Big Sean wasn’t short on confidence preceding the release of I Decided., his Platinum-certified fourth studio album. Like any artist proud of their forthcoming work, he spoke highly of the product and his status. Boldly, he delivered his elevator pitch as one of rap’s best and immediately my attention was his. Unfortunately, the album didn’t provide a compelling enough argument. I like Sean, he can be exciting and is fairly relatable, but his attempts at being clever often come across as corny, at times painfully so. He’s a very good MC who has spent years just outside the doors of the elite classroom.
With the announcement of Double Or Nothing, a new Sean album produced entirely by Metro Boomin, I saw a glimmer of hope within the realization that a special producer is what Sean has needed. This could be his Savage Mode, the collaborative mixtape between Boomin and 21 Savage that showcased 21's true potential. Sean could benefit greatly from someone orchestrating his sound, setting the tone, and giving him a space to truly call his own.
This is also a good time for Metro to reassess. He has saturated the market in 2017, breaking records and picking up trophies in the process, but his sound is widely known and often replicated. Working with Sean is a chance for Metro to revamp his winning formula and further insert himself into the conversation as an all-time trailblazer.
I'm optimistic, but I could be enamored by an idea and not the reality we live within. Double Or Nothing could very well be another blockbuster release: big names creating big explosions that have the lasting impression of watching fireworks. Another What a Time To Be Alive, SUPER SLIMEY, or Without Warning (which admittedly gets better with every listen) to add to the collection. I'm ready for a collaboration where the artist and producer challenge each other artistically, a union for the sake of innovation. A boy can dream, right?
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. Let's roll.
1. "Go Legend" ft. Travis Scott
Majestic. This is the sound of unicorns grazing in the meadows. The Future tag! But no drums… instead, a woman’s voice. This is a sample. Diana Ross, I believe. Elegant introduction. Interesting start. Okay, a SUDDEN SWITCH. This is "Father Stretch My Hands" levels bizarre. We went from Queen Diana to Travis Scott singing what sounds like ‘League of Legends’ but I have to assume he’s saying ‘We Go Legend.’ Travis Scott looks like he used to play PC games, definitely Runescape or World of Warcraft. I’m dizzy by the sudden switch. The unicorns are dead. I’m not digging Trav’s voice on this one. I feel like I’m at a carnival at one of Scott’s rodeos. Sean! “I create the energy they keep stealing,” okay, okay. He said he’s fresher than the reverend. Peak Sean. A few bars didn’t land but the ones that did were cool. I did not need that Husky line, no sir. MJ and Prince nods. Yeah, right before I started to drift off Sean kicked the verse into overdrive. When he does the slow to rapid flow it's always clean. Mario and Rick & Morty references. I would hang out with Big Sean just to play Nintendo and discuss the state of animated cartoons, I feel like he would have good takes. Eh. Early mixed feelings. The sample flip really didn’t work in Young Metro’s favor. A return to this track is unlikely.
2. "Big Bidness" ft. 2 Chainz
Keys. Real somber keys. Big Sean has a great narrator voice. He should do voice-overs, someone call up Paramount. What the hell was that laugh? I sounded like the Joker just escaped Arkham. Minimal, no drums. Sean just had a great Magic City "I’m a magician" bar that I’m upset hasn’t been used by an Atlanta rapper. This should’ve been the intro. Track two is where the party’s at, get Jagged Edge on the phone. Nice bounce. The bar about giving his girl kids just to start a family business sent me spiraling out my chair. This might be one of my favorite Sean verses in a while. Are people still telling stories around a campfire? This hook could be so much better. CHAINZ!!! This is knocking. Laughed at the line about dissing his exes. Not a banger but I would rerun. This Chainz flow is a winner. I love how G.O.O.D. Music artists always intersect Ye wisdom into their songs. Kanye is the Mr. Miyagi of GM. Second Sean verse is cool, nothing too crazy was said, but every time I start to feel meh he switches up his flow and I’m pulled back in. Sean’s deliveries have been on point thus far. Another Joker laugh.
