Big Sean, the kid who rapped 16 bars for Kanye West at a radio station and got a deal with GOOD Music, was the juvenile jester of Kanye West tracks for a good while. He was like the little comedic brother that Kanye never had. His verse on “See Me Now,” Kanye’s bonus track from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is one of his funniest verses ever. He would also appear and deliver on Kanye posse-cuts like “Clique” and “Mercy,” and even had a few hits of his own with “Dance (A$$)” and “I Don’t F**k With You,” but his humor kind of wore off when it came to his own albums.

His last record Dark Sky Paradise followed a similar pattern, where I said that “I just wish he explored something else other than his need to press his legitimacy as a rapper, which has seemed to be the controlling factor in Big Sean’s career thus far.” Besides “All Your Fault,” a back-and-forth lyrical exercise with mentor Kanye West, I was pretty done with Big Sean, until DJ Khaled’s track “Holy Key” from Major Key. Sure, he couldn’t beat Kendrick on that song, but he holds his own pretty damn well. As much as I didn’t care for the lyrical material on Dark Sky Paradise, there’s no denying that the kid has flow, and he proves just that on his latest release I Decided, surprisingly one of the better rap releases of 2017 thus far.

The most alarming thing about I Decided is how much some of his new style sounds like Drake. “Bounce Back” sounds like if “Back to Back” had a Big Sean feature, “No Flavor” might as well be a Drake song, and “Owe Me” almost sounds like Big Sean is doing a better Drake than Drake does, like when Kanye West did a better Drake than Drake on the original “Pop Style.” (Wow, I hope to never use that many “Drake’s” in the same sentence again).

big sean i decided2There’s some other style borrowing on I Decided too, some Atlanta flow on “Bounce Back” and even a J. Cole sounding beat in the beginning of “Owe Me,” but Drake seems to be the largest influence. It’s not really a bad thing, considering that I think Big Sean is a way more tolerable Drake than Drake himself, but it’s an interesting and very noticeable style-borrow to say the least.

There are also some weird choices such as Eminem on “No Flavor,” who just sounds the same as on his “Campaign Song” last year just sputtering through old pop culture references and words that rhyme but have nothing to do with each other, and “Moves,” which is like what a fast-paced Drake song would sound like, but it all comes right back to the flow, which especially on “Moves” is just plain impressive.

Besides having good flow however, Big Sean does something else that’s pretty impressive on I Decided—have a real story. Dark Sky Paradise was all about respecting him as a rapper, something that I felt like people already did, but I didn’t really love his music myself. I Decided, while a step up when it comes to songwriting, really excels in demonstrating Big Sean’s growth as a human. Though it includes braggadocios tracks and songs about women, the record also has some pretty personal material.

On skits like the end of “Owe Me,” the paparazzi drill him with questions about his life, specifically about his girlfriend, fellow musician Jhene Aiko, and about his mom, whom he seems to be out of touch with based on the questions:

Ok, we see you, new girl, new car
Lamborghini Mercy, ok we feel it
Aye is this the- is this like the real thing this time with this one?
Or is this another one of those flings?
Like, you gonna bring her home to mom
Does mom know about this one? 
We know you’re close with your mom

He doesn’t answer his mother’s call in the ending skit of “Halfway off the Balcony,” and the following track “Voices in My Head” seems to explain the reason was because he’s not completely proud of the person he is. On “Sunday Morning Jetpack” he reminisces about his childhood which leads him to finally calling his mom back, and the next track, “Inspire Me,” is a really cute song completely dedicated to her, like Kanye West’s “Hey Ma” before him. It all concludes with “Bigger Than Me,” the resolution point in which Big Sean talks to his mother and expresses his aspirations for his city, his career, and even on improving himself.

Just last week, Sean and his mother created Mogul Prep, which aims to help assist and educate students about the music industry, it’s various jobs, and common practices. In 2016 they delivered water to those in Flint, Michigan and opened a recording studio for students at his old high school to use “the music industry as a hook” to “expose them to careers and skills that they can use in any industry.”

And that’s the best part about I Decided, and 2017 Big Sean in general. Not the music, which is at its best mediocre, or his rap skill, which is actually pretty good every now and then, but that his newest record told a story about him trying to become the best person that he knows he can be and giving back to his community. I Decided is also about rap, women, money, and fame, just like every Big Sean album and mostly all rap albums for that matter, but there’s a greater message tucked in the record about never forgetting to always try and better yourself, and that in of itself is very admirable.

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