In 2011, Big Sean released his debut album ‘Finally Famous’. While it put him on the map in terms of recognition, it was his 2012 mixtape ‘Detroit’ that solidified him as a generational talent destined for longevity. The 17-track tape saw him master the art of storytelling, better understand cadence and sequencing and greatly improve his rhyming capabilities. Here he proved that he stood alongside peers such as Drake, J. Cole and Mac Miller, who all achieved mammoth success in the ’10s.
Now, eight years later, Sean delivers his sequel. With help from Kanye West and Hit-Boy, who join Sean on executive producer duties, he builds on his reputation as a positive rapper who would rather count blessings than cash. A trailblazer of message-driven music, he prides himself on growth: “I’m ‘bout to delete my Twitter and follow my intuition,” he raps on ‘Everything That’s Missing’, a soulful sermon about wins, losses and rebirth.
On occasion, his teachings are lost in unnecessarily overbearing production – see ‘Harder Than My Demons’, where a PSA about work ethic and unwavering faith is diluted by a counterfeit Miami bass record, which apparently took six producers to make. Sometimes messaging goes out the window completely in favour of empty posturing: the cluttered ‘The Baddest’ lacks potency and punch.
Of course, thought-provoking music isn’t everything, but Sean has always shined brightest when he’s sharing some kind of motivational speech or nugget of wisdom – which is precisely why a track like ‘Full Circle’ cuts deep. The drowsy drum kicks and aching keys allow time and space for a reflective Sean, who’s joined by Diddy and KeY Wane, to examine the complexities of karma.
The Anderson .Paak and Wale-assisted ‘Guard Your Heart’ is notably emotional: “Conflicted like bein’ signed to Ye and managed by Jay,” Sean raps, “Conflicted like bein’ cool with Pusha and Drake.” On ‘Friday Night Cypher’, he helps others put conflicts to the side, bringing together 10 Detroit MCs – including Eminem and Royce Da 5’9” and other rappers he’s revealed were feuding at the time – for a dizzying posse cut; it sounds like something No Limit Records would have put out in 1998.
Although it can be overblown, Sean’s passion is unreserved here, the record peppered with Instagram-worthy captions that urge listeners to take inspiration from their surroundings while keeping friends and family close. This is why Sean’s name continues to stay on the lips of rap connoisseurs almost a decade after his debut.
Release date: September 4
Record label: GOOD Music / Def Jam