3. "Who's Stopping Me"
OH! Spanish sample alert. Soft instrumentation and the man’s singing voice is rather pleasant. First time all year I wish I paid attention in Spanish class. Sean said it sounds like Narcos, he isn’t wrong. I can almost envision bricks of Columbia's finest. Anyone reading this: Is the new season of Narcos any good? Metro tag just came in and I’m bouncing. The Spanish guitar and these drums are the most unusual but adorable pair since Eric Andre and Rosario Dawson. This is the left field, unpredictable production I wanted Metro to pull from his bag. We didn’t need that charged up/glow in the dark line, no sir. But I like this. Sean has dreams about Rosa Parks, creepy much? He just said the ‘Back in the Bach’ line that LeBron loves so much. I wish LeBron would do 1-Listen reviews on Instagram, he’s my favorite rap A&R. The claps just came in. The production is an entire party that I don’t want to leave. Sean could exit the song, completely abandon the second verse and the song would still be a keeper. Letting the vocal sample breath while he talks underneath it. “You couldn’t see these type of checks if you were Einstein on Jeopardy,” ladies and gentlemen that is a BAR. Sean is talking his talk. “Start from square one on some first cigarette shit,” okay, okay. This is the one. Crazy sample and some memorable bars worth quoting. I can get used to this. More please!
4. "Pull Up N Wreck" ft. 21 Savage
Southside tag. Sounds like church organs playing in an East Atlanta trap house. Sounds like being chased through a tabernacle by the faceless men on the album cover. I like the heaviness of the production. Sean sounds cool. Nothing too crazy. Hook is cool. The energy is there but isn’t infectious. Sean has all the charisma and can still be painfully uninteresting. 21 Savage is not taking disrespect. He might be the most intimidating rapper alive. This verse is the kind of aggression that make people apologize to 21 when he bumps into them. It’s impossible to rap a 21 verse and not feel empowered. I hope all future non-violent bank robbers play 21 as they flee from the police, his music is perfect for disruption and lawless come-ups. Big Sean is so proud of himself, I can’t knock the constant self-praise. Big yourself up like Big Sean does. GoldenEye bar is fuego. There’s just something rather boring about “Pull Up N Wreck.” The energy is there, but no electricity. Not even the smallest jolt. I’m just ready for Metro Boomin and Southside to score a Halloween haunted house or the sequel to Freddy vs. Jason.
5. "So Good" ft. Kash Doll
The bass! This feels like I’m about to get hyphy. Hypersexual bop. Metro threw in the Franchize Boyz “Yep” from “White Tee” while Big Sean is talking about splashing in a girl. Ha. Ha. Ha. Fam, the OJ glove not fitting line is more Peak Sean. This is too much. Imagine if Big Sean tried to be the third member of Ying Yang Twins in ‘04-’05. I hate when such a promising beat becomes the catalyst of an excruciating concept. Kash Doll. Okay. I’m wondering if this is what people thought the first time they heard “What's Your Fantasy” or “The Whisper Song.” Painfully raunchy. Kash is sucking the soul of the track, clap for her. "So Good" reminds me of being a child channel surfing and coming across Taxicab Confessions or Pornucopia in the dead of night, just awkward. So awkward. Also the “Yep” is killing me. Franchize Boyz didn’t wear 4x long white tees to be used like this almost 15 years later. So many cringeworthy lines. Remember when Big Sean remixed Nicki’s “Ass?” Those were good days. Take me back, Jesus.
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6. "Savage Time"
Glad that’s finally over. Speedy Sean, Sonic flow. Sounds like a sample of a radio program in the back. That WNBA bar is such a Sean line. He has to stop doing that. The white supremacist bar, however, I can get jiggy with. Loving the knock. Loving the keys. The Metro beats do feel unique. Giving the president water from Flint is a move I fully endorse. I’m enjoying this. I wish Sean would slow it down a bit. At times, he raps as if he’s rushing to the finish line. Oh shit. Gunshots. I was just about to type about all the blackness in the raps. Some strange, ghostly singing. I actually wish 21 sang that part. Vocals just hovering in the backdrop. This song is incredibly sparse, it is like staring into the void. A slowed down Metro tag. Ha. “My niggas used to sell dope they were backstreet boys,” I’m stealing that. The beat switch is letting the keys dance. Not a very strong verse but I dig the vibes. Holy shit is that Travis??? He just swooped in singing and screeching like the birds that sing McKnight in the trap. That was sudden, an unexpected feature.
