by Feature Editor Ian Park
Big Sean defends his title as the hip-hop king of Detroit with his highly anticipated fifth studio album Detroit 2, released on September 4. On the album, Sean grapples with weighty issues like the exploitative nature of the entertainment industry, the pitfalls of fame, and most importantly, his journey with mental health issues.
The album was teased months in advance with promotional singles “Overtime,” “Single Again,” and “Bezerk,” none of which were included on the official tracklist. Instead, in the days leading up to the album’s release, Sean dropped singles “Deep Reverence” and “Harder Than My Demons,” while previewing “Body Language” and “Everything That’s Missing.”
— Sean Don (@BigSean) September 3, 2020
Sean sets the scene for the album with “Why Would I Stop?” a powerful and direct message to his critics. He wants to make it clear that he has no intention of stepping down from his seat at the table of hip-hop’s greats.
“I’m going down as one of the gods/ G-O-D D-O-A, dead or alive,” he says.
However, it immediately becomes apparent what Detroit 2’s fatal flaw is. It is hard to find a series of truly meaningful and unique tracks, as Sean’s bad habit of monotonous flows over crude and underwhelming beats results in forgettable filler. Nonetheless, he’s able to make his trademark formula work in a few memorable tracks.
For instance, he employs the help of R&B sensations Jhené Aiko and Ty Dolla $ign for the mellow and sensual “Body Language.” A perfect harmony of the reverberating bass and consecutive hard-hitting verses featuring Sean, Aiko, and Ty Dolla makes “Body Language” one of the standout tracks on the album.
Sean also tries to break the homogeneity of his style with various story interludes and tracks that shy away from the melodic aesthetic of the album. Through the three soothing interludes voiced by Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu, and Stevie Wonder, listeners get an intimate view into Sean’s life as well as the beauty of Detroit.
“There’s never been a single time/ Not a, not a-one, that I’ve been to Detroit/ Where it wasn’t some kind of adventure/ City is f****** crazy, it’s like, it’s palpably alive,” Dave Chappelle says in “Story By Dave Chappelle.”
Taking a turn from the quieter, melodic aesthetic of the album in tracks like “Lucky Me,” “FEED,” and “The Baddest,” Sean employs a more dramatic 808-heavy production, fast-flowing bars, and frequent beat switches to create upbeat transitions. While the change of scenery is refreshing, it’s short-lived and a band-aid to the overarching problems the album suffers from.
Lyrically speaking, Sean only shines on “Everything That’s Missing,” reflecting back on his rise to fame, the difficulty of navigating the complexities of the hip-hop industry, and the weight of his city’s expectations.
“I’m ’bout to delete my Twitter and follow my intuition/Been in and out the mud, but somehow I’m in mint condition,” he says, referring to his break from music and the public spotlight following the release of his 2017 album Double Or Nothing.
While Sean has been at the top of the rap game since signing with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label in 2007, dropping multi-platinum hits and appearing on high-profile features with artists like West, Travis Scott, and Meek Mill, his own personal career had taken a hit with Double Or Nothing. Critics blasted it for being full of filler and materialistic arrogance.
In planning a comeback album, Sean drew inspiration from his hometown of Detroit as well as the titular mixtape Detroit from 2012.
“I always wanted to do a sequel to [Detroit] because I felt like it was an album. It was a mixtape, but it was really an album for me, so in a way it’s like I’m returning to the essence of myself, new and improved,” Sean said in an interview with Apple Music.
Although the lyricism and storytelling feel marginally more meaningful and personal than his previous projects, Detroit 2 still suffers from many of its predecessors’ flaws. In tracks like “ZTFO” and “Respect It,” Sean drones on and on for minutes with a dull flow and hollow lyrics.
“So ain’t nobody finna do me any type of way (Way)/ Ain’t nobody finna do dat (Yeah)/ Ain’t nobody finna do me any type of way (Respect)/ Ain’t nobody finna do me dirty, no way (Respect it)/ Ain’t nobody finna do me any type of way (Type of way)/ Ain’t nobody finna do dat (Ayy)/ Ain’t nobody finna do me any type of way/ Ain’t nobody finna do me dirty, no way,” the chorus of “Respect It” says.
At the end of the day, Detroit 2 fails to fulfill its purpose as a comeback album and lacks consistency in all aspects of lyricism, storytelling, and production that would elevate it to a notable hit.