Big Sean claims he's hip-hop’s de facto hardest worker, and at age 26, the Detroit rapper has indeed had quite a career. Discovered as a teenager by Kanye West and later signed to his label, GOOD Music, Sean Anderson has released a slew of mixtapes, several collaborations, and three full-length records. Mostly a rap fan's rapper, he's occasionally courted the mainstream with huge singles that become the club-banger of the moment—"Clique," "Mercy," and "Dance (A$$)," featuring Nicki Minaj, come to mind. His latest smash hit, the post-breakup anthem "I Don't Fuck With You," recently inspired anti-Valentine's cards, and has already gone platinum.
Despite moments of greatness, his records tend to be aggressively inconsistent, leading fans to develop a weary sense of skepticism. But on his latest offering, Dark Sky Paradise, Sean has finally made a full-length album more worthy of the hype—an album that could broaden his audience beyond hip-hop obsessives, something the mediocre Finally Famous and Hall of Fame failed to do.
Given this ambivalence, it's perhaps fitting that the overall theme of Dark Sky Paradise is paradox; it's reflected in the title itself. A gloomy, almost sadistic overtone hovers over the project, and the theme is as dystopian as Kanye West’s latest Hunger Games-esque foray into fashion. The intro track “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” acts as a harbinger for the rest of the album, as Sean touches on his breakups, his relationship with his family, and his place in the rap game. He also alludes to social injustice—think Ferguson protests and abject poverty—while simultaneously issuing a warning to his competitors in the genre.
Credit card used to be EBT,
in the D though that’s D-EBT,
I’ve been thinking about becoming a cop,
So I can murder some niggas one by one off legally
Dark Sky Paradise does have artistry: The album peaks with “All Your Fault” featuring Kanye West. It’s the kind of song that makes finishing an album difficult for the listener, warranting multiple repeats at the expense of listening to the rest of the record. And getting to hear West, who's done little rapping lately, get back to his roots in his typical, ego-affirming manner is a treat. The soulful production is spellbinding and multi-layered, sampling Ambrosia’s 1978 soul track, “How Much I Feel.”