Pillbox

I Decided.

Credit: Victoria Riter Credit: Victoria Riter

Big Sean is a certified superstar, with a number one album and eight singles charting higher than 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. But for all his catchy, entertaining party tracks, he had yet to prove his true artistic abilities. With his fourth album, I Decided., Big Sean has finally shown that he is more than just a hitmaker, by creating an album with musical cohesion that is enhanced by consistently focused lyrics centering on themes of resilience, persistence, and the courage needed to make major life decisions.

Big Sean (born Sean Anderson) hails from Detroit, where he got his musical start in high school by participating in rap battles at a local radio station. Sean got his big break when his hero, Kanye West, visited the station. After pleading with a reluctant West, Sean spit 16 bars for his idol. West liked what he heard so much that two years later, he signed Big Sean to his GOOD Music record label. After several mixtapes, Big Sean dropped his first album, Finally Famous, in 2011, which reached number three on the Billboard 200, and delivered three hit singles: “Dance (A$$),” featuring Nicki Minaj, “My Last,” with Chris Brown, and “Marvin & Chardonnay.” Sean found further success on the GOOD Music collaboration project, Cruel Summer, where he featured on “Clique” and “Mercy,” delivering his silly but memorable “ass-quake” line, and his third album, Dark Sky Paradise, took him to number one, propelled by the hit singles “I Don’t F*** With You” and “Blessings.”

Clearly, Sean knew how to create a club-ready banger, but none of his albums really held together. Beyond a few breakout tracks, with bass-heavy, danceable beats and playful flows, the albums were inconsistent. On I Decided., however, Big Sean digs deeper, producing lyrics that, for the most part, remain centered around a main theme and delve into intimate moments from his life. Even the lead single, “Bounce Back,” which often falls back on a tough guy attitude, gives fans a taste of what is to come. The energetic track features a head-bopping Metro Boomin-produced beat, which is mostly composed of synth tones and bass, and pairs well with the catchy hook. While he tends to use his sharp wordplay for typical boasts—“Took my dogs on a private jet from the public housing/I kept it G, yeah, one thousands”—the hook previewed his message of rebounding from setbacks: “Last night took an L, but tonight I bounce back/Boy, I been broke as hell, cashed a check and bounced back.”

The album’s standout tracks — “Jump Out the Window,” “Inspire Me,” “Sunday Morning Jetpack,” and “Voices In My Head/Stick To the Plan” — offer intimate looks into Sean’s life while continuing the ominous, tonal musical style. In “Jump Out the Window,” Sean discusses a female friend in an abusive relationship, for whom he has feelings. Taking a leap of faith, he decides to intervene and save her: “You been up at night, sleep deprivation/What’s the hesitation? What's ya reservation?,” he asks her. “You give the best advice to your friends and not take it for yourself.” Sean describes specific moments in their friendship and some of his innermost feelings (“Remember when you used to come through and hit the Mario Kart/And you always picked the princess/I realized you was princess way back then/We the best thing that never happened”) while staying focused on the story and not indulging in braggadocio, a flaw common to many rappers, including Sean. The auto-tune singing, which sometimes is overused in hip-hop to cover up for poor vocals, works well here, turning Sean’s distress over the situation into musical expression—much the same way his mentor Kanye West used the same effect on 808s & Heartbreak.

“Inspire Me” also delves into Sean’s personal life, with the song reading like a conversation and apology to his mother, similar to West’s “Hey Mama.” It is a fun, catchy song with an airy, melodic beat and high-pitched background vocals. The lyrics are sweet and relatable, with Big Sean rapping, “You tried to keep me away from temptation/Introduced me to The Temptations/Marvin Gaye and Isley Brothers/Dancing so hard the living room shaking” and later, “When I got a new love you invite 'em in/When we break up, you don't like 'em then”. The song’s positive message and upbeat production leave the listener smiling; it is one of the few genuinely happy tracks Big Sean has released.

In “Sunday Morning Jetpack,” Sean reveals childhood memories and discusses how he learned to rise above the hardships in life. He reminisces that “This feel like the family dinners that we used to have on Sunday/With Grandma in the kitchen making rum cake/Or this spread she used to do for Thanksgiving” and that “you taught me I'm a product of everything I go through.” “Voices In My Head/Stick To the Plan” offers a look into Sean’s darker thoughts. He raps about self-criticism (“Voices in my head sayin' I could do better”) and contemplating suicide (“Voices in my head attacking what I'm thinking/Bullet to the head might be the way to free it/If I leave my body I can free the spirits”).

While there are definitely many great pieces, there are also some inferior songs like “No Favors” and “Same Time Pt. 1.” The former features Eminem, yet his verse falls epically flat. Eminem’s voice sounds like he rapped while standing a few feet away from the mic — he’s shouting the lines but his visceral intensity is absent. Worse, the verse lacks focus, with lyrics ranging from boastful (“So ahead of my time, "late" means I'm early”) to political (“Trump’s a bitch”) to just plain weird (“I’m urinating on Fergie”). “Same Time Pt. 1,” which features his girlfriend Jhené Aiko, is a bland song that seems out of place on this album and more like a teaser for the couple’s second TWENTY88 album. Considering that Sean said he had to fight to get all 14 tracks on, this space would have been better filled by “No More Interviews” or “Living Single,” two strong singles he released in the buildup to the album’s debut.

Despite these flaws, the album is overall a success, featuring a level of musical and lyrical cohesion and consistency Sean had yet to display. The album has its fair share of party songs while also including several personal, darker numbers. After four albums, Big Sean has not only solidified himself as a hip-hop star but also proven himself as an artist.