, after 4 albums (not to mention his collaborative album with songstress Jhene Aiko), it’s strange that Sean has once again tried his hand at singing when it’s apparent he just doesn’t have the chops. His voice – in all its monotonous, dull glory – fails for the large part to reinforce the emotional lyrics throughout the album. On songs like “Jump Out the Window,” where Sean plays ‘Captain Save-a-Girl,’ any attempt to sound sincere goes out the window as soon as Sean opens his mouth. “Owe Me” and “Halfway Off the Balcony” both suffer from poorly sung hooks in different ways. The former lacks any sort of skillfull cadence while the latter tries to do too much, not to mention it bites Drake’s flow on “Connect” off his Nothing Was The Same album. What’s most unfortunate is these off-form performances take away from the stellar production Key Wane, Wondagurl, Metro Boomin and others provide the record with.
The irony surrounding Sean is he’s at his best the less he’s trying. The simplest songs on the album happen to be the finest, whether it’s the rebound anthem “Bounce Back” or the hi-hat-laden “Moves.” Energetic, fun and filled with savvy lines (“Hit after hit, check the batting average” is among the most potent), it’s Sean Don’s braggadocious side that showcases his talents best. Not only do they accentuate his strengths as a rapper, the themes of the tracks come across more naturally when he’s not trying to reach some artistic peak. For example, Sean’s ruthless persistence that he doesn’t need any help on “No Favors” is emphasized more instinctively than his repetitive “Stick to the plan” chorus on “Voices In My Head/Stick To the Plan.”
Sometimes, simple is better. It doesn’t have to mean rehashing old ideas or sticking to what you’ve already done, rather it can mean building upon an already winning formula. Sean doesn’t lack creativity by any means, though on I Decided. he has a difficult time channeling that creativity into something less bland and more unique, which makes it hard for the listener to focus on what he’s doing right and more on what he’s struggling to achieve.
Noted music reviewer Anthony Fantano said that “Big Sean’s best album is a decent Drake album.” While some may scoff at that comparison, it’s a fairly accurate take. Rappers like the latter – those who possess at worst decent singing ability – are able to pull off what Sean’s attempting to do with this record (and career, really). There are no shortage of ideas and concepts on this record; it’s the shortage of execution that leaves more to be desired.
Drake once said “Know yourself, know your worth.” Big Sean might want to take that saying to heart on his next project.
6.3 – 10