Pion-Ear: Big Sean’s I Decided.

Sean decided to change the game long before he posed for the 2009 picture shown here.

image courtesy of Wikimedia under a Creative Commons License

Sean decided to change the game long before he posed for the 2009 picture shown here.

Holden Foreman, web editor

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If you asked me to name the most likeable rapper in the game, Sean Michael Leonard Anderson, aka Big Sean, would take the crown hands down (sorry Jay Z). While he may not be the best lyricist around, Sean’s dedication and honesty offer hope in an industry of artists more respectable for their music than their personalities (yes, I’m looking at you, Kanye).

Not to mention, Sean’s material has improved exponentially in the 10 years since the aspiring rapper signed with Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music label in 2007. Don’t believe me? Go back and listen to “Dance (A$$)” from Sean’s 2011 album, Finally Famous. Clearly, Sean was aiming for a radio hit with that one, and it shows.

Now, at only 28 years old, Sean is his own man, and he never passes on a chance to thank everyone who helped him make a name for himself. Dark Sky Paradise became one of my favorite albums ever when it dropped in 2015. “One Man Can Change the World” earned Sean a nomination for the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 58th Grammy Awards held Feb. 15, 2016. Clearly, I’m not the only one who appreciates Sean’s openness.

I Decided., released Feb. 3, expands upon the precedent set in “One Man Can Change the World,” as more than half of Sean’s new tracks represent heartfelt tributes to his family and relationships. If you came for club bangers, either alter your expectations or walk away now.

In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Sean explained his new album’s theme of life after rebirth. One quote from Sean perfectly captured his spirit, after Fallon asked the rapper about his inspiration for the album.

“Imagine you going through life, and you made all the wrong decisions your whole life,” Sean said. “You get to the end of your life and you’re at a moment where it’s like, ‘God, I did everything wrong. I didn’t work it out with the love of my life. I messed it up with my parents. I’m not doing the job I was sent here to do on Earth.’ Imagine something happens and you get one chance to redo it all. The album is basically a chance of having that wisdom of an old man while you’re young and going through life and figuring it out.”

“Intro” kicks off the album with a minute-long skit to establish Sean’s reflective tone. The man in the skit mourns his monotonous existence before a blaring car horn cuts off the track.

“Light” accentuates Sean’s confidence in spite of the dark world around him. During the song’s opening verse, Sean sings, “Spent my whole life tryna find the light that’s at the end of the tunnel / I should have realized it was inside.” Soft electric tones take a backseat to Sean’s vocals, as the Detroit native explains what makes him different from the boys back home and how success won’t make him forget them. As the first actual song on the album, “Light” proves that Sean is still Sean.

“Bounce Back” turns up the tempo and Sean’s ego, but the rapper’s boasting proves absolutely contagious. Unlike other rap artists, whose bragging tends to revolve around cars and drug dealing, Sean’s focuses on his ability to pick himself back up. And who can blame him for that?

“No Favors” perfectly sums up the anomaly of Big Sean; he even calls himself one in the song as he deliberately sets aside his naturally modest personality to brag about fame and money. Unfortunately, this does not work to the artist’s advantage, as Sean’s hook and only verse reek of falsehood. 44-year-old Eminem makes matters worse with an unprofessional verse attacking several individuals on a political basis. Politics are welcome in music, but I don’t think anti-Trump Americans will benefit from the obscenely violent images Em paints in his verses.

This track might bode well on the charts, but it did “No Favors” for me whatsoever.

“Jump Out The Window” at least gets the album back on track with an excellent beat, but Sean’s insistence on singing makes this more of a lullaby than a hit track. “We already wasted too much time / And your time is the only thing I wish was mine,” Sean croons in the hook, reaffirming this track’s status as a standard love song.

“Moves,” “Bounce Back” and “Halfway off the Balcony” were released as singles, but I never payed “Moves” much attention until I Decided. released as a full album. I just didn’t see anything special in the track, and the opening lyrics (“Sex game had her a** blowing me up (brrr) / Sex game had her a** texting me up”) did not start the track on a very inspired note. Still, the complexity of Sean’s lyricism improves once he gets past the hook, and the beat goes hard.

