Big Sean has been “bubbling under” with his first two albums. He’s shown some promise, but hasn’t broken through in a big way…that should change with his third album, Dark Sky Paradise. Starting with the first single, “I Don’t F*** With You”, it showed a more assured sound (as he dissed his ex Naya Rivera). It helps that the album is executive produced by Kanye West. You can hear Kanye’s influence on some of the tracks, but Kanye also lets Big Sean do his own thing. Mr. West just makes sure that Sean is supported by strong productions that add something to the equation. Often, hip hop albums consist of too many basic beats (see Drake‘s recent If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late mixtape) that become repetitive, but on Dark Sky Paradise, each track brings something different to the table.
The strongest tracks here actually feature the best in the biz as well. Kanye raps on “All Your Fault”, and the two guys have a great chemistry trading lines. Then Kanye pops up again on the stellar, “One Man Can Change The World”, which also features John Legend. You can’t really go wrong there. The track is a surprising piano ballad with a parent wishing the best for their child on the sweet and emotional track. Drake guests on “Blessings”, and the duo raps about their endless hours of working. Funnily enough, before “Blessings”, Big Sean opens the album with “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers)”, which features the lyrics “Started from the basement made it to the skyscrapers”, not far off from when Drake “started from the bottom”.
Big Sean’s biggest appeal is how self-reflective and grounded he is. He’s able to balance stroking the (typical) rapper ego, while still maintaining some humbleness. Even when he’s showing off his rapid-fire speed (try to keep up with “Paradise”), you’ll want to listen to his lyrics. He talks about the struggle he’s had to “make it”, but the 26-year-old maintains his connection with his family. He includes recordings of his Dad and Grandma and girlfriend Ariana Grande guests on the bonus track, “Research”. He still hasn’t forgotten about his ex, Naya Rivera, though. He admitted that “I Don’t F*** With You” was about her, and it sure sounds like “Win Some, Lose Some” is about the Glee star too.
Like Kendrick Lamar‘s refreshing “i”, Big Sean kicks the tempo up on “Outro”, which samples “Didn’t I” by Darondo, a great way to close out the album. There are a couple weaker tracks though. “Play No Games” featuring Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign falls out, and I wish “I Know” with Jhene Aiko was in a high key. It’s in such a low register and has such a slow tempo, it put me to sleep.
But Big Sean is leaving up to his name with this one. He proves he deserves to be in the same league as rap’s best.