Although his name may be universally recognized and affiliated with some of hip-hop’s heavyweights, Detroit rapper Big Sean has never been able to stand out on his own. The GOOD Music artist tended to be overshadowed by the guests on his songs, a prime example being “Control,” the throwaway track from “Hall of Fame” that Kendrick Lamar torches. His childish, exuberant bravado made it hard for his work to be taken seriously.
With his third full-length album, “Dark Sky Paradise,” Sean looks to establish himself as an alpha rapper, someone whose work isn’t just a collection of witty lines and puns, but is more honest and moodier than it’s been in the past.
The album starts out strong with “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” where Sean raps over a gritty beat, putting the chip on his shoulder on full display with lines like, “I guess it took ten years for me to be an overnight success.” He shows off his flow in the second verse, with the words spilling out of his mouth at warp speed.
The second track, “Blessings,” features Drake, but Sean is not to be outdone. He owns the track from the opening tip with Drake popping in for the chorus and the second verse before handing it back off to Sean to finish it off.
Up next is the fantastic Kanye West track “All Your Fault.” West opens it up with some auto-tuned vocals before busting out his trademark crass that he pulls off better than anyone in rap. He does it all in his verse, referencing Walt Disney, Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson, the “I Can’t Breathe” movement and even Big Sean’s lead single, “IDFWU.” Sean takes the reigns from his boss at GOOD Music to assert his own hunger for glory: “I ain’t satisfied bein’ on that top 5 list/ Til everything I spit is all timeless.”
Keeping the train rolling is the anthem of the album, “IDFWU.” You would be hard-pressed to find a more biting and attitude-driven song from Sean’s catalogue, but it’s also the most contagious. The NSFW hook is an absolute earworm, and is filled with memorable lines like “Bought a three story house/ that b—- a troligy.” “IDFWU” is the song that has catapulted Big Sean’s career, and if he can keep crafting songs like this, the sky is the limit.
Sean switches it up next with the R&B tune “Play No Games,” featuring Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign. Following that is “Paradise,” which was originally released in September alongside “IDFWU” and two other songs. It’s featured here with an excellent new verse that improves upon the original. Sean blazes through the track, once again putting his flow on display.
With “Paradise,” the excellent first half of the album comes to a close, and a drearier second half follows. “Win Some, Lose Some” and “I Know” both feature R&B artist Jhene Aiko, and both slow the tempo down considerably. Between these tracks is “Stay Down,” a salute to Sean’s Detroit squad, letting them know it’s “forever me and my dogs.”
Next is the gloomy Lil Wayne track, “Deep.” Wayne is the standout of the track; he starts slow before erupting into a wordy flow that makes this track worth the listen. It’s the penultimate track, “One Man Can Change the World,” that is the hidden gem of the back half of the album. It is an inspiring, soulful, piano-driven tune featuring John Legend and Kanye West. Sean uses the last verse as a dedication to his recently deceased grandmother, beautifully capping the standout track.
The closer, “Outro,” features a funky sample of Darondo’s “Didn’t I,” and allows the murky album to end on a bright note. The track is all Big Sean, as he ditches a hook and raps his way through the entirety of the three and a half minute track.
“Dark Sky Paradise” is Big Sean at his best. Although uneven and too melancholy at times, this album is a perfect showcase of the skills that could one day make Sean the top-five rapper he aspires to be.