DJBooth has a new feature series, “One Song to Prove (blank) is a Dope Rapper.” The premise is pretty simple. Somewhere there is a person who absolutely loves hip-hop, but has never heard of a particular rapper and doubts that rapper is actually good. Your job is to convince that person with one song and one song only that a certain rapper is one of the best rappers currently in the game. In the past we’ve featured Kanye and Lil Wayne, but what if we set our sights on a more divisive character?
Big Sean is having a moment. Between the announcement of his management deal with Roc Nation and his four song EP, interest in the Detroit native has been re-invigorated. However, for all the publicity surrounding Sean, many hip-hop fans remain on the fence regarding his talent.
While Sean isn’t the worst rapper to grace a mic, it can be argued that he’s had more classic girlfriends than albums at this point. It’s hard to decipher what makes Sean special. He had a pretty big hit three years ago with “Dance (A$$),” peppered with a few scene stealing moments here and there. His second album, Hall of Fame, sold a modest 72,000 copies in its first week, but in spite of that Sean’s been a pretty consistent fixture in the musical landscape. The pop world loves him. He’s comfortable enough for your little sister to rap his verses on Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber singles, but not too soft for a feature on a Rick Ross song. Whatever insults people want to lob at Sean - his voice is too weak, he ruins great beats, etc. - you can’t deny that he almost showed Drake up on his own song. Not many people can do that.
So the real question remains, what’s the one song that can prove a Big Sean hater wrong? Let's dive in.
Standout Moment: “This is for the fans that say they love the album, but they fuckin’ love the mixtapes.”
Questionable Bar: Surprisingly none.
Big Sean can rap...when he wants to. “1st Quarter” is so refreshing because it does away with a lot of Sean’s worst idiosyncrasies (i.e. overabundance of adlibs, repetitive hooks, eye-rolling punchlines, paper thin voice). It’s just Sean going in for six minutes with no filler. When Sean spits, “Bitch I ain’t playin’ no more like D. Rose or Kobe, it’s Kobe the beef and it’s shrimp ravioli,” he finds a great pocket, which stresses one of his biggest assets. Sean has flow for days, it’s only in the content department where he faces a large degree of quality control.
Perhaps the best part is Sean poking fun at his fanbase saying they “love” the album, when in all reality they really love his mixtapes. Whether its Detroit or Finally Famous Vol. 3, Sean operates best when the stakes are low and he’s allowed a significant amount of creative freedom. Sean’s solo albums generally suffer from numerous attempts to connect with pop radio. With “1st Quarter” Sean proves he’s most effective when his rhymes are equal parts relatable, funny and braggadocious. It never feels like Sean is dumbing down his lyrics for crossover appeal, and that definitely gives “1st Quarter” a sizeable edge.
Standout Moment: “When it’s all finished at the endin' / After all bottles spill it, throttle gripping, models swithcing / Chin chilling in my villa.” (The lyrics aren’t great, but the double time flow Sean goes into is impressive)
Questionable Bar: “Was in Japan so long, I almost learn to speak, had to leave / Back to the hood, where they don’t understand unless you speak in Trapanese.”
“Fire” is a middle of the road option when it comes to Big Sean’s discography. It’s not too pop or hip-hop to distance any one segment of his demographic. Sean finds a good balance between inspirational bars and punchlines that your 13-year-old cousin might find funny (i.e. “Never did real estate, but still put you in your place,” “Niggas thought I got evicted how my shit up in the streets.”). Sean’s delivery is standard fare, but there are a few highlights when he decides to speed his delivery up towards the end of the second verse.
“Fire” was originally supposed to be a Kanye beat after the producer thought the sample sounded like a chant of “Kanye, Kanye, Kanye.” Ultimately, Kanye gave the beat to Sean, which proves a very important point. Big Sean operates best as the pop inclined Graduation era version of Kanye West. His lyrics work most effectively when he takes the quickest route to listener satisfaction. While this often means avoiding depth, it lets a potential fan more quickly digest Sean’s overall persona.
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Standout Moment: “I’m one of the hottest because I flame drop, drop fire / And not because I’m name droppin’, Hall of Fame droppin,’”
Questionable bar: “I had women on women, yeah that’s bunk bed bitches.”
What more can be said about “Control?” It’s hard to believe, but this was supposed to be a Big Sean song before Kendrick Lamar ethered the whole rap game in one fell swoop. Honestly though, Sean gets points on “Control” for three reasons.
- He still had the balls to drop this song, knowing Kendrick’s verse would pretty much kill any anticipation Sean had drummed up for Hall of Fame.
- Sean had the second best verse, which is impressive considering his competition (a la Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica).
- Sean didn’t get completely bodied.
Honestly, if you stopped this song right before Kendrick’s verse you could convince almost any hip-hop fan that Sean was a pretty talented individual. Sean has quotables, switches his flow up various times and rides the beat like a champ. It’s only in comparison to Kendrick where Sean’s verse falls short. Sean was a big man releasing “Control,” knowing what it would do. It re-invigorated hip-hop, and lit a fire under everyone’s ass. Knowing that “Control” has to be in the conversation of dope Sean songs.
“How it Feel”
Standout Moment/Questionable Bar: “Ol’ fur coat looking like a bear in this bitch,” is either an incredibly dope or ridiculous line depending on your mood. However, it gets extra points, because imagine Big Sean doing this in the studio.”
“How It Feel” is a fun song. Sean doesn’t break down any musical barriers, but he doesn’t have to. Sean’s delivery on the song is addicting, he rides the expertly crafted beat with ease, and sets a mood.
Big Sean may never win lyricist of the year, but his songs are often perfect cruising music. It’d be hard to find someone who wouldn’t actively enjoy this song on a warm afternoon drive. Sean sounds like pimp-era Snoop on this song. For a moment you actually might believe Sean is as much of a ladies man as he thinks he is. Honestly, “How It Feel” works, not because it doesn’t try to sell Sean as a tough rapper, but rather as the fun loving party starter. This is definitely Sean in his element.
Standout Moment: The anguish in Sean’s voice is evident when he spits, “My best friend got addicted to pills / I can’t look at him in his eyes, you don’t know how that shit feels mentally!”
Questionable bar: Since this is a personal song it’d be pretty cruel to call out any questionable bars.
Big Sean seems like a nice guy. In fact, Big Sean is one of the more down to earth rappers. “Memories” perfectly sums up why Sean is hard to truly hate. He’s just a normal guy that happened to be in the right place at the right time and take advantage of the opportunity he was afforded. When Sean raps, “See I know I’mma make it, but even if I don’t / Don’t feel bad cause honestly all these times that I had / Those will be the best memories,” it is heartfelt in a way that not many rappers are willing to be. Sean chased his dreams in a world that tries so hard to destroy them.
What other rapper is willing to rap about their grandma? Big Sean might not have it all figured out, but “Memories” is one of his more open and vulnerable moments. There are no lyrical acrobatics on “Memories,” but there doesn’t need to be. It’s a personal song that paints Sean’s journey from relative nobody to rap’s next somebody.
“1st Quarter” isn’t just a good Big Sean song, but a great record in general. Sean upped his game with “1st Quarter” and silenced many a hater, who counted him out after the (kinda sorta) flop of his second album. Sean followed up “1st Quarter” with “4th Quarter” and proved that while he might be getting “pop” money, he can still spit bars with the best of them.
So there, one song to prove Big Sean is a dope rapper. I know there are countless people who will argue with even the concept of Sean's dopeness, as well as plenty others ready to submit their own "one song" selections. Let's get to it.
[By Charles Holmes. He writes things. This is his Twitter.]