By Nick Erickson, Staff writer
When rapper Big Sean released “Dark Sky Paradise” in 2015, he treaded into a more serious, moody tone. With his newest studio release, “I Decided,” the Detroit-native proves to have matured even further, not only as an artist, but as a person. An album loosely based off the concept that each decision in his life has changed him in a certain way, the beats and message have as much grit as ever.
The album kicks off with the dramatic “Intro,” which features the voice of an old man telling someone he’s wasted at his dead-end job the past 45 years. The track quickly bleeds into “Light,” where Sean raps over the bluesy sound of a Rhodes piano. Sean’s crisp voice sounds confident as he raps over singer Jeremih’s smooth singing voice. “Even if you take away my life, you can’t take the light,” the two sing. “No matter how much they gonna shade you.”
“Bounce Back” picks up the pace as a trap beat paves the way for Sean to quickly rap over subtle bass booms, resolving into piano. Legendary rapper Eminem features on “No Favors,” where he and Sean both trade lines off rapping how they didn’t need help to get to top of the rap scene. While far from humble, the boldness of this track is admirable, and the instrumental backing Sean and Eminem is undeniably hard-hitting.
Piano loop-driven “Owe Me” is a stand-out track merely for its creative use of chord-hits and vocal rhythms. Here, Sean opens up to a former lover, telling them he’s moving on. The combination of keyboards, a faint train whistle and an ominous vocal chant add an almost unsettling atmosphere to the aura of “Halfway Off The Balcony.” The ending of “Voices In My Head/Stick To The Plan” proves Sean has the speed and vocal chops to stay relevant among many of the newer artists in the scene.
Closer “Bigger Than Me” features the astonishing accompaniment of the Flint Chozen Choir and utilizes one of the catchiest synth intros in modern rap. The choruses are bombastic and soulful, as Sean sings, blending together with the multi-piece harmonies of the choir. Concluding with a phone-call between Sean and his mother, the two talk of his future and his realization that his career is his “chance to go back and make it all right.”
With “I Decided,” Sean continues to distance himself from writing “party” songs about clubbing, and onto tackling his introspective thoughts. Though the writing has developed, Sean’s signature flair of humor in his bars is far from gone. “I Decided” is the most musically-dynamic rap record since Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo,” and that is a huge comparison Sean deservingly lives up to.