Hearing of a concept album from Detroit rapper Big Sean intrigued me to say the least. On his three studio albums leading up to this point, Sean Michael Leonard Anderson, known by his stage name of Big Sean, had failed to produce a full project that left any considerable impression on me. There was the odd track that stood out to me, but I found that Big Sean’s style of rapping was so clearly influenced by other contemporary MCs, most notably Drake, that I found his music lacking the personality that I want to hear conveyed by a rapper. A concept album, to me, seemed like it had a lot of room to go wrong, but I could also see it providing exactly the focus that Big Sean needs in order to tailor his own sound to make him stand alone from his contemporaries. The first single from this fourth studio effort, Bounce Back which dropped in early November of last year, showed promise for the album, being one of Big Sean’s best tracks to date and establishing what seemed like a much more chilled vibe to this record, which is reflected in the soft but vibrant colours in the album cover. Just two weeks before the release of I Decided., a last promotional track from the album dropped called Halfway Off the Balcony. The positive expectations I had of this record were ever so slightly dashed by this song, which felt to me like much more of the same that Big Sean had been doing on his last few albums. Then again, the fact that two singles from this record produced such different reactions from me arguably piqued my interest even more, as I could see I Decided. going either way. Thankfully, the end product proves to me to be the most enjoyable Big Sean album yet and, despite the odd blunder, this thing demands my full attention throughout its entire duration.
The central narrative of this album’s concept concerns rebirth, revolving around a man who is born again to re-live his life, albeit with the benefit of hindsight shaping his decisions and altering his worldview. This is clearly reflected in the album cover, with the two men depicted likely being the two versions of the same man in their respective realities. I must admit that the general concept of this album is a fantastic one in my opinion, but, of course, execution is key. Simply birthing a good idea isn’t enough if it’s brought to life poorly. However, Big Sean actualises his concept rather well, with the narrative providing I Decided. with the most fluid assembly of any record from the rapper thus far. Every track on here feels like it belongs on the album and provides some sort of benefit to it. This is the case even for Halfway Off the Balcony, and I have come to appreciate this song a lot more. I still find the beat and Big Sean’s delivery somewhat mediocre and familiar, but it nonetheless feels highly pertinent to the record, with the lyrics taking a better shape given the context of the overarching themes on I Decided.. The title to me, at first, seemed to be a pretty stark allusion to suicide, and the fact that another track on here is called Jump Out the Window fortified this opinion, but given broader context, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Working with the theme of the record, it seems that Big Sean is using suicide as a representation of acknowledging that one is living their life poorly and choosing to make a change as a result. Given the underlying theme of rebirth, it seems that suicide doesn’t mean a last resort, rather it means a chance for a new beginning with Big Sean acknowledging the superficial manner with which he and others often treat the important things in their lives on lines like, “Overthinkin’ ’cause my job is more than just a salary” and “I realised when it comes to girls / That chemistry means way more than anatomy”. These same doubts of one’s lifestyle are made clear from the intro to the album, in which actor J.R. Starr performs a spoken word introduction as the protagonist addresses God, questioning the path his life has taken, concluding that it isn’t what he’s supposed to be doing with his existence. The end of Intro depicts the main character — who I am to assume is not just a character, but a representation of Big Sean — being hit by a car, which leads into the first full song on the album, Light, which seems to be a double entendre, representing both “the light at the end of the tunnel” and the concept of ‘the light’ that people are often portrayed as seeing as they are dying. Overall, I was very impressed with Big Sean for coming through with such an impressive concept that is executed through his best bars to appear on a record yet, making I Decided. shine above all of his other releases thus far in his career.
In terms of production value, Big Sean’s delivery and other non-lyrical features of the album, it seems that this is the rapper’s most mature record yet in this sense too, with some of my favourite beats of his appearing on this album. The aforementioned Bounce Back and its chilled aesthetic is a highlight in the tracklisting. Although nothing entirely new, it features some fantastic flows from Sean and a lovely smooth beat that complements his delivery whilst also not being too flashy as to distract the listener from the MC’s bars, which are obviously the main focus on this record. The production feature from Metro Boomin is a big reason as to why this track stands out so much, with Boomin being, in my opinion, one of the most versatile producers in today’s hip hop and trap game. The other cut from I Decided. that features Metro Boomin behind the desk is Sacrifices, also featuring an appearance from Atlanta trap trio Migos. This track features another laid-back beat with some subtle details appearing every now and then that go over well, but most importantly, it lets Sean and Migos spit some impressive bars whilst they ride the beat really well. On the topic of features, every feature on I Decided. goes down rather successfully. Jeremih’s appearance on Light is a highlight, especially with this cut already standing out thanks to the super smooth keys, bass and female vocals, courtesy of Eddie Kendrick’s oft-sampled Intimate Friends. Although this is a frequently sampled instrumental and Big Sean does little new with it here, it fits the smooth vibe of much of the album really well. Whilst Eminem’s contribution to the track No Favors is an odd one because his and Sean’s rapping styles are so vastly different, his verse still stands well on its own and it certainly fulfils the role that would be expected from one of his features. For the most part, the production steps up to a higher level much the same as the lyrics have, making for Big Sean’s tightest and, overall, best album yet.
I am immensely pleased that Big Sean has really come through on I Decided. with a fantastic concept that was executed very well, good production, better bars and flows, and, most importantly to me, a personality that makes him finally stand out to me from his peers. This project is somewhat of a slowburner, but that’s to be expected given that the conceptual lyrics require contemplation to fully make sense of the narrative and overarching message that Big Sean conveys on I Decided., so this thing certainly requires numerous listens. Also, I must say that it was on my third or fourth spin of this record that I began to love it, and I could easily see myself growing to appreciate it more as I continue listening to it. For now though, I Decided. remains unequivocally Big Sean’s best project to date, showing drastic improvements in practically every department, leaving me far more excited for his next studio effort than any of his previous albums have.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10