Monday, February 6, 2017

Big Sean - I Decided. Review

Two years ago, I mistakingly gave Big Sean a chance. Surely a name synonymous with Hip-Hop's recent culture must have some interesting facets surrounding him. What I found was Dark Sky Paradise, an album that found redeemable qualities in the production from others, but whose greatest weakness was Sean himself. Poor lyrics, cliche topical content, okay flows, and hooks that always seem influenced by Hip-Hop's present, Big Sean quite literally defines the most boring, redundant, and insipid aspects of the genre. In the lead-up to I Decided, the perception was that nothing had changed, despite the seemingly confident title Sean himself mustered up. A slew of singles, few appearing here, proved time and time again that the Detroit rapper has no growth, no creativity, and no confidence to try something different, ironic considering his braggadocios nature. Therein lies the problem of I Decided. What exactly has he so assuredly decided upon? Apart from electing to pick up the ringing phone, an ongoing storyline woven through skits, Sean's apparently decided to be the same boring artist he's been all his life. There's no reinvention here, only stagnation. I Decided is an embarrassing documentation of what happens when a musician convinces themselves of something they're not. In Big Sean's case; being good.

Despite Dark Sky Paradise featuring many of the same themes as I Decided, including relational troubles, early life struggles, and newly found fame, the 2015 LP cruised by on relative sincerity. Essentially, there wasn't an overarching concept of metaphorical transformation found there, just a collection of songs intent on presenting Hip-Hop. Above all else, that's what makes I Decided a frustrating listen. It pretends to be something greater, much greater, than what it actually is. While I can commend Sean for, occasionally, retaining a single idea throughout the duration of a song, the themes are so uninteresting I can't help but tune them out. 'Bounce Back,' the album's biggest single, finds Sean rebounding after taking an "L," while 'Jump Out The Window' sees him questioning a relationship and its worth by contemplating suicide, all the while singing just like Drake. That's not all, 'Halfway Off The Balcony' is almost exactly like the aforementioned song, while 'Voices In My Head / Stick To The Plan' and 'Sacrifices' witness Sean struggling to focus on his music. Hip-Hop 101, all of them. Not once does Sean make a unique statement, despite talking about himself for 50 minutes.

Another Pop Rap trope found here is the laziness in execution of a concept. It's one thing to allow your skits to drive the story, another thing entirely to exclude the topic at hand (in Sean's case, the love for his mother) in every other song. Countless albums have abided by this formula, pretending their LP had greater meaning because the skits came to fruition one or two times towards the end. 'Inspire Me' and 'Bigger Than Me' accomplish this, but are not remotely enough to make up for the wasted time pondering over petty melodramas. Besides, if Big Sean endured the struggles and setbacks he so constantly talks about here, these trifling squabbles should mean nothing to him. While he's typically known for his flow, Big Sean stumbles here as often as he rides a beat fearlessly. This can be seen on tracks like 'Moves' and 'No Favors,' the latter of which features Eminem. Before the celebrated emcee takes the stage, Big Sean tries to imitate him, something he'll do later on 'Sacrifices' with Migos, failing both times. In regards to 'No Favors' though, Big Sean would've been better off leaving Eminem alone, as the aging veteran raps one of the worst verses I've heard in my entire life. It's abysmal.

To say Big Sean albums are primarily ingested for their lyrical output would be ignorant on behalf of the listening community. While Sean aims to be a thought-provoking lyricist, with bars that should be appreciated, only his mindless stans feel similar. Party-fancy hits are where the man's bread and butter reside, and that's only because of the names and sounds behind him on the boards. Dark Sky Paradise, as mentioned before, stayed afloat thanks to Vinylz, DJ Mustard, Mike Will Made It, and more. Not Big Sean. Apart from Mustard, these names are replaced with more current trend-hopping producers, namely Metro Boomin, who appears on three selections. However, virtual unknown Amaire Johnson handles the bulk, and the lack of known characteristics hurts the instrumentation beneath. Apart from a few engaging encounters, like the bounce of 'Jump Out The Window' or the weightiness of 'Bigger Than Me,' most of I Decided is virtually forgettable. Either that or they're entirely imitative, something to be expected given Sean's middle-of-the-road ideology. 'Light' borrows from The Social Experiment's childlike haze, 'Bounce Back' and 'Moves' feel plucked from Views' filler, and of course 'Sacrifices' travels to Atlanta for some Migos-inspired Trap. 

I Decided doesn't have a sound of its own, because Big Sean himself has never had one. Dark Sky Paradise masqueraded an aesthetic through monochrome darkness. For the most part, that worked. Here, the sounds are just generic, through and through. They either work because they've worked for others, or miss the mark because they're unimaginative fodder. 'Bounce Back' is an example of the former, and that's largely because of a certain phrase kickstarting the track ("if young metro don't trust you...") implying the presence of a certain someone. Then there's 'No Favors,' 'Stick To The Plan,' and 'Owe Me,' which are all essentially metronomes so Big Sean can rhyme effectively. They don't add intrigue, enjoyment, or purpose, they're just there to service a larger goal. 'Owe Me,' in particular, is so forgettable, after just a couple listens for the purpose of reviewing the album, I completely forgot it existed. That's in regards to the production, but Sean's Drake-like romantic mush doesn't help matters either. In fact, there's very little value to be unearthed throughout the majority of I Decided. Even the highest of points don't warrant wallowing through the mud. Only Big Sean could make a transformative album centered on the self and return to the exact same place he's been.

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