Big Sean has had a rough couple of years. If it weren’t for his support from big name rap artists such as Jay-Z and Kanye West, Big Sean wouldn’t even be releasing a third album like Dark Sky Paradise. Commercially, his records haven’t performed well since 2011, but Big Sean’s recent features have given him the jump start he needed. If Dark Sky Paradise becomes a success, Big Sean could make a comeback from near obscurity.
The name of the album, Dark Sky Paradise, reflects the duality of Big Sean’s situation. “Dark Sky” represents the first half of the record, in which Big Sean contemplates his career and how far he still has to go. “Paradise” reflects Big Sean’s pursuit of his own personal nirvana. Big Sean is in a peculiar position. His fame is at just the right level where he can’t be humble, but he still needs to avoid appearing like an overly ambitious up-and-coming rapper.
Throughout the album, Big Sean fails to establish a consistent identity. His lyricism has improved drastically since his first album in 2011, but Big Sean throws the album down the drain with horrible deliveries in songs such as “Win Some, Lose Some.” He raps about the classic topic of how fame has changed him and how fame has stretched him so thin — but his lack of inflection and emotion makes it sound as if he’s reading off a teleprompter.
Big Sean would be a great poet if he didn’t have to vocalize his own work, but when it comes to rapping and making the listener feel emotion, Big Sean flops.
Production quality is where this album shines — but no thanks to Big Sean. “One Man Can Change the World,” which pays tribute to Big Sean’s grandmother, avoids being the cliché track the title suggests because of the production work from Amaire Johnson.
This high level continues throughout the album. DJ Mustard’s work on “I Don’t Fuck With You” and “Deep” stand out with their fluid beats and great use of drum machines. The production throughout is consistently well done and stands out as some of the best in the business, equal to production on albums by Kanye West, Drake and Jay-Z.
In addition to the production work, the features on this album also outshine Big Sean’s own contributions. Drake does a great job on “Blessings,” but Kanye West steals the show with his work on “All Your Fault.” At times, it feels as if Big Sean wants to be Kanye West and adopt his style. Instead, Kanye West nearly swipes this album out of Big Sean’s hands and leaves Big Sean dwarfed by Kanye’s ego and delivery. Mentorship has proven to be an effective tool in rap, but, if Kanye West is supposed to be Big Sean’s mentor, he fails at improving Big Sean’s vocals.
This album featured some great verses by Kanye West, Drake and E-40, but nothing on this album made me believe Big Sean is on their level. Big Sean’s delivery and style make liking him a struggle, and, from what I can hear, it’s not worth the effort.