BY JOHN WYATT–SPORTS SECTION EDITOR
My relationship with Big Sean’s music is turbulent at best. More often than not, he puts out mediocre songs filled with mediocre verses and rhymes. Most hip-hop fans seem to share some amount of disdain for him, but somehow he still manages to find his way through the mainstream, getting baffling cosigns by heavyweights like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. West even said that when he first heard Big Sean that his voice reminded West of Notorious B.I.G.
B.S. praises aside, Big Sean somehow managed to stay relevant despite his lackluster catalogue. His first two official albums, Finally Famous and Hall of Fame saw lukewarm reception at best. He produced a few minor radio hits like “Guap,” but he never managed to receive the critical praise that his peers such as Pusha T or YG earned. Sadly, the biggest buzz around his name in the past year or two came from his unreleased song “Control,” but not for his own verse. Instead, the Internet made him the mocking boy after Kendrick Lamar dropped a legendary verse on the song which even name-checked Big Sean on the song.
His new LP Dark Sky Paradise quiets at least a few of the haters. The biggest difference that sets this album apart from his other projects is the darker production that permeates throughout the album. Heavy, hard-hitting drums, eerie violins, and dark, moody keys make a permanent mark on the overall mood of the album with contributions from prolific producers such as DJ Mustard, Kanye West, and Boi-1da. The production by far is the most consistent and standout quality of the album.
Now let’s get to Big Sean on this album. Compared to previous work, there is a decent amount of progress in terms of lyrics and flow. Big Sean’s lyrics are a lot more personal and engaging on this album, like on the song “One Man Can Change the World,” where Big Sean sings over a moody, up-lifting piano line. He raps about the struggles of making it, and the wishes for his friends and family to share similar success. There’s even a brief phone conversation between Sean and his grandmother that adds a layer of personality to the usually goofy and class-clown type demeanor that Big Sean usually portrays. His flow and delivery also see a bit of progress on this album. On the intro track, “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” Sean spits off a bit of a southern flow with some rapid fire rhymes.
But while there is progress, Big Sean still has a lot of room left for growing. My biggest complaint against him is that he tries to ride the coattails of other rappers rather than establish a niche out his own style, something truly his own. For example, after listening to Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, I can’t help but feel that he is trying to mimic (to an extent) that same dark, moody feel that Drake set the Internet on fire with. Too often Big Sean sounds like he is just trying to ride the trends more than contribute to them.
Further, it seems like Big Sean is trying to mimic Drake in the sense that he is trying to (or thinks he already does) have the same sort of cultural impact Drake has. Drake is notorious for providing plenty of hooks and verses that become instant sayings within our culture: “Started from the bottom,” “YOLO,” “No new friends,” are just a few of the many examples. When Drake drops a quote like that, people instantly inject it into everyday conversation, and I feel Big Sean is guilty of trying to imitate that on the album’s biggest hit, “I Don’t F*ck with You.” While I have heard the phrase used in several conversations on Centre’s campus, it doesn’t excuse the fact that Big Sean sounds like a 13-year-old boy trying to talk tough after being asked to quit skateboarding on the Campus Center steps. The style of the song, I believe, is an attempt to cash in on Lamar’s high pitched raps. The guy’s voice cracks multiple times throughout the song to a point that it becomes unbearable.
Big Sean’s biggest problem is that he is just plain forgettable. His puns and playful rhymes rarely have the charm Lil Wayne’s do, his inflections and quasi-singing verses don’t have the same vibe Drake’s do, and his flow doesn’t have the same sense of urgency or confidence that someone like Kendrick’s does. For every one or two songs with decent production or a decent guest feature he puts out there’s just as many (usually more though) that he puts out that are just plain mediocre. Big Sean is not the worst rapper out right now by far. But mediocrity is even worse a trap than just flat out untalented. There are plenty of awful rappers that are arguably some of the most popular emerging artists (looking at you Lil B and 2 Chainz). Big Sean is just like the NBA teams stuck in early playoff exit territory; just enough success to be heard, but not enough to actually do something meaningful.
Negative complaints against Big Sean aside, I genuinely think that this is his best album. The production throughout the album is pretty spot on, and his verses and flow are a lot better than past albums. While I’m not ready to call Big Sean a talented artist, this album is undeniably an improvement and a step in the right direction. Only time will tell if Big Sean has any lasting appeal to listeners once his rapper friends stop cosigning him.