“Yo, Big Sean really has a good album, man.” I’ve heard this a lot from a number of media folks, label reps and other miscellaneous figures. Last week we all crowded into a big room in midtown Manhattan with dual projectors aimed at the wall for a first listen to Big Sean’s latest album, Dark Sky Paradise, released worldwide at midnight yesterday.
I can’t lie—it was a statement I was surprised to hear, as if the people in attendance were there for the warm solace of a heated space and some free D’Ussé, then ended up hearing a standout album in the process. But as stores stocked up and computers started ’puting, one thing is for sure: Big Sean is here to stay.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been a Big Sean fan for a while. He fit in that class of rappers who all seem way more established than what the world expected when they came out. I’m talking about’08-’09, when guys like Sean Don, Wale, Kid Cudi, Drake and others created a new type of rapper that I could, for once, relate to—more interested in clothes, acquiring wealth and success, and the occasional beautiful woman (or three) than how much their “chopper” weighed or how many “trips they’ve taken” to see the kingpin. There were fresh and new, and they could really get these bars off.
As we’ve all grown into men, the aspiration is still there, but the goal is different. We want to be the best; getting on isn’t in our sights anymore. Sean Don always had something unique to me. Maybe it was the co-signs out the gate from Kanye and Pharrell. Whatever the case, Sean found himself on a list of artists for me to check out whenever they’d put a project out.
But that’s where things were most confusing. The mixtapes were always 100 fire flame emojis, but the albums always left something to be desired. For every UKnowBigSean, you had a Finally Famous: The Album. For every Detroit, we had Hall of Fame, which many Big Sean stans erased from their mental existence. Maybe this is why many in the listening had that initial thought, and even more, why Big Sean managed to blow them all away.
To his credit, the middle to end of 2014 going into 2015 saw a completely different Sean Anderson. The hip-hop world started taking notice to his verses on features, and one turned to two, and two turned into “Yo, Sean kinda killing sh*t recently.” Looking back on his work on Rick Ross’s “Sanctified,” Travis Scott’s “Don’t Play” and Meek Mill’s “B-Boy,” one could say it seemed like Sean has found his groove.
But it was his especially 2:31 of Mike Will Made It’s “Ransom (Paradise Intro)”, seen in the video above (NSFW), that made the people pay attention. The ghastly horns and deep bass were only cascaded by Sean’s machine-gun staccato flow, and as soon as it started, it ended. But more on that later.
Dark Sky Paradise sounds like an audio diary of an ambitious young man soaked in Hennessy, designer leather goods and the woman of your dreams, trying to handle rising fame the best he can. On “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” he speaks of seeing the light of success just ahead of him. It offers the perspective of “You know, things aren’t always what they seem.” “Blessings” (featuring Drake and Kanye) offers Sean’s praises to the Man Upstairs for being so busy and all that comes with it. But this also serves the first bout going up against some of rap music’s tallest titans.
Safe to say, Sean lived up to it. (NSFW)
Acquiring a vast selection of production by some of hip-hop’s best beatsmiths (Boi-1da, Wondagirl, DJ Mustard, DJ Mano and others), songs like “Blessings,” “All Your Fault,” and “I.D.F.W.U.” prefaced us all for what was to come last summer. Sean satisfied fans by adding a second verse to “Paradise (Extended).” He gave one to the ladies, tapping Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign for “Play No Games.” Then he slow-danced with Jhené Aiko about letting inhibitions go over a groovy DJ Mustard instrumental on “I Know.” Add in the touching “One Man Can Change the World” (with Kanye and John Legend) and a surprise conversation with his grandma, and “Deep” (featuring a surprisingly rejuvenated Lil Wayne,) and you’re listening to one of the best musical projects of 2015. A few songs are marginally okay—like “Win Some, Lose Some” and “Stay Down,” Sean Don manages to speak on the relatable real life issues of a young man in ’15 who has to adapt to rising fame and popularity.
Big Sean was given the perfect canvas to paint us a classic. Whether it was proper direction with G.O.O.D. Music leader Mr. West, or his decision to record Dark Sky Paradise entirely in his house, it was perfect motivation to give his all. And while this piece may have a couple imperfections, overall it’s one of the best releases of his rap class’s discography.
Cory Townes was born and raised in Philadelphia, and currently lives in Brooklyn. A devout Philly sports fan, Townes is the Social Media Manager for EBONY.com. When he’s not drinking cognac in a turtleneck or singing "Lemonade" by Gucci Mane at karaokes, you can reach him on Twitter @CoryTownes.