Big Sean's 'Dark Sky Paradise' a mix of catchy and emotional beats

Def Jam

By Kenneth Selander , Daily Arts Writer
Published February 22, 2015

Big Sean’s third album, Dark Sky Paradise, is an odd mix of classic Big Sean explicitness and unexpectedly deep songs, presenting a collection of catchy club tunes and emotional tracks.

Dark Sky Paradise


B
Big Sean
Def Jam Records


First and foremost, I appreciate that Big Sean stays true to himself on this album. It seems today that all too many rappers are trying to imitate the Atlanta sound that has been dominating rap recently. If Big Sean’s 2012 mixtape Detroit isn’t enough proof, mentions of Little Caesar’s on “All Your Fault,” among other Detroit, Michigan references in Dark Sky Paradise make it clear that he’s not trying to claim that Atlanta adopted him. In “Paradise,” Big Sean raps “I’m from the D, fuck your A-list.” While this line means a number of things, I like to think on some level it’s a rejection of this trend.

The album’s musical content is diverse, which sometimes reates an odd juxtaposition. For instance, in the record’s first song, “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” Sean starts the second verse with “Bitch, watch how you speak to me,” but by the end of the same verse makes an allusion to police brutality (a theme also brought up by his mentor Kanye West on “All Your Fault.”)

Perhaps the epitome of Big Sean’s self-absorbed, dirty talk rap that is ever-present on Finally Famous and Hall of Fame is his hit single “I Don’t Fuck With You.” The name says it all. In the chorus, the line “I got a million trillion things that I’d rather fuckin’ do,” is just plain silly. Yet at the same time, it’s hard to deny how catchy the song is — a result of the production just as much as the simple chorus. Both DJ Mustard and Kanye West produce the song, and Kanye’s soulful sample meshes well with DJ Mustard’s catchy driving beat.

Beyond “I Don’t Fuck With You,” the album’s production is solid. Samples like “How Much I Feel” by Ambrosia and “Piece of My Love” by Guy add interest to songs otherwise dominated by the monotone sound of Big Sean’s voice.

Dark Sky Paradise’s features are nothing new. Big Sean has done a few songs with Kanye before (like “Marvin and Chardonnay”) and Lil Wayne (“Beware”). Big name Drake is featured on “Blessings.” It seems like he’s pulling on his biggest connections to boost record sales. I can’t blame him when, considering his emphasis on making money, Hall of Fame didn’t sell many more than 100,000 copies.

Looking back on Finally Famous, while the album was aesthetically pleasing, it was mostly void of meaning. “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” is probably the only song with some personal connection or emotion, and it’s about cheating on his girlfriend. Nasty club hits like “A$$,” and “Marvin and Chardonnay” definitely drive the record.

His sophomore album Hall of Fame gives off a laid back, stoner vibe. There are a handful of more thoughtful songs on the record, particularly “World Ablaze” and “Ashley,” which allows Hall of Fame to separate itself from Finally Famous. Yet, filthy songs like “Mona Lisa,” “MILF” and the perverted skit “Freaky” are also present on the record. What a mix.

While Dark Sky Paradise and Hall of Fame share a juxtaposition of meaningful and explicit songs, in the former the balance tips in the direction of more meaningful ones. Tracks like “Play No Games,” and “Stay Down,” are void of much depth, but “One Man Can Change the World,” is extremely touching. Like “World Ablaze,” touching on his ex-girlfriends mother‘s battle with cancer (on his sophomore album), the passing of Big Sean’s grandmother provides a great platform for him to elevate the personal and artistic value of his work. Better yet, “Outro” gives off an uplifting feeling to finish the album, an effective transition from the heartache of “One Man Can Change The World.” On the other hand, “I Know” is also supposed to be a deep song about heartbreak, but lacks energy and I didn’t feel the execution. I do appreciate the concept, though.

It appears Big Sean challenges himself to progress a bit on Dark Sky Paradise, likely with the encouragement of Kanye. The album features some thematically substantive lyrics and music, but is still cautious about deviating too far from the Finally Famous mentality that got him big label money – he’s testing the bath water. If the record sells, maybe we’ll see more emotional songs from Big Sean. He has an ultra-smooth flow and certainly knows his way around a beat, giving him the potential to make hits that aren’t just meant to be banged at a party. Just please don’t write a grimy love ballad to Ariana Grande.