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Review: Big Sean’s Neither Beautiful Nor Twisted But Quite Dark Fantasy ‘Dark Sky Paradise’

big sean, dark sky paradise
SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Label: Def Jam / GOOD

Earlier this week, Kanye received his due at the annual BET Honors ceremony, and in a prerecorded video interview during the festivities, he made a curious statement for a rapper who goes by his real name: “I would do it all anonymously if I could… if I didn’t need to use my name to do it.” Because his biggest secret is that he does give a fuck. (Not that it’s much of a secret; he’s the sorest loser in award show history.) This does lend credence to the theory, though, that Yeezy’s GOOD Music protégé is an experiment he created in a lab; it’s not hard to see what Kanye sees in Big Sean if you view him as the untethered, Paris Hilton-esque successor of some inherited fortune when he embodies Drake’s credo “I’m here for a good time / Not a long time” far more than Drizzy himself on the new Dark Sky Paradise, or his own, starkly un-Kanye “Fuck your nomination / Fuck the world.”

Bound and troubled by legacy even when he’s trying to make (monumental) good-time music, it’s through Big Sean whom Kanye gets to live vicariously with some real not-caring. Whereas Drake at least plays with the balance between charm and revealing the ugliness underneath, Sean smash “I Don’t Fuck With You” sounds a little too bitter to truly convince us of his nonchalance by specifying “You little stupid ass bitch.” And that’s nowhere near as cringeworthy as “I don’t like loose pussy or loose lips,” or when Chris Brown’s given a podium to chant, “I want you to take me serious.” It’s enough to make a quote like “I feel like money is the best drug / Sometimes head can be the best love” feel comparatively human. Sean’s debut is called Finally Famous because you can imagine himself sighing loudly before invoking it. You want it when, brah?

Chillingly, it’s Sean’s anti-ambition ambition that defines rap right now more than Kanye or even Drizzy; unlike those two, him not giving a fuck isn’t a pose. He didn’t even care when Kendrick murdered him on his own song. Nicki’s regularly pushed him aside on his tracks (“MILF,” “Dance (A$$) (Remix)”) for some of her most brazen, memorable verses this side of “Monster.” Not that he learns much from being around the greats. “She talks so much that she done even made my dick soft,” he grumbles about one multi-dimensional female, coming to the Reddit-level conclusion, “I guess women are sometimes like a jigsaw.” Even when Yeezus himself appears as “Young Walt Disney” to evoke the Eric Garner tragedy on highlight “All Your Fault,” Sean barely registers to notice, much less follow his lead. It’s like some parallel universe Watch the Throne where Kanye’s the elder voice of reason.

Where do these pieces and bits leave his third album? More of the same, really, and what same is that anyway? His beats, hooks and musicality tread slightly above water, especially the ominous tubas of “Paradise” or the sighing, two-note synth riff that keeps “I Know” ghostly while Jhene Aiko supplicates him. And as a no-strings-attached Kanye, he’s unlovable, but even with the above evidence he’s hard to hate either. The dude can swing a cultural reference into a noticeable phrase (“Got my pinky on her brain”) and flow better than your average card-punching rapper. just try saying this five times fast in triple-time: “Deep, deeper than telekinesis / Deeper than your sister dying and you telling your nieces / The deeper it gets boy, the pressure increases / But pressure make diamonds.”

On “One Man Can Change the World,” the only track here that seems concerned with something other than himself, he turns to Jim Carrey and notes, “You’re not the only one I know got rich wearing masks,” which is true. He’s less so on the perilous Lil Wayne feature emblazoned “Deep,” which could land him in court if the wrong kid took it literally: “I wonder if I fell from the sky / Would I hit the ground or would I learn how to fly.” With a rapper whose worldview extends beyond money and head, it could be viewed as a cry for help. But he probably DGAF.