Big Sean is about to blow up, thanks to fourth album ‘I Decided’, his strongest, most complete and “meaningful” work to date, says Luke Morgan Britton

He doesn’t conform to expectations

In the chorus of lead single ‘Bounce Back’, Big Sean does a thing not many rappers would dare do: he straight-up admits defeat, detailing how “last night I took an L” (a loss), “but tonight I bounce back”. Learning from your mistakes is a stark and unusually honest premise for a rap hit, but it perfectly exemplifies how its 28-year-old author appears right now: wiser, more self-assured and with a new-found sense of purpose.

He’s not just about the hits

Sure, he’s bagged six platinum singles and had another six certified gold, but on this album Sean’s vision was about the bigger picture. “I’ve seen people have the biggest song in the world,” he says, “and then next year they’re nowhere to be found. So I don’t really concentrate on that. I focus on just bringing something that people can hold onto, appreciating in a different way, as opposed to just being massive on the radio and stuck in your head.” Sean adds: “I feel like that’s what separates good from great.”

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His album’s concept is pretty profound

He describes the album as being a “rebirth” and about “second chances”, with its cover art depicting a young and old Sean. He explains: “The album is broken up into four sections – four acts, if you will. It’s about the mentality of going through life and failing at everything, and then at the end of your life somehow being able to go back and do it all right, with the intuition and the wisdom of your older self. Sometimes you would do the same things twice, sometimes you would make different decisions, but I think in 2017 we need that mentality.”

He gives back to the community

The rapper’s Sean Anderson Foundation helps local Detroit kids and he recently raised $100k for the nearby Flint water crisis. Does he feel a responsibility to give back? “Yeah, it’s kind of second nature for me to care about where I’m from. I guess it’s the way I was raised. My grandma would always donate, and that’s stuck with me. And I feel like that’s not just with money, but with time, with happiness, with inspiration. All these things that can help change somebody’s life. It’s how I’ve always looked at things.”

He’s proud of where he’s from

Detroit has a rich musical history, from Motown to Eminem, and Sean argues that the sense of strife often associated with the city is what spurs people on. “I see why Detroit has a bad reputation, especially when I was growing up. It was dangerous. I’m not saying it’s not a dangerous place anymore either, but what I’m seeing is that the renaissance of Detroit is happening right now. Detroit is so special – we’ve been through the best, we’ve been through the worst as a city. But on top of that, when you go through those type of things, I think it breeds a certain type of person. I think it’s the underlying spirit of something in Detroit that’s just creative and I’m just happy to be adding, you know, what I can bring to the table for the city of Detroit musically, and anywhere else I can.”

He’s reconnected with his old pal Eminem

“Me and him did a song together previously called ‘Detroit Vs Everybody’, which was a major moment for me,” says Sean. “When we were in the studio working on that, it was cool to see how much he respected me back. Obviously I respect him as one of the greatest to ever do this. I mean, Eminem is the biggest rapper of all time. I remember reaching out to him [for new track ‘No Favors’], knowing that he was really busy. He really appreciated me reaching out and told me that I was one of the most dangerous MCs. We played the album in London and I didn’t say Eminem was on that song – I just played it. So everyone was like, ‘Oh s**t!’ You know, it was definitely a surprise.”

Kanye is still a supporter

West appears only once on the album, contributing backing vocals to ‘Bounce Back’, and takes more of a backseat role this time around as executive producer. He doesn’t need his “hand held”, Sean says, but even the smallest of inputs from Kanye can be strongly felt. “I feel like he trusts me creatively to know that I can be an artist on my own. The advice he gives is great and the suggestions that he brings to the table I always consider. Sometimes I take his advice, sometimes I don’t. That’s with anybody. But the advice he does give is usually pretty right.”

He’s got some on-point Trump material

On ‘No Favors’, Eminem describes Donald Trump as a “b***h”, while Big Sean himself played a Hillary Clinton campaign concert late last year. So what does he think of the President’s controversial first few weeks in office? “To keep it honest, it’s crazy just to see what’s going on,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to deliver this album with this sentiment, because it’s really about being the best version of yourself. With all the craziness, if you’re not in tip-top shape there’s no way to survive. I feel that’s very important for people in these moments where Donald Trump is President.”