Big Sean: I Decided

Is Big Sean cool? I Decided has done little to sway that to a “yes".

Big Sean

I Decided

Label: GOOD Music / Def Jam
Release Date: 2017-02-03

Is Big Sean cool? I don't mean this in the manner of "Is Big Sean the person cool?" Has there ever been a rap star who, as a person, was not seen as the embodiment of some level of cool? Rather, is Big Sean the musician cool? Because his entirely one-note rap style has not lent itself to critical acclaim by any means, despite being supported and surrounded by the marquee names of this generation. And because he has never had a hit by the zeitgeist definition of the word, a song that so envelops the public's consciousness that it immediately pops into your head when you think of the artist, it's fair to ask if the public at large wonders the same thing. (It should be noted that at least amongst rap fans, his most talked-about song, "Control", is most famous for a verse that is not his and features another verse that soundly defeats his own, despite his recent protests.)

This question did not come about randomly. No, while watching the F Is for Fendi x Boiler Room show that featured of-the-moment luminaries such as Metro Boomin, Migos, and 21 Savage, in two of the DJ sets preceding the hip-hop headliners, Big Sean songs were played. Recent Big Sean songs, from his new album, I Decided. So if these artists, clad in their Hood By Air and other in brands, could unironically play Big Sean to the eager crowd, did this mean that Big Sean has finally crossed over into musical coolness? One listen to I Decided. (unnecessary punctuation mark and all) suggests that he's still in that liminal space between just famous and cool-famous.

As the introduction and subsequent spoken-word, end-of-song skits tell us (not to mention the all-important period at the end of the album's title), this is a Very Serious Album. Or, you know, that's what Big Sean thinks it is. From the opening notes of the first proper song, "Light", you have to give credit to the myriad producers on this album for creating a soundscape that perfectly reflects the moody lights that populate the admittedly pretty album cover. Speaking of pretty, can-do-no-wrong Jeremih floats in on the hook for a couple of quick lines -- "No matter how much they gon' shade you / They can't stop the shine" -- and proves that less is, in this instance, more. Then Big Sean does his rapping thing, and, one "'Ye found a pro, guess I'm profound in this bitch" later, and you are left looking to edit the track into a Jeremih contribution alone. The following track, early single "Bounce Back", benefits from a ghostly croon from Jeremih included in throughout, along with a beat that has as much motion as get-to-your-feet-song-of-the-decade "Paris" by Sean mentor Kanye West and his mentor, Jay Z. When it comes to the lyrical content, however, that plus the Drake-esque flow over similar moodiness will lead to subconscious comparisons. But hey, this was one of the songs played at the Fashion Week event, so what do I know?

One thing I do know is this: Eminem's lyrical-spiritual-miracle act is wearing thin, and his appearance on "No Favors" is no different. Sure, there are people who will fawn over every syllable he rhymes with the next ten, and Big Sean made it clear publicly that he could not imagine anybody but Eminem on the song. He rapped accordingly, getting in an excellent brag -- "Thought I had the Midas touch, and then I went platinum, too" -- but realistically, had he turned in a silent verse, he would have won the song. Though bucking politically correct trends is a shared pastime of Eminem and the Dirtbag Left, the former is vulgar for the sake of vapidity, whereas the latter brings a nuance to their profanity and political criticism. In the spirit of Valentine's Day, four for you, Big Sean! You go, Big Sean! And none for Eminem.

The rest of the album proceeds in the same way. "Same Time Pt. 1" comes off as more of a preview for the next TWENTY88 (Big Sean x Jhene Aiko) album than an actual collaborative effort, and "Halfway Off the Balcony" was already discussed by PopMatters, with my contribution noting another Drake connection. The real kicker in that department, however, is the obvious "Shot For Me" tribute in "Owe Me" when Sean claims, "‘Cause you know you got that walk from me / How you dress and how you talk from me."

However, the brightest spot on I Decided. has to be the latest in the canon of rappers praising the strong female familial figures in their lives, "Sunday Morning Jetpack". Featuring The-Dream, few of his pop sensibilities are fingerprinted on this song, instead letting Sean do the talking, which he does quite well. From his all-too-accurate description of hearing Cam'ron for the first time ("Pink Timbs in the Lamb / Mixing it with Dilla and / Headphones to the ceiling fan / Bucket hat like Gilligan") to his ascent in fame ("You the reason that I ever touched my first Franklin / Fast forward, I'm in Kanye crib with Kirk Franklin"), his lyricism is razor-sharp and the sentiments are touching. It's a worthy highlight in a career that, despite being affiliated with multiple platinum songs, has had precious few.

Such is the result, once again, for Big Sean. Following his moodiest album yet, Dark Sky Paradise, I Decided. doubles down on this premise and can be accurately described as the first post-Views album. But whereas the latter both feels like and is a slog to get through, I Decided. just feels that way; this, you would imagine, is less of a good thing. So while tastemakers are spinning his records and partygoers are responding (though it should be noted, that the biggest response, unsurprisingly, came to "Bad and Boujee"), the actual act of getting through Big Sean's latest album is a tiring one. Is Big Sean cool? I Decided. has done little to sway that to a "Yes".


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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