Big Sean wants you to realize how important I Decided. is: From the ominous intro of pouring rain to the voicemail interludes throughout, this project is presented as a grand personal opus, an album made in the mould of Drake’s Take Care. Sean makes every song feel large, utilizing expensive production, sing-rapping choruses that come off as calculatingly vulnerable, and indulging a six-minute track about the travails of fame. All of this worked for Drake, but Sean struggles under the heftiness of his vision. It’s only a few seconds into I Decided.’s second track, “Light,” that this becomes apparent: the ‘inspiring rap ballad’ contains corny bars like, “spent my whole life trying to find what’s at the end of the tunnel/I should have realized it was inside.” So what is inside Sean? Is it radio hits? Maybe, at least with regard to the spaced-out and murky Metro Boomin-produced “Bounce Back.” But that single pales in comparison to Dark Paradise’s galvanizing hit, “I Don’t Fuck With You”; it sounds like a B-side from Future’s DS2, which came out two years ago now. How about songs for the deceased? The bland gospel hymn-tinted “Sunday Morning Jetpack” has that ground covered, but with lots of dumb schmaltz: “Lately I’ve been talking to ghosts/Didn’t learn faith in school but that’s what I’m testing the most” (and that isn’t even the worst line here).
This far into his career, that kind of wave riding doesn’t cut it, and neither do lines like, “Yeah I got the force but never force nothin’/Do it for the love, I’m Forrest Gumpin’”
Maybe Sean’s secret weapon here is merely the wherewithal to get good guests? But that backfires too: Migos’s feature on “Sacrifices” finds the trio barely even trying—and yet, still stealing Sean’s thunder, as he struggles to keep up with their casually breakneck flows. Eminem likewise does his host no favors, showing up to deliver some of his worst bars, cramming in three unfunny rape jokes, an outdated Jamie Lee Curtis diss, and a stale Trump one in the space of about two minutes—and still making it apparent that he’s in another weight class, his strict technical ability something Sean couldn’t muster on his best day. Em’s verse is also fitting for its insistence on referencing the past, since jacking other people’s established style has defined Big Sean’s career trajectory up to this point, whether it’s Drake, Future, or mentor Kanye West (whose “We Don’t Care” is aped transparently on I Decided.’s shameless “Inspire Me”). This far into his career, that kind of wave riding doesn’t cut it, and neither do lines like, “Yeah I got the force but never force nothin’/Do it for the love, I’m Forrest Gumpin’” (that one may be the worst). Until Sean gets that, and worries more about songwriting/craft than co-opting the efforts of others, his albums will never feel as important or decisive as he wants them to be.