Big trouble in little Detroit
“I feel like life is all about the decisions you make. This is what I decided. That’s why I put a period on the end of it—because this is definitive.” is what Big Sean said about his album ‘I Decided.’ earlier this year. The cover, featuring two versions of the Detroit, Michigan born rapper (one apparently older than the other), depicts the record’s concept – looking back on the decisions he’s made and standing for them. You might think this would be a difficult idea to execute for a 28 year old, but Sean has had his fair share of experiences both in and outside of the celebrity world.
When I say experiences, I mean bad decisions. As far as his music career goes, Big Sean has always seemed to battle with a case of mistaken identity, never full tearing himself away from the signature sounds of others. Constantly relying on attempts at witty writing and a quick flow, ‘I Decided.‘ looked to be his defining stand in the rap game; a defying cry of “I can do different” while really doing the exact opposite.
‘Sean Don’, as his calls himself, has played host to some of the most questionable hits in rap history (check ‘Dance (A$$) Remix’) and its unclear to see if he’s ashamed of it or not. In the first single for the record entitled ‘Bounce Back’, Sean contemplates the idea of turning a loss into a win – first falling in order to get up greater. It’s a decent metaphor for his career, as he’s undoubtedly done a lot of growing up since his first LP. Over a Metro Boomin produced beat he proclaims his grown up status as he sifts through his various means of flaunting success – dollar bills and women. The line “The underdog just turned into the wolf and the hunger steady grows” shows he’s aware of his status, a not-too impressive MC yet to really capture ears with anything substantial.
Yet across ‘I Decided.‘ Sean attempts to walk this fine line of attempting to dispel the childish nature he’s known for while still mentioning memories like “Remember when you used to come through and hit the Mario Kart / And you always picked the princess / I realised you was princess way back then” (‘Jump Out the Window’). At times, Sean’s writing can be considered cringe worthy, as he borders the line between stupidly funny and just outright idiotic; and it’s unfortunately the case here also. “I kept it a hundred, never change, not even for five 20s / Still smokin’ at 5:20 like it’s 4:20” found on the song ‘Halfway Off the Balcony’ is another wonderful highlight.
For something that was set up to be a coming of age piece, Sean still comes across as a shallow individual, still getting lost in his ego and materialistic distractions . On tracks like ‘Voices In My Head / Stick to the Plan’ and ‘Move’ he displays his avid use of the generic rap line generator, describing in graphically bland detail everything from his come up to how he ‘rules’ his city. The curse of his lack of singularity is much more apparent in these moments, as his flow and choice of instrumental is too akin to that of an artist like Drake, who does it considerably better.
That isn’t to say Sean doesn’t succeed on both sides of the coin. It’s no question that the album has a lot of heart that it isn’t afraid to display on fleeting occasions. The album’s intro ‘Lights’ has this enjoyable R&B slow jam beat driven by some glitzy keys and a welcome hook from Jeremih (especially after the torturous instances of Sean’s singing in the past), and ‘Sunday Morning Jetpack’ is a charming dive into the rapper’s family ties and musical influences: “This feels like the first time I heard Killa Cam / Pink Timb’s, in the Lamb / Mixing it in with Dilla and / Headphones to the ceiling fan”. He even proves he can stand firmly on his more gutsy persona with atmospheric banger ‘No Favors’, although Eminem’s feature verse brings a lot of question into his fading ability and writing. “I saw them eyes (sodomise), like an ass raper” is a line any album could do without.
It’s clear ‘I Decided.’ was an attempt at marking a milestone in Big Sean’s career, a concept project intended to showcase the rapper’s claim that he could make ‘deeper’ cuts and mingle with the big dogs praised for their lyrical intelligence. Too many times though Sean borrows ideas from those around him and inadvertently wears them on his sleeve, never fully differentiating himself from the mundane tropes he wants to disassociate himself with in the first place. It’s definitely his best project, with enough focus to conjure up some good moments, but I expect it’ll get lost amid the rest of what 2017 will come up with.