After a few months of writing at DJBooth, I finally got assigned to conduct my first ever "1 Listen Album Review" for Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise. On most days I like Sean, but I've always preferred his mixtapes over the albums. Give me Finally Famous Vol. 3 over Finally Famous The Album, Detroit over Hall of Fame, although I’m hoping this trend will be broken with his third album. I assume that most of you are already familiar with the "1 Listen" format by now, but for any newcomers, here's the deal: I'm going to listen to the album straight through - no pausing, no hitting repeat - and write my immediate, gut reactions. No revisions, no going back, just a literal running diary of the first time I heard Dark Sky Paradise.
"Dark Sky (Skyscrapers)"
Sean is starting with a very stormy, ominous sound. He’s ripping this, more open production is where his style shines. There’s a lot going on, the production and his flow are transforming more than Autobots fighting Megatron. This isn’t Lupe's "Murals," but he’s obviously trying to exhibit his versatility as an emcee. Kudos Sean, kudos. I can’t believe he fit this much into two minutes.
"Blessings" ft. Drake
This one gradually grew on me. I wonder what inspired the Adam’s Family soundscape, the dark, stormy tone continues. He’s gotten flack for that offbeat flow, like he has no regards for the production, but it works for him. Every time I hear Drake’s hook and verse I wish this would’ve found its way on to Drizzy's new album. It’s a good song, not a commercial single, but a memorable record. No Kanye on the album version, though?
"All Your Fault" ft. Kanye West
OH SHIT! LET'S GO YEEZY. When I hear Kanye and a sped up sample I levitate. Kanye is walking on water, well before he started singing, but that verse is rewind worthy. Sean is winning with this production, it’s layered with surprises. Sean is energized, he’s rapping like lightning just struck him and he hit the booth before the hospital. Little Caesars reference, now I want pizza. Is that Travi$ Scott's vocals? I’m assuming he did the production. Sean and Kanye’s back and forth is like watching the Megazords come together.
"I Don’t Fuck With You" ft. E-40
Where was this song when I was in high-school? Immature Yoh dealing with woman would’ve loved this record. This is like the rap edition of that one song by Eamon, the name currently escapes me. [Editor's Note: You mean this?] DJ Mustard doesn’t need tags, our ears are trained to know. Sean sounds so hurt in this hook, the petty is strong. I love E-40, but he seems too old for this record. I hope this ends soon before I blackout. I love the soulful section though, well if you removed Sean, does anyone have the instrumental?
"Play No Games" ft. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign
Okay, the introduction is cool. Did I mention that Sean is winning with these beats? Jesus his ear has leveled up. The tempo dropped a bit, this is cool, well until Chris Brown enters. The hook is like raw onions, unnecessarily overwhelming. Sean is on a nimbus cloud, but he hasn’t said anything that has left me with the screw face. Ty$ is killing the raspy melodies, but god this song is a busy highway.
I’m not familiar with the regular version of "Paradise," but Mike WiLL has another winner. This is definitely the closest to a clichéd Sean single, but he’s vicious, rapid, and completely off the leash. Where does the extended part begin? I don’t know if this would be the soundscape to my paradise or hell but it's definitely a cool song. Verse two, Sean hasn’t found a muzzle, he’s angry...oh a Dragonball Z reference!!! This is one I'll rewind after this review.
"Win Some, Lose Some" ft. Jhené Aiko
Seven songs in, not bored yet. Interesting intro, Jhené's vocals are a nice greeting. This is the slowest joint yet, this is the conversational record that comes with every Sean album like that toy that comes with Happy Meals. It’s a nice change of pace, a little glimpse into his world without the floss and gloss. I wish he would’ve let Jhené handle the hook, the duet isn’t enticing. Sean is definitely running through the booth with his relationship woes, but the horrendous hook ruins all the welcomed honesty. A phone conversation with his Dad to close, I can see where Sean gets his confidence and swagger.
Not feeling this one instantly, Sean’s melodic attempts are truly hit or miss. It’s supposed to be the triumphant record for all the homies that never went astray, but meh. Second verse he returns back to the rapid flow, breathless, it’s much more engrossing than his singing. Wish Steve Wonder would’ve been free, he could’ve given this song the needed vocals to be great.
"I Know" ft. Jhené Aiko
WOO! The bassline greets us like a topless model at the hotel door. Another melodic/singing attempt by Sean, sounds much better than the previous attempt. Jhené background vocals are a plus. Sean wanted to build an album that was more than what meets the ear, various elements to keep your interest. Overproduction can be a gift or a curse. Jhené’s verse isn’t bad on this. Who knew a Big Sean and Jhené duet would work this well? Starting to feel a bit longwinded though.
"Deep" ft. Lil Wayne
Sean's energy is keeping the album moving, but he should sing less, it’s not his forte. Ha, he just called himself King Arthur, I wonder who's Lancelot then? Weezy just appeared in the background, duets on top of duets. Always nice to hear Weezy without his friend Auto-Tune, he’s spitting, he said Sean doesn’t get enough shine, interesting to see him play the mentor mid-verse. Not mad at this one, but feels a bit lengthy.
"One Man Can Change The World" ft. Kanye West & John Legend
Finally, some piano. Oh no, he’s singing again. It’s heartfelt, coming from his soul. This is motivational, a positive, but should’ve called John Legend. This is a great element for Sean, once he starts rapping, he’s in top form. He called 'Ye instead of John? G.O.O.D Troll. I’m loving the piano, Sean sounds great, and once again, open production is his zone. Wait, is that John!? Look at god. Look at GOD. Grandma closes this song out. Glad to see Sean’s family shine.
Soulful and funky, this feels like the sun coming out after the storm. Sean is ice skating, I’m getting an early 'Ye vibe from him. This is a great way to close, very smooth, production sits quietly in the background, allowing Sean to show off these words. Sean just rapped his phone call, he’s the new Mike Jones!
"Deserve It" ft. PND [Bonus]
The sun is officially down, and it’s unbelievably dark in this room. I can see why this is a bonus, it isn’t captivating. Not in love with the hook, Sean is at his most laidback, his voice even has that early morning tone. The second verse is much more alluring than the first, ashamed that PND didn’t deliver the gold. The amount of reverb on his vocals is making my ears bleed.
"Research" ft. Ariana Grande [Bonus]
Oh, the record with Ariana. The production is poppy, with a dope vocal loop that doesn’t last, sadly. Did DJ Mustard make this? I take that back, I don’t like this. Her singing isn’t selling me, I want to skip ahead. Is this supposed to be Sean’s "All Bout U"? Eh, glad this didn’t make the album.
"Platinum and Wood" [Bonus]
The only bonus song with the thunder rumble, fittingly this one matches the darker theme of the main album. Liking Sean’s flow, he’s at recess, this is good. This is album worthy, he’s giving us that glimpse into his upbringing. Dope that his friends were able to be included. Oh, it’s over. Man that was a rush.
Ultimately, only time will tell if Dark Sky Paradise (available for pre-order here) becomes the first Big Sean album that I like more than his mixtapes, but this one probably has the best chance yet. I'm legitimately excited to go back to it and listen again, as soon as I go pass out for an hour. Typing that fast for an hour straight is more tiring than you might think, but I'm happy to do it for DJBooth Nation. Kick in with your thoughts as soon as you listen for the first time too, together we can figure out if Medium Sean has finally truly become Big.
I still want that Little Cesear's pizza though.
[By Yoh, aka Big Yoh, aka @Yoh31.]