Big Sean’s life would have been completely different had he not decided to speak to Kanye West. While working at a radio station back in 2005, Sean Anderson approached West and asked to freestyle for the superstar. ‘Ye agreed to a brief 16 bars, and Sean rapped for 10 minutes straight. According to the young artist, who listened to The College Dropout every day on the way to school, it was a “rap fairy tale.” If Sean froze up, he wouldn’t have signed a recording deal with West’s G.O.O.D. Music label, embarked on worldwide tours, or sold hundreds of thousands of albums.
Sean’s new studio effort, I Decided., is a loose concept album about how each choice he has made in life has affected him for better or worse. His fourth record treads the same moody path he blazed on 2015’s Dark Sky Paradise, and moves further away from his earliest work. The Detroit rapper trades in puerile punchlines for harder-hitting lyrics and powerhouse beats to bolster him. Sean’s sense of humor and hooky raps aren’t absent from these tracks, but he’s clearly maturing into a more serious artist.
A slightly melodramatic “Intro” features the voiceover of an older man, an alternate Sean, lamenting that he’s had the same dead-end job for 45 years. Sean first appears on the contemplative “Light”, rapping about discovering inner strength and changing his life. “You can’t fuck with the light,” he says, perhaps in a subtle nod to his mentor Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” where Chance rapped, “You cannot mess with the light.”
Rousing lead single “Bounce Back” shows that the clever wordplay that Sean’s shown from the start remains intact. “If I lose 1, I bounce back like 2, 3 did with 4, 5/ Seen court rooms and court sides, ain’t too many seen both sides,” he spits with a nimble flow.
Sean’s infamous ad libs (“Boi”, “I dooo it”, “Swerve”) and party songs are largely nonexistent, and in their place are more intense verses and subject matter. Take, for instance, the track “No Favors” with fellow Detroiter Eminem. Shady barks a fiery political verse (“Donald Trump is a bitch/ I’ll make his whole brand go under”), and Sean’s no slouch either (“The D to Flint, kids who get sick with lead/ Others get hit with the lead”). The former class clown of G.O.O.D. Music has grown up.
The chinks in the album’s armor come from a few filler tracks like “Same Time Pt.1” and the well-meaning-but-bland “Inspire Me”. Sean proves he is definitely not a singer on the former, but is saved by Jhene Aiko, his counterpart in their side project Twenty88.
The entire concept of the album can be fuzzy at times with vague skits tying it all together. Sean’s smooth delivery and acumen for choosing beats on the record are usually enough to distract from weak storytelling. Metro Boomin’s brooding production on “Bounce Back” and the Migos-featuring “Sacrifices” ground some of the rapper’s sillier lines.
“I feel like life is all about the decisions you make,” Sean said in a recent interview with Zane Lowe about the album. “This is what I decided. That’s why I put a period on the end of it — because this is definitive.” True to his words, I Decided. is a fresh statement that proves Big Sean is continuing to evolve.
Essential Tracks: “Bounce Back”, “No Favors”, and “Sacrifices”