Reviews

Big Sean Steps Into Elite Territory on 'I Decided.'



XL

Def Jam
Def Jam

The success of Big Sean‘s debut album, Finally Famous, may have afforded him the lifestyle he dreamed of, but the project also came with great expectation, which some critics would say he faltered under, using his underwhelming sophomore effort, Hall of Fame, as evidence of his decline. However, Big Sean would silence many of his critics who had distanced him from the conversation of the top rappers of his era after unleashing Dark Sky Paradise, an album receiving rave reviews, with collaborations with Drake (“Blessings”), Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign (“Play No Games”) and his platinum hit with E-40 (“IDFWU”) all showcasing his potential as a hit-making superstar.

But all that glitters isn’t gold, and although Big Sean had reached the top of the mountain, there were still questions within himself that had yet to be answered — questions of love, family, success and loyalty. Life is all about the decisions one makes and too many wrong turns can lead into a life of regret, which is a fear that Big Sean knows well. But instead of shying away from those emotions, the superstar in waiting examines them at length on I Decided., his fourth studio album and his first since releasing Dark Sky Paradise nearly two years ago. And after giving Sean Don’s latest long player a listen, it doesn’t take long to conclude that the rapper has been going through a few things as of late.

“Look, I spent my whole life trying to improvise/I’m not saying that shit for you to sympathize/Spent my whole life tryna find the light that’s at the end of the tunnel/I should have realized it was inside,” Big Sean reveals on “Light,” which features an appearance from R&B star Jeremih and samples Alicia Keys’ “Unbreakable” in addition to interpolations of Eddie Kendrick’s “Intimate Friends.”

Speaking out to the downtrodden dreamers striving to maintain their resolve in times of turmoil, Sean provides an inspirational anthem for those spiritually fatigued, an early indicator of what I Decided. has to offer. Being a native son of Detroit and arguably the city’s best shot at having a superstar atop the rap food chain since the emergence of Eminem nearly 20 years ago, it was only a matter of time the two crossed paths on wax, which occurs on “No Favors,” one of the most anticipated selections on the LP.

Produced by FrancisGotHeat & Wondagurl, “No Favors” is reminiscent of “Blessings” in sentiment and finds Big Sean dropping a highlight-reel worthy verse full of wit, but his performance is ultimately overshadowed by Eminem, whose shock value alone quickly shrouds the song in controversy. Notorious for his penchant for spouting off problematic lyrics with abandon, Shady is up to his old tricks on this outing, dropping admittedly cringe-worthy lines like “Insanely perverted, rapey and scurvy/They blame me for murdering Jamie Lee Curtis” and fantasizing about “urinating on Fergie.” The multiple references of domestic violence also cast a dark cloud over what is easily one of the biggest collaborations of Big Sean’s career and one of the album’s strongest offerings.

Infamous for his string of high-profile relationships and being one of rap’s preeminent Casanovas of the moment, it’s no surprise that I Decided. includes a considerable amount of fare dedicated to the opposite sex. “Jump Out the Window,” produced by KeY Wane, has smash hit written all over it and finds Big Sean contemplating shooting his shot. “I think I’m ready to jump out the window/And turn that nigga that you with right back into your friend, though,” he delivers. That particular line borders on dirty-macking which, after finding himself in beef with Kid Cudi over his alleged relationship with Twenty88 collaborator Jhene Aiko, is irony at its finest.

While Sean would address the issue on his 2016 loosie “No More Interviews” and has yet to officially confirm a relationship between the two, Jhene’s presence on I Decided., whether it be her appearance on “Same Time, Pt. 1,” or Sean’s lines like “Back when I dated Alisha, Simone or any other girl who looked like Lisa Bonet/Who was jealous of me and Jhené” on “Sunday Morning Jetpack” should only add fuel to those rumors.

Big Sean’s love life may be of interest to the public, but the component that sets I Decided. apart from his other work to date is his unbridled honesty and introspect, which he gives glimpses of throughout the album. Produced by Amaire Johnson, “Halfway Off the Balcony” sees him admitting how he copes with the demands and stress that success can bring, rapping, “My daddy tell me, “Stay strong, son and be the man you have to be/Hold the ship down, don’t crash at sea,” while “Sunday Morning Jetpack” finds him reminiscing on Sunday dinners with family, memories of advice from his grandmother and old flames.

One of the more poignant and touching moments on I Decided. comes courtesy of “Inspire Me,” a song showing reverence to Big Sean’s mother, Myra Anderson, and touching on her guidance and all of the sacrifices made to enable his current success. Produced by Sidney Swift, Detail and Track Burnaz, “Inspire Me” features Sean promising to be more family-oriented in the future, a theme that dominates I Decided. throughout and allows for glimpses into the psyche of Sean Anderson, the man behind the persona.

His heart is nearly as impressive as his rap skills, which is most evident on “Bigger Than Me,” the album’s finale cut dedicated to his core group of family, supporters and his community back in Detroit. Featuring Starrah and Michigan’s own Flint Chozen Choir, lines like “Look, all I wanna do is make the city proud, yeah/Wishing all the OGs could see me now, now, yeah” see Sean Don basking in the glory of giving back rather than the spoils of stardom and is a testament to his growth as a man, as well as an artist.

I Decided. may be more sentimental than boisterous, but that doesn’t mean that it’s without the prototypical club bangers that we’ve come to know Big Sean for. Early leaks like the album’s lead single, “Bounce Back,” and “Moves” are sure to keep dance floors packed and systems booming well into spring, but the Migos-assisted “Sacrifice,” which sees Offset and Quavo teaming up with Sean for one of the LP’s more riveting selections, may trump them all when all is said and done. Big Sean rises to the occasion on I Decided., arguably the best album of his career, and one that secures his spot as one of the top five artists in hip-hop today.

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