Rapper Big Sean’s fourth studio album is primarily about one thing: ironically, that one thing is duality. As stated by the man himself in an interview with Jimmy Fallon, I Decided. is a concept record, where Sean constructs a narrative concerning himself and an alternate version of himself. The title, I Decided., references the important decisions Sean has made, which have all led to the life he currently lives.
Sean strives to achieve this duality both sonically and thematically. The production shifts from bombastic and dark trap (Metro Boomin shows up three times, DJ Mustard makes an appearance) to light, minimalistic compositions, spear-headed by Sean’s longtime collaborator KeyWane and one of the industry’s most underrated beat makers, DJ Dahi. No singular track exemplifies this conscious aesthetic decision like “Voices in My Head / Stick to the Plan,” where both the Metro Boomin beat switch and Sean’s lyrics work to reinforce the record’s primary theme. The song’s soft opening has Sean introspectively speaking, reminding himself that his chosen lifestyle has some negative consequence. As the beat aggressively switches, however, the conflicted rapper starts full on yelling at himself, declaring he must “Stick to the plan,” limit his emotions, play the part of the materialistic rapper and embrace the life that he chose.
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Other standout tracks on the record include “Light,” where Sean raps some of his most heartfelt bars over the album’s most delicate and sweet production. Lyrics like “Spent my whole life tryna find the light at the end of the tunnel / I should have realized it was inside” both reinforce the theme and prove that Sean has improved as a lyricist from the distant times when he was relying on his gimmicky hashtag flow. “Sacrifices” is an energetic and infectious collaboration featuring The Migos minus Takeoff and the two singles “Bounce Back” and “Moves” are two of Sean’s strongest, as they both feature fun flow switch ups, memorable choruses and dark, intriguing production.
On the downside, tracks like “Jump Out the Window” and “Halfway Off the Balcony” highlight that Big Sean occasionally sounds like an off-brand Drake, clumsily mixing rapping and singing, crafting forgettable melodies while trying to hit different notes with his monotone voice. At other times, Sean throws his interesting concept out the window and replaces his internal conflict narrative with typical braggadocios rap lyrics about women, spending and partying. “No Favors” starts out strong until the corpse of fellow Detroit rapper Eminem shows up, spewing vitriol. At 44-years-old, having Em rap about rape or punching *insert female celebrity in the face is old, stale and negatively impacts the cohesive vision Sean is trying to craft.
For what it’s worth, I Decided. Is a solid rap album that shows legitimate improvement from the protégé Kanye West once called “the Beyoncé of rap.” Is Big Sean the Beyoncé of rap? No, he certainly isn’t, especially considering 2016’s Lemonade is an example of a perfectly crafted concept album, while I Decided. is an example of a valiant attempt at crafting a concept album. Still, Sean’s newest release has a handful of memorable tracks, a nice variation in production techniques and signs of obvious lyrical improvement from the 28-year-old emcee. I Decided. is out now, via Def Jam Recordings.