If you casually listened to a Big Sean single, guest feature, mixtape, or album in the past few years, chances are you didn’t pick up on the fact he’s from Detroit. Given his style, approach to rapping, and fondness for universal-sounding production, you probably thought dude was from, say, the glossier parts of Los Angeles or maybe even a Chicago suburb. But you would obviously be wrong, and Sean is trying to make it clear where he’s from on his latest mixtape, Detroit, which is his first release since his frustrating 2011 full-length debut, Finally Famous.
Sean is very much a product of his times. On Finally Famous and especially on Detroit, he sounds less like a dude who knows himself and more like a Frankenstein’s monster of everything saturating the radio for the past few years. The main reason for that is the production on the album, which, honestly, is a double-edged sword for the Motor City native. On one hand, you can’t overlook the sharp production of guys like Key Wane, Southside, and Hit-Boy, all of whom can craft a banger or moody cut in whatever fashion you like. But the downside to Sean utilizing these guys is the fact that they work with everyone else, too. And even though they’re versatile, what you hear on Detroit isn’t new or fresh.
That same sentiment goes for Sean himself, though he does try to showcase his various sides on the mixtape. There are some more thoughtful tracks like “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”, though that cut falls flat on its face. Hit-Boy’s Noah “40” Shebib-ripping production is beyond repetitive and Sean’s Auto-Tuned sing-song hook is dreadful. He also pigeonholes way too many of his bars, including one that asks if you’d go back to your old job and piss on your boss’ shoes. Yeah. Elsewhere, Sean is just as infuriatingly corny or bland, whether it’s on the breezy piano-driven “24K of Gold” or the hyphy ass-worshipping “Do What I Gotta Do” with Tyga (of course). The only real highlights here are “RWT”, which is essentially just a well-executed trap banger, and “100”, which features Royce Da 5’9″ and Kendrick Lamar on the same fucking track.
Here’s the main issue: Even though you learn more about Sean than you might have already known, you won’t walk away from Detroit giving a shit about what you just learned. Instead, you’ll return to “100” and “RWT” every so often, and perhaps you’ll throw on feel-good joint “Woke Up” as you wipe away the crust from your eyes in the a.m. But that’s it. Personally, I’m still rooting for Sean, because I think the kid has potential. He just hasn’t realized it yet.