A doorbell buzz. Footsteps. The sounds of traffic. A voice, older from the sound of regret and gruffness, laments:
I have been doing the same thing in the same place, working the same job for 45 years.
God, I know we rarely talk, but every day I wake up I feel like– I feel like I blew it with my family.
These kids around me don’t have no one to look up to. Should have been me. This job ain’t me, man. This ain’t what I’m supposed to be doing in my life, man.
– “Intro,” Big Sean, I Decided.
This is how Big Sean’s 4th album opens. Following up on the successes of 2015’s Dark Sky Paradise, it feels like a continuation of the evolution of the Sean Don. It wouldn’t have been out of place if this was vol. 2 of Dark Sky.
The album itself is an interesting mix of the Big Sean that went platinum and sold out shows, mixed with someone who realizes that doing the same thing over and over is an easy way to lose fans’ interest. Case in point, “Bounce Back,” the first single from the album, starts out with a trap-inspired beat courtesy of Metro Boomin’. Sean begins the track with a flow that sounds like it came straight from Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late album, before transitioning to his signature fast-rap, switch-up style. He’s always been a master at controlling the pace and flow of a track with his delivery, but now he’s added a new tool to the belt: the ability to incorporate other popular artists’ styles into his own. While some may see this as stealing someone’s flow (or even blatant copying!), let’s remember a quote from an arguable giant of rap:
And that was called recycling
Something ’cause you just like it
So you say it just like it.
Some say its biting
But I say its enlightening
Besides Dr. Kanye West is one of the brightest
– “Dr. Carter,” Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
If anything, it shows that Sean recognizes the worth in finding what works and adapting it to one’s game. It’s reminiscent of a certain basketball superstar / mamba that is stigmatized as a “copy” of arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. He was known for taking moves from the greats and adapting it to his own, but in the end, retired as guaranteed Hall-of-Famer.
The thing that separates Big Sean from other artists in the game is his lack of filter in sharing his life. His struggles, muses, successes, and emotions are on display for all his fans to share (again, sound similar to another rap superstar that is currently one of the top-selling artists in the world?). Fans know his verses often reference things other rappers would be afraid to admit they know of: cartoons like Ed, Edd, and Eddy, video games like Mario Kart, to even anime such as Dragon Ball Z.
Well… looks like Imma be watching Toonami like it's the old days #DBZSuper
— Sean Don (@BigSean) January 8, 2017
Sean’s an active Twitter user, sharing snippets of his life on the road and in the studio. It’s a great way to see a side of the lifestyle that many artists talk about, but never really show. It reminds the fans that these artists, even though they’re seemingly larger than life, are still people just like the rest of us.
— Sean Don (@BigSean) February 2, 2017
Even in his personal life, Sean demonstrates that he is more than someone that becomes complacent after they’ve achieved successes in life.” During his promotion circuit for I Decided., Sean mentions his charity foundation, the Sean Anderson Foundation. From bringing in his business managers, lawyers, and other professionals to show kids that there’s more opportunity for them to be involved in the whatever dream industry they have, to sending school supplies to students in Africa and matching them with a pen-pal here in the U.S., to raising over $100,000 for residents of Flint, Michigan that still are suffering from undrinkable water, Sean shows that the drive and motivation he infuses in his music is real.
I got tears of joy in eyes, thankful to share this music. Thank you for giving me this moment #IDecided.
— Sean Don (@BigSean) February 3, 2017
As for I Decided. as an album, it’s a great showcase of an artist adapting their style as the atmosphere of their genre changes. The sounds vary from several trap-heavy Metro Boomin’ tracks, a “bubblegum trap” sound similar to D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli” song of recent fame, to instrumentals that seem like they were originally intended for Dark Sky Paradise.
The content, or words, themselves are another story. Thematically, I Decided. is an album that tells the story of two Big Seans (as pictured on the album cover below) — one as a Sean towards the end of his life, and one re-birthed with the knowledge that this is his second chance to fix everything he sees as failures from the first time. In it, he laments on failures: with the woman he thought was “the one,” with the non-existent relationship with his family, with never even attempting to achieve the dreams he had as his younger self. It’s something to which his fans and audience can relate. But, what if you were able to redo everything?
The album includes subject matter familiar to fans of the Sean Don — expectations, motivation, perseverance, the importance of family. But in keeping with the goals of always bettering himself and growing, new subjects for his tracks arise: convincing the one he believes is “the one” to make the jump from friends to the next level, a subsequent track on dealing with the fallout with losing that “one,” to ending the album on a track reflecting on just how much more there is to life than the distractions to which we often align our goals. Loosely, it’s hard to see the story being told throughout, but as a collective work of body, this author thinks it fits the story well: this album cannot be properly digested on a single listen-through.
In the end, I Decided. is not a classic album: it doesn’t strive to be (nor should it). Big Sean has held the attention and dedication of his fans throughout the years not by being a top selling artist, not by releasing projects that change a genre, nor by creating music that everyone would enjoy. Big Sean has been so successful because on each album, we see the growth of a regular person like his audience — with highs and lows, dreams and disappointments, achievements and regrets. But through it all, the theme of resilience, hustle, and heart drives Sean to heights and experiences that convince his audience that with the same attitude and drive, they, too can have the life of which they dream.
[…] I feel like this is, like, my second time doin’ it. So I know that sound crazy but, you know, I just– I don’t know why I always imagine myself as, like, someone who failed at everything he ever did at life, you know? And I got to the end of life and just regretted it all and somehow, this is my chance to go back and get it all right.
And when I wake up with that, I might say, you know, it completely changes my hunger, how I approach the whole day. I mean, you decide to live your life like that then, man, I guarantee we’ll live life to our best potential.
– “Bigger Than Me,” Big Sean, I Decided.