Say what you will about 2016 but it was a great year for black musicians. There were standout releases from the likes of Beyoncé, Solange, Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino, Skepta, and that’s just to name a few that were on my radar, I know there were more. Genres were blended, boundaries all but disintegrated, politics and identity took centre stage. Sean Anderson (that’s Big Sean to you and me), even dropped a fantastic release: the TWENTY88 concept piece in collaboration with Jhené Aiko. So even though I Decided is technically the follow up to 2015’s Dark Sky Paradise, for me at least it feels like Big Sean’s been hanging around on the outskirts for ages.
Anderson is 28, but his persona feels a lot younger in many ways. For a start, when I think of his best tracks, he’s always got at least a little help. Click? Kanye and Jay-Z. I Don’t Fuck With You? They resurrected E-40 to help with that one. I Decided doesn’t exactly veer him off in his own direction; six of the fourteen tracks have noted featuring artists, and almost every other song has samples or additional vocals notes. I mean, that’s not necessarily a criticism. It’s Hip-hop after all, and collaborations can be great. Anderson himself has proved this on several occasions.
It’s just that I want Big Sean to be bigger than his ankle biting puppy personality. I think he wants this too – and as a result the album is disjointed, half way between sounding like Big Sean doing impressions of last year’s biggest hip-hop and rap names but interspersed with moments of exciting progression.
I Decided stumbles a little at the start. There’s nothing particularly remarkable until track five, Jump Out The Window. It’s got a slow, relaxed kick that’s a great change coming from Big Sean. I’ve been conditioned to associate Big Sean with other people, as if he can’t hold it on his own. Jump Out The Window is a sexy song that Anderson holds his own in. He’s not bashing his ex or telling everyone how great his friends are. There is development, even if it’s just the tiniest little spark in the distance, it’s there.
The best parts of the album are the small details. Owe Me is full of Anderson’s Big Sean stamps. The foundation of the whole backtrack is his little “woahs” and “oh Gods”. On the top of his trademark verbal ticks, we get another fairly slow track, where he’s talking to one person, like we’re listening on the other landline whilst he makes ill-advised late night phone calls. The personal peaks in the album definitely feel like they come from his and Aiko’s TWENTY88 project last year. The concept piece was a sci-fi dreamy Ex Machina combined with Sonny and Cher, confessional and full of small relationship details. Aiko’s smooth calm balanced Anderson’s attention grabbing persona and it worked. It seems to me that she might have had a quiet word with him and maybe he actually listened.
It’s not all great though. Bounce Back, track three, right at the start of the album, is almost unlistenable. The Jumpman sample is lazy and adds nothing. Apparently it was produced by Hitmaka, so there really is no excuse for the DJ Mustard sound. If it’s anything, Bounce Back is a terrible Future impersonation, and he can be bad enough all by himself so we don’t need Big Sean to make it even more explicit. Following that, I take issue with No Favours, which starts alright but disintegrates very quickly. And then features Eminem. Who is still listening to Eminem? There’s a weird layer on his voice so you don’t clock it as Eminem straight away, but then he’s rapping about raping people and pissing on Fergie so it’s familiar territory again. Honestly will the real Slim Shady just sit the fuck down already?
The second half of the album is decidedly better than the first half, but the best track is Jump Out the Window without a doubt. I almost can’t associate it with the rest of the album, that’s how good it is. Come on Big Sean, I’m still rooting for you.