For years now, Big Sean’s been teetering between a pop-savvy emcee, a guest-verse-killing rapper and an artist who hasn’t always delivered a full-length project that lived up to its hype. Dark Sky Paradise changes all of that.
“I got a lot on my mind,” Sean raps to kick the album off on “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers).” “I got more in my face / If I ain’t going to get it, that day is going to waste.” It’s as if that rhyme worked as a guide while crafting this album, one that allows Sean to reveal all that’s in his mind, from his difficult Naya Rivera break-up, which was experienced in the public eye to the loss of his grandmother, who helped raise him. And he does this while making great songs. “I Don’t Fuck With You” became an anthem for anyone who’s loved and lost last year when it hit the scene. And “One Man Can Change The World” works as another type of anthem, a cut that’s inspirational, personal and relatable.
Throughout the album, Sean weaves in and out of bragging and philosophizing, and it’s that balance that makes Dark Sky Paradise stronger lyrically. He can be reflective like on “Win Some, Lose Some.” “You is a millionaire, but your niggas is still at home,” he rhymes on that song. “Damn, nigga, you did it, but damn it, you did it wrong.” But he can also be boastful and ready for war. “Walkin’ in like I got cameras on me,” he exclaims on “Paradise.” “Niggas can’t control me, ain’t no handles on me/ Shit don’t get out of hand, it gets handled, homie/ Got a pretty young girl, look like Janet, on me.”
And as we get a balanced lyrical output from Sean, we also get an impressive range of instrumentals here. For example, we get the moody “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers)” (produced by Rob Got Beats), which works as the perfect intro with its storm sounds, bells chiming and a build-up that lets Sean flex his flow as he breaks down his ups and downs on his rags to riches journey. We get the soul with “All Your Fault,” which acts as one of the album’s standout joints, a Kanye West beat that reminds us what we fell in love with his samples on his College Dropout debut or Jay Z’sBlueprint with an updated sound.
And the beats continue to surprise with an array of tempos and styles, from the R&B flavor of KeY Wane’s “Play No Games” to the hard-hitting “Paradise” (produced by Mike WiLL Made-It). And that’s not even mentioning the West Coast bounce of DJ Mustard’s infectious “I Don’t Fuck With You” or his snap-heavy contributions on the more mellow “I Know” and “Deep.” Speaking of mellow, there’s an even smoother pop-friendly jam behind Amaire Johnson’s “One Man Can Change The World.” All of this leads us to the “Outro” where we are once again transported to a more soulful time in music through DJ Dahi’s incredible instrumental.
“I’ve been working on myself and that’s the most important work, even if you don’t get paid for it,” he raps on the “Outro.” In lyrics and beat-selection, you can tell he ain’t lying with that statement. Dark Sky Paradise strikes a balance that he’s had a difficult time capturing in past efforts and while the process may have taken him through some dark storms, the final result is triumphant as this stands as likely his best album yet.