REVIEW: Big Sean’s “I Decided” is an Old Trick from Hip-Hop’s Underdog

"I Decided" cover art.

By Conner Harrison
BU News Service

Big Sean spits out the opening hook on his 4th Studio album “I Decided” with plenty of confidence: “No matter how much they gon’ shade you, man they can’t fuck with the light, they can’t stop the shine, they can’t fuck with the light, hell nah the boy’s that bright.” For his contemporaries, light/shade wordplay as a metaphor for haters would be slammed as Kidz Bop cover material. Kendrick Lamar wouldn’t get away with this on “King Kunta”, but Sean is a millennial wunderkind, successfully repackaging his “hey fam I made it!” narrative over club-trap beats that are often derided as radio throwaways.

Don’t let his boyish charm and high school locker room soundtracks make you roll your eyes; he’s G.O.O.D. Music royalty, has released new music every year since 2009, and went platinum on “Dark Sky Paradise,” his highly acclaimed third LP which allowed him to regain his identity after 2013’s disappointing “Hall of Fame,” an era he refers to as the “worst feeling ever.” Sean is on a winning streak, and is hell-bent on carving out a hip-hop legacy as this decade’s winningest underdog, even if it means delaying fatherhood. He is addicted to perfection – squarely on his own terms, and the more mature “Dark Sky Paradise” suggested Sean was finally meshing his club-trap brand with genuinely nuanced lyrics and themes that might appeal to hip-hop fans more enthralled with the introspective and complicated in the vein of “Butterfly”.

“Sometimes I feel like I was an old man and didn’t succeed in life and asked for a second chance, and this is my second chance,” Sean described to a friend, originating the album’s rebirth concept. “I Decided” is Big Sean’s ode to self-confidence and motivation music, drawing its themes from the Motown likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. “People who can be inspired by it, that’s who I’m doing it for. Everybody else can fuck off or whatever,” Sean said.

But instead of expanding on the depth and more vulnerable verses of “Dark Sky”, “I Decided” confirms Sean’s status as the poster rapper for an observation mentor Kanye West made about hip-hop artists years ago: “songs on their 7th, 8th albums sound like exactly like their songs on their first albums.”

Behind the loaded moniker “concept album”, “I Decided” mimics the themes and beats of Sean’s first two albums. While there are melodies evident of Kanye’s influence harkening back to crowd-pleasers like “Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay,” the club-trap production is here in force – without a real single. The album noticeably lacks a banger like “I Don’t Fuck With You” which has bought a few years on radio and club rotations in a way that lead single “Big Bounce” never was going to.

Unfortunately, Big Sean’s lyrical ceiling may have plateaued on “Dark Sky.” On “Inspire Me” he falls short with a homage to his mom on the level of Tupac’s “Dear Mama,” comparing her value as such: “You text me, tell me to take my vitamins, when I got a new love you invite ’em in when we break up, you don’t like ’em then (no), loyal, loyal, swear you super loyal, worth more to me than striking oil.”

It’s no surprise that he is “Renegaded” by Eminem, who goes classic Marshall Mathers on “Big Bounce” with a disturbing verse that is more interesting than anything Big Sean has to say on his own turf – because he’s said it all before. But he enjoys enough commercial success – backed up by his work-ethic and superstar allies – to coast, and starve off the conceited thought that he is artistically forgettable in a generation of rappers producing the likes of “To Pimp Butterfly”.

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