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