Big Sean Takes Hip-Hop In A New Direction

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Big Sean is a man of many catchphrases—“Sean Don,” “straight up,” “finally famous.” Many taglines—“look,” “brrr,” “uhhhh.”  Many recurring characters in his songs—Ashley… Lisa… Kanye. Is there room for growth? Is he capable of something… more? Something just as catchy, iconic, and purposeful? Well, he tried. Whether it is better or worse, here are 4 reasons why I Decided (released Friday) stands out from any other selection from his discography.

The Recurring Sound  

Upon initial run-through, the album definitely sounds different as a whole from his previous works. While all three of his previous studio albums have their own distinct sound—Finally Famous is lavish and bold, Hall of Fame is light and cocky, and Dark Sky Paradise is dark but full of energy—I Decided isn’t dark or light necessarily, but something new. With certain exceptions in songs such as “No Favors” and “Voices in My Head / Stick to the Plan,” most songs tend to pair a pressing, groovy beat to a slower, melodic rap flow—an area Sean hasn’t explored yet.

Eminem’s Verse

Because Eminem nearly single-handedly put Detroit on the hip-hop map, it’s no surprise that Big Sean is a pretty huge fan. He references the 44-year-old rapper in many verses, prominently on “Nothing is Stopping You,” from Hall of Fame. I Decided’s “No Favors” isn’t the first time they’ve teamed up, either. 2014’s Marshall Mathers LP 2 brought the two Detroit-based rappers together on the song “Detroit Vs. Everybody.” So is it a pretty cool acknowledgement to have them together on a track on this new project? Absolutely. Does it deliver? That one’s not as easy. I’m as big of an Em fan as anybody, but the verse is terribly typical. He spits exactly what anyone would have imagined—bragging about his legacy, an allegory of murdering a less-than-relevant celebrity, unparalleled wordplay yet with a sloppy flow. It’s always a powerful recognition when an OG rapper is used in new albums, but unless the verse makes a difference by artfully sacrificing egotism and legacy to create a new and coherent statement, such as Snoop Dogg’s Verse in Kendrick Lamar’s “Institutionalized” from To Pimp a Butterfly, I’m afraid it is nothing but that.

Flint References

The Michigan representative makes a powerful statement in the first verse of “No Favors”: “I do this for the crib, from the D to Flint / Kids who get sick with lead, others get hit with lead.” While the bar is a strong-willed and more than relevant, Big Sean isn’t just walking the walk. Here is what he said last week on The Daily Show:

“It’s not even close to be over. In that situation it’s not a natural disaster. It’s something that should have been prevented and could have been prevented. It’s just disgusting to think about the damages that these families and even kids have to go through.”

Through the Sean Anderson Foundation, on top of several other projects, he has raised $100,000 for the people of Flint. Beyond that, he wanted to show some support on his creative side as well by featuring the Flint Chozen Choir in its entirety on the final track, “Bigger Than Me.” The song bridges the gap between commentary on social injustice and the overall concept of the album–that the events in life, through the decisions we make, is bigger than us.

Central Theme

Big Sean has said in several interviews that he sees himself in an alternate life making all the wrong decisions—this is reflected by the intro to I Decided, as well as interludes and skits throughout. He claims that he feels as though as an old man, he was able to go back in time and live the life he always wanted to live (Sean’s current life). That’s the idea behind the album—having the wisdom and retrospect as an old man with the body and capabilities of a young one. While his albums have had some recurring themes in the past—thieving girlfriends, one night stands, family values—this is the most coherent and developed one of any of his previous works.

While it is far from flawless, I Decided brings to light a new concept and sound for a new year and creative direction in hip-hop.

Featured image by Big Sean via flickr, available under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.

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