Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Big Sean - Dark Sky Paradise Review

How do we value a rapper who's lyrically inferior to the game's average but capable of aligning mass appeal through infectious beats and catchy choruses? This is a question I asked myself while reviewing Riff Raff's Neon Icon, and while the content was abysmal, it was expected and part of the fun. Does Big Sean deserve that same pass when he says "I'm tryna move in my safe, like the safe was a safe house" 22 seconds into his latest LP? For anyone unaware, Big Sean's lyrical style tip-toes the line between absurd and genius, a feat few rappers not named Kanye West can pull off. Fitting that the Detroit-based emcee resides on West's G.O.O.D. Music label, notoriously known for their forward-thinking production despite their mostly static talking points. It's this mindset that largely defines Big Sean's latest, Dark Sky Paradise, an album rife with redundancy but provocative in its alluring beat selection. The accompaniment list runs like an all-star game starting line-up, making Sean's ability to stand out even more impressive. But with a collection of 12 songs blazed through Dark Sky Paradise, the needless amount of filler dilute the overall piece to being another cog in mainstream rap, intent on showcasing the stunning production over the senseless subject matter.

Where Big Sean, or G.O.O.D Music as a whole, have never failed resides in the production, and that trend tastefully continues. Dark Sky Paradise features a litany of stellar production that works as a pro to the album, but a con for Sean. After years in the game it still feels like the rapper can't come to a consensus on his bonafide sound. This isn't a testament to his diversity, because his voice, a trademark of his character, never shows any range, even when bad boy banger anthems like 'Blessings' clash with introspective works like 'Deep.' His redundancy sticks out like a sore thumb when the production itself never remains stagnant, going from atmospheric hellholes like on Mike Will's 'Paradise (Extended)' to John Legend's piano led melody of 'One Man Can Change The World.' Hell, even tracks like 'All Your Fault' and 'I Don't Fuck With You' flip things too quickly for Sean to even keep up, swapping trunk rattlers with throwback soul samples. All of this works flawlessly sonically mind you, the bottom half of the latter track, following a beat switch, is probably the best moment on the album. At some moments though it feels like Dark Sky Paradise is more a showcase to 2015 beats and the evolution they've experienced than a memoir for Sean to get his feelings out. 

What largely attributes to how you view Big Sean's music is what you get out of it. I never go into a Comedy movie expecting a well thought-out story, should I dock it for that reason? Typically no, but where Hip-Hop gets blurry lies in rappers' insistence on being better than their competition, a facet of Big Sean's disposition down to the appendage at the front of his name. He claims superiority through his lyrics, flows, and philosophical viewpoints, three things few rappers can attribute to themselves past Andre 3000, and yet Sean believes he's a virtue of all three when in reality he only excels in the middle one. As evidenced with artists like Yung Lean, you can get rather far with stylized, highly-addictive bangers, something Sean relies on for roughly half of Dark Sky Paradise, faltering in the tracks where he doesn't. 'Deep' comes off as comical when lines like "sometimes I wonder if I already died, that shit get deep" parade around like they're introspective works of art. 'Play No Games' couldn't get more trivial if Sean tried, down to the paltry chorus sung by Chris Brown. And despite the fact that 'One Man' fortuitously thrives off its lovable nature and unique mating of auto tune and piano one can't look past the fact that Sean seems to think he can change the world.

For Sean though he reliance on his voice and flow is a definite selling point, one he rightfully plays up. The words may not be choosy and how he strings them together may be superfluous, but damn if Sean can't dominate any flow he's given. There's times when he stumbles, leading to obvious moments where the beat drops out just so he can continue to go oft-kilter, but when he's on he's on. He out performs Drake on 'Blessings,' which is quite a shock considering that's a Drake song if I've ever heard one. 'I Know' slows things down to a autotune-enhanced drawl that Sean nimbly dances around, and 'Dark Sky' sees the emcee pouncing on a word every time the beat thuds. Lyrically speaking, he's not that great, but it's expected. For fans of one-liners with a punchline Big Sean is proving why he's one of the best. There's a litany of knocks here that rival early Lil Wayne, who appears on the album sporting his scratchy voice and southern flow. There's honestly too many one-liners to list, and thankfully for every one eye-rolling dud there's three eye-opening fires. It's unfortunate though that the majority of his lines follow this structure, leading each verse to conclude with "I get the message, but what did he even say?" 

On Dark Sky Paradise Big Sean brings out a collection of top-tier rappers and producers to make his credit list a showing of who's who. For the most part these features bring their A-game, or whatever's left of it. The inclusion of E-40 on 'I Don't Fuck With You' is poignant and excellent, as is Drake on 'Blessings.' In fact, it's really Kanye on 'All Your Fault' that gets the short end of the stick with a catalogue of dull lines ("Tom Cruise told me we jumping up on them couches" Really Ye?), that's only partially reciprocated on 'One Man.' But still, where the features shine brightest is on the boards. The only letdown in this department is 'Win Some, Lose Some' with T-Minus and Boi-1da formulating the beat, a beat that works by the books with little imagination to boost. For Sean, these beats largely make Dark Sky Paradise worthwhile, as the lyrics and content packed within is a regurgitated coffin adorned with a new cover made to seem fresh. 

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