Establishing an identity is one of the most vital parts of being a rapper. Unlike certain pop artists, who can attain fame simply by having a well-produced beat and catchy lyrics that they may not have written, rappers typically need to connect to their listeners through their personalities and the messages that they convey. This isn’t to say that pop music is an easier genre to succeed in, but rather that rap, stemming from its creation by oppressed people rebelling against systems of racism and poverty, has always emphasized the importance of the voice. Through absorbing a rapper’s words, the audience can start to piece together a preliminary mental image of who the artist is and subsequently relate their own experiences to this identity. Not all personas that rappers give off have to be real, and not all messages conveyed have to have moral substance in order for the commercial success to be gained. We’ve all probably heard of songs that solely focus on how many dollar bills one can throw into the air or about how a car resembles a panda. When a rapper actually chooses to speak about real material, while also showcasing their talent on the mic, they the leap from a status of mediocrity to actually being ‘good’. Big Sean finally takes the definitive step into the new class of ‘good’ rappers with his release of I Decided.
The album begins with an insightful intro that sets up the concept for the rest of the work. The track features a conversation between J.R. Starr and God, in which the former claims “I feel like I blew it with my family, with her, these kids around me don’t have no one to look up to”. Even though Sean is not speaking, he makes himself vulnerable by admitting to his flawed past and his desire to come to peace with his actions. The theme of self-reflection continues through the next track. “Light” delves deeper into Sean’s feelings about himself. He somberly claims “Spent my whole life tryna find the light at the end of the tunnel/I should have realized it was inside,” before Jeremih smoothly sings the hook.
Big Sean doubles down on his rumination about himself in the suggestively titled tracks “Jump Out The Window” and “Hanging Halfway Off The Balcony.” His fear of not being able to truly accept his actions takes center stage as he explores his past decisions and attempts to accept what he’s done. The dismal lyrics and the drab beats bring Sean’s emotional conflict to center stage. On “Hanging Halfway Off The Balcony”, he remarks “I’m hangin’ halfway off the balcony/Overthinkin’ ‘cause my job is way more than a salary/Everything around me gold like I just practiced alchemy.” These songs, coupled with “Sunday Morning Jetpack” and “Inspire Me”, in which he delves into his love and appreciation for both his mother and grandmother, excellently deliver the crux of the album’s message. However, amidst I Decided‘s abundance of heartwarming and self-questioning lyrics, there is still room for Sean to rap about less substantial things. “Moves” and “Bounce Back,” while sounding like they could fit seamlessly into Drake’s What a Time To Be Alive mixtape, showcase Sean’s ability to craft catchy, confidence-inspiring tunes.
The most controversial track on the album by far is “No Favors,” which has already caused a member of a Canadian women’s rights group to advocate for the arrest of the featured artist, Eminem. The Detroit rapper takes his explicit routine to a deeper level when he says “Fuck Ann Coulter with a Klan poster”, “Your man don’t want it, Trump’s a bitch/I’ll make his whole brand go under,” and “It may be disturbing, what I’m saying’s cringeworthy/But I’m urinating on Fergie.” Still, despite the vulgarity, the track provides one of the best listening experiences from the entire album due to its match of Sean’s seriousness and Eminem’s high level of absurdity. By no means was Sean an untalented rapper before his latest release, he just lacked the sense of self that allows a rap artist to take the next step. Even though he seemingly opened up in his prior release, Dark Sky Paradise, he didn’t delve into his state of being as he does in I Decided. Whether it’s Kendrick Lamar and To Pimp A Butterfly or Biggie Smalls and Ready To Die, every good rapper has a piece of work that can wholly establish their identity for the audience. In the end, Big Sean defines himself through self-scrutiny and self-acceptance in an intriguing and entertaining fashion, making I Decided one of the most interesting projects of the past year.
Jonvi Rollins is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]