Review Summary: From a would-be, could-be, to a somebody
Big Sean, an individual that has always had 'potential' yet he's never really reached it or came close to scratching the surface. His previous projects aren't anything spectacular nor do they really offer anything to the Rap/Hip-Hop scene. Sure, he's had catchy singles, he's spat some clever bars and he's enjoyed some success, but he's never really been much more than the sum of those parts. When talking about the upper echelon of established modern hip-hop artists his name is rarely mentioned. In fact, he's generally forgotten about. He touted that Hall of Fame would be THAT album but it was mediocre and uninspired, whether or not Sean realised this is something we'll never know but his new project, Dark Sky Paradise certainly suggests he knew. With Dark Sky Paradise, Big Sean finally steps onto the stage with a reason to hold the mic, a reason to throw around boastful claims. He's finally a somebody.
While the title suggests something fairly 'dark' that isn't the case, the album's sonic aesthetic is certainly moody but perhaps Sean's use of the word dark is merely due to the album's content. This album isn't exactly brimming with positivity, it oozes venom, Sean is a predator and he's warning his prey. Though, it's disappointing he doesn't really explore what could be considered 'dark' territory, however the moodiness is implemented well, sonically it's a bleak journey. Ranging from a soundtrack of what could be compared to an abandoned house to walking in the pouring rain to a drug binge that just won't end, it has something for everyone. Thumping, menacing synths? Check. Eerie horns? Check. Sinister 808s? Check. Brooding basslines? Check, check and check. It's an accomplished, cohesive body of work sonically, it flows smoothly from track to track, jarring track transitions are non-existent which amounts to a comfortable listening experience. Furthermore, it isn't too overbearing sound-wise, while it's certainly moody, it never goes too far (i.e. melodrama or self-pity)- whether it be injections of playfulness with rhythms or lyrical one-twos that lift whatever gutter the song is metaphorically residing in.
Not only does Dark Sky Paradise feature Sean's best sonics to date, it's also his best lyrically. He'll never be up there with the Kendricks, the Drakes, the Kanyes but he's carved his own lane, a well-rounded lyricist that has his occasional missteps. On the intro 'Dark Sky (Skyscrapers)' Sean snaps, his flow is unmatched and his words dance around the beat with precision, it's a great introduction and it's well-executed. There are certain songs that have cliche lyrical moments and it causes the album to stall in places, the worst being 'Play No Games', which features Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign. They both lend their crooning vocals and the whole experience just falls flat sonically and lyrically, it's uneventful and typical potential 'single' material. Sean quickly gets back-on-track with Dark Sky's overall cohesive, well-executed nature with 'Paradise', once again he demonstrates his lyrical ability, quick-witted one liners, with his rhymes being delivered impressively propelled by a slick beat.
Dark Sky Paradise demonstrates that Big Sean is capable of being a somebody and that he isn't just 'another' rapper in the scene with an overly large gold chain, claiming fame, money and women. He shows he has substance, especially emotionally. He touches on harder moments of his life, like the death of his grandmother, the darker side of fame and so forth. While it may not be anything new, he does it well and that's more than most. Sean sounds genuine, and that's a vast change from how he usually comes across. He shows his humanity, rather than just being a hollow 'celebrity', he shows he's an artist, rather than just a two-bit, half-baked competitor.
Dark Sky (Skyscrapers)
All your Fault
I Don't F*ck With You