Big Sean is still finding himself. On I Decided, a mostly searing collection of introspective rhymes and light trap beats, he comes one step closer to a more self-assured sense of his space in the pantheon of today’s most powerful and famous rappers. His fourth album sets out to finish the work of his third, 2015’s Dark Sky Paradise, and comes close to completing his transition away from the boyish irreverence of his early era, decidedly marked by his early novelty hit “Dance (A$$).” He has come a long way from then, tackling concepts like rebirth, age and wisdom.
As always, his earnestness is believable. Every moment he counts his blessings – like on the casually catchy single “Bounce Back” – you root for him. He embraces his underdog status, especially since he is most often pitted against and working with rap’s biggest personalities, like Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar. More often than not, however, he gets swallowed by the larger-than-life brands and presences of those he surrounds himself with, like Eminem who steals Sean’s thunder with the quality, agility and fire of his guest verse on “No Favors.” Elsewhere, Sean is no match for the affable charm of Migos on “Sacrifices” or the dulcet tones of singers Jeremih, The-Dream and Jhene Aiko who slip in and out of their dreamy appearances with ease.
Still, there’s a sweetness to Sean that makes it difficult to not want him to shine. He caps an assertive album with a moment of spirituality, singing with the Flint Chozen Choir and Starrah on the glorious, tender and reverent “Bigger Than Me.” In taking a step back from his bravado, he gives enough space to respect and even admire his own appreciation for all the good in his world.