Jhené Aiko’s soothing voice complements Sean’s rapping well. But I’m not much of a slow jam guy myself”

“Same Time Pt. 1” features TWENTY88, the duo of Big Sean and R&B singer Jhené Aiko. Their first album together, also called TWENTY88, released last year, and Jhené Aiko’s soothing voice complements Sean’s rapping well. But I’m not much of a slow jam guy myself, and the duo’s existing album offers more than enough material, so I am happy to say this unnecessary portion of I Decided. lasts only 90 seconds. At least the chorus is catchy.

Troubles with your special someone? Well, you’ll probably relate to “Owe Me,” in which Sean expresses frustration over an unfaithful girlfriend. Over time, Sean comes to accept their broken relationship; “My friends say I should be over you / Getting hurt every time I’m close to you / I think me and you are overdue,” Sean says in the song’s outro.

But the one-minute skit at the end of the track expands upon its meaning, as Sean wades through paparazzi and hecklers to reach his car. “Is this like the real thing this time with this one?” asks an unknown man (voiced by Mike Carson), reflecting Sean’s awareness of public opinion. Then, in perhaps the most perplexing part of the album, the man asks Sean, “Do you think they should have shot Harambe or what?” Take that for what you will; Sean drives off.

The Bu-bu-bu-bum-bum-bu-bu-bum vocals behind Sean stood out more than the rapping in “Halfway Off The Balcony,” and that probably doesn’t do Sean’s rapping much justice because he does himself justice in this song. “I realized when it comes to girls / That chemistry means way more than anatomy,” Sean proclaims, reaffirming his role as a nice-guy rapper who certainly doesn’t finish last.

And now I get to write about my favorite track on the album: “Voices In My Head/Stick To The Plan.” The song starts off innocent enough, as Sean repeats “Voices in my head sayin’ I could do better” over a curiously light beat. Then, at the 77-second-mark, the tone shifts abruptly and effectively, and “Stick To The Plan” takes hold. Sean keeps the lyrics simple for awhile, relying on the increasing speed of the beat to get his motivational message across. Then, in the last 30 seconds of the song, Sean unleashes his true potential, firing off rhymes at rapid pace. When Sean combines his relatable personality with his extraordinary skill, his verses stand with the best of them.

“Sunday Morning Jetpack” delves into Sean’s faith and gratitude for all of the experiences in his life, good and bad. “This feels like my Sunday morning jetpack /
Feel like I sent the prayers up and got blessed back,” Sean proclaims over soulful background vocals. The-Dream’s bridge adds even more soulfulness to the song at the end, and in the skit at the end, Sean’s elder conscious convinces him to answer a phone call from his mother.

— You will not hear a verse like “You the moon, you the stars, you the sun / I’m so happy I’m your son” from many rappers, but Sean makes the statement with pride, and only makes the multi-millionaire more likeable.

Given the preceding skit, Sean’s homage to his mother in “Inspire Me” should come as no surprise. You will not hear a verse like “You the moon, you the stars, you the sun / I’m so happy I’m your son” from many rappers, but Sean makes the statement with pride, and it only makes the multi-millionaire more likeable. Unfortunately, this song becomes repetitive pretty quickly and did not leave much of a musical impression.

“Sacrifices” attempts to pick up where “Stick To The Plan” left off, and it mostly succeeds in the endeavor. Sean brings back the speed, for one thing, and the aggression in his voice matches the pounding of the bass. However, the lyrics fall flat for the most part, as Sean claims to rap about sacrifices but ends up talking more about his willingness to break the law. “I know my great, great, great aunty was a slave / I could only imagine all the sacrifice she made” Sean says, only adding to his own lack of credibility. Sean’s struggles could never compare to the hardships and injustice of slavery. The inclusion of Migos actually helps Sean in this case, since his own performance is lackluster, but I’m not begging to see another collaboration between these artists anytime soon.

Last but not least, “Bigger Than Me” sees Sean in reflection of his career. He acknowledges the goals still in his future and the fact that his own success reflects upon his community in Detroit. “All I hear is sirens and car alarms / N***as going to war with no armor on / First time I seen a dead body I was 14 / And I felt the pressure” Sean raps, as he asserts his biggest goal: making his troubled city proud. The Flint Chozen Choir feature makes the song one of the best on the album, as the backup vocals behind Sean sound excellent.

To close out “Bigger Than Me,” Sean explains his album’s meaning via a conversation with his mother. Then, Sean’s elder conscious interrupts to make a statement: “It’s all about living in the moment.”