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Big Sean is at his most prolific. Over the last four months, the rapper has delivered the banger “I.D.F.W.U” among upwards of 10 free-styles and features. He has not just released an impressive quantity, but has also showcased a bottomless bag of lyrical tricks. In the first verse of his newest single from his upcoming album “Dark Sky Paradise,” “One Man Can Change the World,” Sean drops: “My step-brother used to flip them bags outside the crib like it was trash day / No Kim K but he bagged ‘Ye.” The mixture of heavy subject matter with snark and impressive wordplay has become Sean’s M.O.—where 2012 Big Sean could do one of these things successfully, he now juggles all three—alongside solid guests Kanye West and John Legend—and sounds even better doing it.
In September’s “Fourth Quarter,” Sean rapped about Ferguson and bragged about his fear of implication in that month’s infamous nude celebrity photo scandal in the space of 40 seconds. His subject matter here is just as diverse. His second volley, an ode to his grandmother that somehow manages to sincerely invoke “The Mask”-era Jim Carrey, ranks among his most intricate. John Legend complements Sean’s lyrical acrobatics with a sappy but effective piano line that sounds out of “RENT. Following the trend set by West’s tracks “Only One” and “FourFiveSeconds,” the song survives largely without a prototypical hip-hop beat. The move toward a beatless backing and a more soul or folk-rock accompaniment is an innovative trend that works extremely well here. Even without an emphatic 808, Sean grabs the beat and never sounds out of sync. West croons along on the melodic sections with his trademark auto-tune and feels like a welcome and unobtrusive guest.
The chorus is the critical sticking point. It’s a pretty melodic line on which Legend and an auto-tuned West switch off, but the lyrics are laughably egocentric. “When you get it on/ Remember one thing: / One man can change the world” may not be a direct reference to Sean himself, but it comes off as one. Such a braggadocio sentiment, particularly in a song that is otherwise a sensitive meditation on humble roots, is jarring. While Sean and his compatriots are stating a relative truth—they have changed at least the rap world—the lyrics still belong more on GOOD Music’s boasty “Cruel Summer” than in a soul-baring ballad.
The pompous chorus notwithstanding, the song shows Big Sean on the precipice of what looks to be his most lyrically rich and aurally diverse release yet. Sean would do best to avoid topical mismatching, but, even if he doesn’t, “Dark Sky Paradise” seems poised to fly.
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