Detroit rapper, G.O.O.D. Music artist and Kanye West protege Big Sean’s fourth studio album continues to showcase his remarkable consistency, always delivering a decent project despite not taking as many creative risks as many of his peers. More trap-influenced than its predecessors and reflecting the rapidly rising popular sound of today, I Decided. has been described by Sean as a concept album. The cover art depicts Sean standing beside an older version of himself, a theme which becomes clear as the older, alternate universe version of Sean speaks in interludes throughout the album. This character regrets not living life to the fullest, working the same job and going through the same routine for 45 years and imploring listeners to live in the moment. Many of the album’s tracks reflect this theme as the Sean we know describes his lifestyle, and many of them manage to come across very energetic and fun, if less than original.
Sean has some pretty interesting and unexpected features here, as well as some familiar faces in production that help him transition to the hi-hats and 808 bass of today’s day and age. While the majority is handled by Sean’s relatively unknown touring keyboardist Amaire Johnson, he is assisted by an all-star team of rap producers including Key Wane, DJ Mustard, DJ Dahi, Metro Boomin, who has 3 great beats on here, and 20 year old Wondagurl, who broke through at the age of 16 on Jay-Z’s “Crown”.
Complementing Sean on the mic, we have none other than the pride of his hometown Eminem, who flexes his lyrical muscles but ultimately delivers an uncharacteristically off-kilter and awkward verse, “Bad And Boujee” rappers Migos, who join Sean on “Sacrifices”, injecting him with their energy for a punishing track, and girlfriend Jhene Aiko, who drop a brief promotion for their collaborative project Twenty88’s upcoming sophomore album with “Same Time Pt. 1”, Part 2 nowhere to be found. Jeremih and The-Dream also deliver on their respective R&B choruses, rounding out an impressive roster.
Sean’s flow is one of the most unique in the rap game, showcasing rapid irregular flows on songs like “Bounce Back” or going for stretches at a time where he continues to act like he’s deftly filling in the empty spaces on a huge and complex beat that isn’t actually there – the song “Light” has no percussion at all, for example. Lyricism has always been one of Sean’s strong suits and there are no shortage of clever bars and wordplay here – although I’m not sure many can top wordplay king Eminem’s now suddenly topical “I may be deserving of a pat on the back like a Patriots jersey”. Some of my favourites: “I’m the one at the end like I count backwards”, “‘Ye found a pro, I guess I’m profound”.
At the same time that Sean can sound somewhat detached and disinterested, he resembles someone like J. Cole in his ability to use his voice to draw you in to what he’s saying, his raps sounding like he’s having a casual conversation with you. When he goes into storytelling mode, like on “Owe Me”, an account of his breakup with Ariana Grande, and the soulful “Sunday Morning Jetpack”, where he speaks about his faith, it’s compelling.
Sean and the other half of Twenty88, girlfriend Jhene Aiko
Even so, sometimes it isn’t enough to distract from the fact that his delivery can be quite flat and monotone at times. On lower-key tracks like “Light” and “Inspire Me”, this can make the track a lot sleepier than it needs to be and it wouldn’t hurt to add some variation in his tone. Perhaps my biggest criticism with the album is one that spans his entire career – Sean really can’t sing and does on far too many tracks here. When it’s contrasted with Jhene Aiko’s voice it sounds slightly better, frequently bringing the best out of him as demonstrated on their fantastic interlude here. However, dedicating most of a track like “Jump Out The Window” to his mediocre and frequently off-key singing voice can really ruin a song that otherwise could have been great as it features a sonically unique Key Wane beat.
For all of his efforts, Sean doesn’t really present anything new here, nor has he ever. His biggest hit, 2014’s “I Dont F*** With You”, was the closest he’s come to making something that is uniquely Big Sean, infusing it with his personality, but outside of maybe “Moves”, which is a bit too Drake-y, nothing comes close to matching that here. I wish he took more risks like he does on “Voices In My Head/Stick To The Plan”, which features a completely innovative song structure that switches back and forth between the two motifs, increases and decreases the tempo, and just so happens to have the best beat on the entire album – thanks again, Metro Boomin.
Despite all of this, it is hard to argue against Sean’s growth from 2011’s Finally Famous to today. Always a bit behind the curve but delivering when he eventually gets there, Sean as a personality is engaging enough to continue to keep me interested in his albums. When he rises above the average content that he settles for to fill up about half of each album, he shows brief glimpses of the star power I’m sure he can eventually reach considering his incredible work ethic.
Favourite Tracks: Voices In My Head/Stick To The Plan, Sacrifices, Bounce Back, Sunday Morning Jetpack, Moves
Least Favourite Track: Jump Out The Window