Big Sean Is the Underdog on Top of the World for ‘I Decided’

Sean Don climbs up the hip-hop hierarchy in just 14 tracks.

G.O.O.D. Music, the Kanye West-founded rap label soaked in visionary talents, is just…weird.

It houses the hypnotizing, insular disposition of Travis Scott. It mutated Teyana Taylor into a lion. It placed a delicate white dove on the chest of hip-hop’s retired street hustler Pusha T. It produced ornate artwork of a cavewoman holding her baby in the same likeness as the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus for a Desiigner song, a song that was inspired by the main character of a Nickelodeon cartoon show.
So with the label’s extensive rap roster immersed in abstract, demiurgic art, it’s understandable how reclusive, Detroit-built Big Sean might feel buried beneath the stockpile. But not anymore.

At first, I Decided seemed like it may be somewhat strange and off-center for the Sean Don. The artwork for the album, released before its final reveal, colorfully captured a wide, far-view shot of Big Sean and an elderly man standing in front of the garages of their homes. Both neighbors. Both blank. Both distant. And as the project’s “Intro” forces us right into the narrative of the elderly man speaking wisdom and life into our ears, this abruptly ends with a screeching car crash. Such an introduction is an enhancement from his aggressive, hit song-saturated Dark Sky Paradise project, as Sean now showcases his know-how of storytelling.

For I Decided, narration isn’t the only talent he’s trying on for the first time, however. His sound has made quite a name for itself in the bounce jam, club-hit world. But he’s also reminded us that his artistry can still expand beyond the youthful horizon, as the project shows us the most socially, introspectively and politically charged Big Sean we’ve ever seen. On the album’s second track, “Light,” the 28-year-old gives a non-proverbial life lesson on reaching within for purpose and awareness:

“Spent my whole life tryna find the light that's at the end of the tunnel,” he raps. “I should have realized it was inside / So lately I been trying to get what's inside outside / So many people wanna see my insides outside.”

Just as the tracklist descends from the pensive, inner-directed track, you almost think Big Sean has reverted back to his party-hopping rap days with the Hitmaka-produced single “Bounce Back.” Not quite — in the grander scheme of the album’s narrative, Big Sean teaches us never to take any Ls, but also on the contrary, don’t take “No Favors” either. Proving Detroit’s nickname of “America’s Comeback City” true, he reaches deep into his native roots and welcomes legendary rap veteran and hometown hero Eminem into Sean Don season for the single. And yes — Em flipped out in his fan-favorited ranting normalcy and flipped a middle finger to Donald Trump in the process. As possibly the opus’s narrative climax, “No Favors” abandons any modesty left of Big Sean. It’s beastly, it’s anticipatory and it’s gloriously antagonistic. But above all, I Decided is a breakthrough, something he immediately reminded us of after the album was born on midnight:

For the remainder of the album, other helping hands include Jhené Aiko (in a possible preview to her and Sean’s second Twenty88 duo project), Jeremih, The-Dream and fellow new album unleashers Migos. As it closes out with the Flint Chozen Choir assisting the album's finale song, “Bigger Than Me,” the bad news is that it’s hard to decide which of the 14 tracks resonates the most.

The good news? You don’t really have to.

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