7. "Even the Odds" ft. Young Thug
Moody. Sean rapping. “Bitch that ain’t Toyota this European,” man, rappers will stand for the flag but will refuse to endorse American made cars. “Bitch this ain’t hobby this is how I eat,” hahahaha. I like the idea of this flow, but it's not working. Such a bizarre beat. The build-up is so hollow. Metro reaching that Addams Family melancholy. Love that Sean got his chakras aligned. Thugger!!! Flow sounds much better in Thug’s hand. Thug DID NOT NEED TO USE THAT BILL COSBY LINE. MY JAW DROPPED. Why is he like this LMAO? We are in the Bizarro world. There’s absolutely no energy on this one. Eh, in a way I got my request. Sean’s Metro beats are completely out his comfort zone. I can’t get into this song. It’s the flow and his delivery. No energy, no liveliness, he’s basically talking. Okay, it's picking up. I see some promise... but it came at the tail end. Sean could’ve made this into something. My cousin just texted me that they’re clowning Sean on Twitter and I feel bad.
8. "In Tune"
Oh shit! Metro sampled Lori Perri “Up Against The Wind!” One of my favorite Game records (“Doctor’s Advocate”) uses the same sample. Beautiful song. I'm wondering if will we see Sean dig in deep and let the pen bleed a bit. I’m here for some soul-baring. Nope, nope, nope. The trap drums just came in HARD. Abrasive. They’re trying to turn “Up Against The Wind” into a trunk rattler. Man, the vibe is off. Yeah, these strings don’t work. Nothing is working here. I’m really disappointed with where this record went. “They were authentic phonies,” nah, bro. Hard pass on this one, Sean. You saddened me young Padawan. “If I can’t live 100 years then I’m gone way too soon.”
9. "Reason" ft. Swae Lee
Flutes. Pierre tags. Metro Tag. What the hell is going on with this beat. Is that a saxophone? This beat sounds like what Denise made Theo when he wanted a Gordon Gartrelle shirt. Sean probably asked for "Mask Off" and Metro came back with this instead. The flute sounds so lifeless and banal. I don’t know what’s happening to the album but it's absolutely collapsing. I can’t blame Sean for this one, though, he actually sounds good. Swae Lee! He’s not saving this. He appeared and vanished with the swiftness of a black child who forgot to take the chicken out. The flute has me under its strange spell. I don’t think that back horn is a saxophone, maybe a trumpet. This whole arrangement is disjointed. I dreamed of a completely different sound when I envisioned Sean and Metro.
10. "No Hearts, No Love"
Sounds like a soul sample from the ‘70s. Love the keys. Man, I’m tired. Hard drums. Sean just put on his Jesus chain so you know it's serious as Ash turning his cap backwards. “Don, Don, Don that’s my type three in that order,” gotta love this man’s self-assurance. My favorite Big Sean ad-libs are the phone ringing or the chopper singing. I think instead of releasing a new album Sean should have published a book of mantras. Is that a choir on the back end? Bruh, I’m here for some soul Sean. (“Bigger Than Me” is the best song he’s released all year.) “I’m less focused on props and more on property” is the kind of energy I can get behind. Choir!!! This was a solid outro.
There are two main issues I have with Double Or Nothing. The first: Big Sean and Metro aren’t naturally compatible. Their styles aren’t tailored to coexist without someone adjusting. Frequent collaborators like 21 and Thugger sound at home, their style of rhyme aligning with Boomin the way steak goes with lobster. For most of Double Or Nothing, Sean and Metro are like mixing Everclear and D'USSE.
The second: the content of Big Sean’s rhymes. As much as Sean talks about being great, his shortcomings are reaching a level of overbearing discomfort that sucks the fun from his verses. He has been talking about God, chakras, and mental growth more, but they are blurred and blended with lyrics about civil rights, his woman, and whatever else is said in the stream of scattered consciousness. There’s effort but no coherent focus, no story being told. What happened to all the style, before he leaned so hard on double-time flows and lackluster double entendres? Where is the natural charisma that used to make his verses stick to your ribs? I’m almost certain these verses were conjured without a pen or pad.
Ever since I heard “Platinum and Wood,” a bonus track from Dark Sky Paradise, I’ve wanted Sean to go back into storytelling. Songs like “Memories,” “Almost Wrote You a Love Song,” Nothing Is Stopping You,” “Ashley,” or even “Sunday Morning Jetpack,” are countless examples of a Sean more focused on song making than spitballing. That’s the Sean I hope finds his way to the surface when it’s time for the next one. Hopefully, with a producer who can give him the sound that he’s looking for.
Someone should have called Mike WiLL to make it.
Early Favorites: "Big Bidness," "Who's Stopping Me," "Savage Time"
Early Not-So-Favorites: "Go Legend," "So Good," "In Tune"
By Yoh, aka Yoh Decided, aka @Yoh31