Big stars garner large expectations under giant microscopes. Or at least they should — for the sake of the art of music. Now four albums deep, Detroit born-and-raised super spitter Big Sean is without an overt chip on his shoulder for the first time in his career. Sean’s commercial appeal helped him earn fans across the globe with his rapidly witty bars, winning smile, and uncanny charisma. Typically, Sean Don’s high-octane delivery and high-spirited lyrical approach make for some of the most memorable and entertaining hip-hop tracks to-date. To me, he is one of those artists whose hit songs are still lovable when they come on shuffle despite getting terribly overplayed on radio waves (however, I have shunned radio play for quite some time so I understand if you don’t feel the same way). 2015’s Dark Sky Paradise showed greater focus both musically and lyrically, elevating Sean from one of rap’s most promising emcees to one of its most underrated. Sadly, what seemed to be an artistic breakthrough going forward has now crashed, burned, and vanished into thin air on this new, full-length LP.
The main decision Big Sean appears to make on his fourth studio album is to follow the road more traveled. Trendy and tremendously skilled production from Metro Boomin, DJ Dahi, DJ Mustard, Amaire Johnson, Key Wane, and others lay down a proficient red carpet for Sean to strut across. These beats are contagious and bouncy, making I Decided. a relatively easy listen. The guests on this record pack a punch too. Jeremih’s feathery vocals featured on the hook of the album opener “Light” and in the background of both “Bounce Back” and “Jump Out the Window” secure each respective track in a gleaming and snug shell. Sean’s girlfriend and musical partner-in-crime Jhené Aiko also chimes in with pretty runs and harmonies per usual on “Same Time, Pt. 1”. But at a measly 89 seconds in length, what could have been one of this album’s more accessible tracks instead only adds to its comprehensive disappointment. Migos lend their fully-automatic deliveries to “Sacrifices” which, backed by the ever-improving pen of Quavious Marshall, revitalizes the latter half of the album considerably. Fellow Detroit native Eminem makes a rare appearance as well on the smooth and dizzy, WondaGurl-produced “No Favors”.
The question isn’t whether Eminem kills it or not — he is Eminem, of course he brought the heat. If there is an Eminem rap verse checklist somewhere out there, all the boxes are marked here: voice inflections, celebrity name-drops, wordplay wizardry, borderline-psychotic threats of violence. Nearly everything you could ask for from Em is present yet the muddy recording of his contribution feel more mailed-in than purposeful. Similarly, Big Sean’s lyrical performance throughout I Decided. has an uninspired complexion to it. Although this album averages between four and five writers per song, these tracks consistently lack inventive substance or thematic relevance. This album’s concept is utterly vague as Sean attempts to piece it all together with futile skits sprinkled in here and there. He also struggles to commit to his own original flows and melodies. “Highway Off the Balcony” feels like a Drake cover. And “Bounce Back” sees Sean once again biting Drizzy as he pairs the 6 God’s elongated finishing bars with a Future-esque follow-up sequence. With fans, critics, and peers now considering him a top-tier lyricist in most cases, Sean has seemed to have lost his edge. For an artist who by now should know how to take the right risks, this album suffers from feeling somewhat out-dated despite just dropping. Although I know for a fact Big Sean-the-man is still incredibly hungry, Big Sean-the-artist sounds uncharacteristically complacent and artistically regressive on these 14 tracks, resulting in his most forgettable material thus far.