It makes sense that Big Sean is one of Kanye West’s closest proteges. He’s basically the fun half of Kanye turned into his own rapper: nerdy references, clever (if not sometimes dorky) punchlines and an occasionally goofy flow. If Kanye’s GOOD Music label was a high school, Big Sean would be the cool class clown walking in and out of class as he pleased. Sean’s boyish charm is what makes him likable, and also distracts from the fact that he’s not the deepest of conscious minds. If anyone has heard his opening verse on “Mercy,” or the title of his blockbuster single about female backsides, it’s easy to assume not to expect something like “New Slaves” or “The Blacker The Berry” to come from him. It’s probably why his sophomore album, Hall of Fame, disappointed in sales. The dark tone and lack of joy in the lyrics took away Sean’s appeal. He’s not a street poet, he’s a joker. Rest assured, the joker has returned.
Dark Sky Paradise, Sean’s third album, follows the same dark soundscapes of Hall of Fame. Whereas Sean’s previous outing was a musical bummer, he brings his cocky bravado back in spades. The first six tracks feature Sean more alive than he’s ever been before, putting in more energy than other rappers of monotone vocals (looking’ at you, Tyga). Sean is also very straightforward. “Blessings” has himself and guest star Drake rapping about how awesome their lives are. “All Your Fault” is Sean and Kanye bragging about how they’re on their way to being better than everyone else. “Paradise” is Sean’s addiction to fame. The common theme: Big Sean is awesome. The crescendo of Sean’s arrogance is obviously the hit single “I Don’t Fuck With You,” where he gleefully bounces over DJ Mustard’s heavy organ and (supposedly) disses ex-lady Naya Rivera (“I heard you got a new man, I see you takin’ a pic/Then you post it up, thinkin’ that its makin’ me sick….. And everyday I wake up celebratin’ shit, why?/Cause I just dodged a bullet from a crazy bitch.”) Sean even shows his status as a stellar boyfriend along with Chris Bown and Ty Dolla $ign on “Play No Games,” promising gourmet meals and quality time to be the guy that she “gon’ take that dress [she] saving out the closet.”
But just when it looks like Sean has dropped the first banger of 2015, he falls asleep. The last five tracks are mostly longer than four minutes of Sean dragging his feet through slow-grinding club beats. It’s a shame because he wastes a wide-awake Lil Wayne on “Deep” and a seductive Jhene Aiko on “I Know.” He almost regains cool points with Kanye and Oscar-winner John Legend on “One Man Can Change The World,” but the uplifting music doesn’t match Sean bragging some more (“Standin’ next to Jim Carrey, we traded stories then laughed/I said you not the only one I know got rich wearin’ masks.”) The main flaw with Dark Sky Paradise is that Sean plays his trump cards too early and loses as much momentum as he gains by the eighth song. Even with almighty Kanye as a mentor, pacing seems to be the class he skipped out on. Fortunately, it doesn’t take away from the red-hot first half of the album. Considering Dark Sky Paradise is here just a year and a half after his last effort, Big Sean has shown he can put in work. He just needs to step back and put in a full effort next time.
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Essential Tracks: “Blessings,” “I Don’t F**k With You,” “Play No Games,” “Paradise,” “All Your Fault”