Review Summary: Too much going out and not enough going in.
It’s funny to think that “Control,” still a shining example of Kendrick Lamar’s exemplary rhyming abilities, pretty much cemented Big Sean’s rap game identity; that is, that he’s just about always the worst part of his own songs. On that particular song, everything lined up well: No I.D. produced, Jay Electronica and Kendrick Lamar featured on the track, and the motivation— ‘a braggadocious [sic] attempt to revitalize … competitive spirit
’— was enough for Sean to at least try and flex a lyrical muscle or 2. Compared to Lamar, he’s the song’s biggest nonpoint, and the fallout from that verse- a fairly one-sided thing that Sean definitely isn’t winning- is amusing, if not manufactured and unimportant. Who cares if Big Sean is feuding with Kendrick Lamar. So is Drake. Nobody cares about that, either.
It’s sad, because “Control” constitutes the the bulk of content in Sean’s story. You might also remember him as being romantically linked with Ariana Grande, and you also might not care about that, either. I certainly don’t; the raps that relationship inspired weren’t very good, and the breakup, hardly replete with the fallout of a Future-Ciara split, didn’t inspire much either. In the time since people spoke about that blip in Sean’s personal life, we got work with Jhene Aiko, a handful of mindbogglingly vaccuos feature verses, and “Bounce Back.” Of all of those things, “Bounce Back” was the best: produced with Metro Boomin, a man whose production choices have yielded some of the year’s best songs, it was just about the only time a Big Sean verse has been appropriately energetic or quotable (‘Look, I cut that bitch off like a edit
’ is delivered with a rapidness otherwise uncharacteristic of Sean). And so it informs the basis of Double or Nothing
, Sean and Metro’s full-length collection, ostensibly 10 bangers processed through Metro’s lean, gothic synths and Sean’s plain-spoken statements of wealth and general overconfidence. It’s boring stuff.
In no part is that Metro’s fault. Even as he rests on his laurels as he does here, his beats are purposely built for purpose: that is, they’re no-frills, performance-ready instrumentals. The problem is the guy rapping over the top of them, and when someone as boring as Big Sean raps over the top of them, nothing can save the end product. It’s difficult to describe why it is that Big Sean is so boring. He just is. He crams so much work into his albums, assembling not just the best producers, but the most interesting, talked-about, most worthy names, along with features that most other rappers couldn’t afford. His albums are gargantuan affairs of curating and clout, and when Big Sean’s on the beat, he sounds like the only guy not worth the money it cost to build the song. His flow almost always settles on this passable, 1-2-3-4, ***-talking pitter-patter. He’s always belabouring a point about his wealth and sex drive, and it goes absolutely nowhere. Compare him to 21 Savage, whose entire shtick is plaintively explaining all of the ways he will kill you and then have sex with your partner, he just doesn’t have the style or execution. Savage works because he can deadpan a dry, unsubtle threat without frills; Sean’s clearly aiming to be JAY Z or Eminem, so when he goes off on one, it just sounds lazy, as if he’s taking his own reputation for granted.
He shouldn’t. He’s not as good as JAY Z, and certainly not as technically capable as Eminem. And while he’s certainly not the worst part of Double or Nothing
, his raps turn Metro Boomin’s production into a greyish, unflowing miasma. Almost all of Sean’s lines follow a similar trajectory of flexing, braggadocio, and obvious wordplay. The album’s highlight, “Pull Up N Wreck,” a Metro-assisted banger in the style of “Ghostface Killers” and “Minute,” features 21 Savage giving appropriate momentum to the Fox 5 Gang and his glock, whilst Big Sean talks platitudes and basic similes (the Genius annotations for his two verses are humorously bare). 2 Chainz similarly saves “Big Bidness,” and Travis Scott goes some way toward wrecking whatever replayablity “Go Legend” night have had. Either way, Sean’s always the dud; On “Even The Odds,” he starts every line with the word ‘Bitch
,’ and it’s about as funny and affecting as one might expect that motif to be. Perhaps more troubling is Young Thug, who has been delivering increasingly yelpier, filthier, cleaner, finer flows of late, outpaces Sean with one of his most perfunctory and obvious features of the last 12 months. If it in inspired anything other than indifference, I’m sure it would be a sad thing to hear.
Truly, the blame lies at the feet of Sean, whose limp bars and flow make middling fare of ten reasonably well-rounded bangers. He does however deliver the truest lines of the project on closer “No Hearts, No Love:” ‘When you put the work in, it shows
.’ Never has a more astute or ironic observation been made.