What is the professional life expectancy of a rapper floundering mid-way through a career that has always had the potential to explode but rarely threatened to do so? It can’t be too great; these days, fans picking up a Big Sean album might find themselves checking out its track-list before its cover and who could blame them? For every bit of exposure and opportunity that his label, G.O.O.D Music, has provided him, an equal or greater helping of overshadowing has followed. Dark Sky Paradise is Sean’s attempt at breaking out of the goofy, straight-out-of-highschool mould that he cast himself in and instead create a more fitting frame for his talents. The trouble, of course, is that at the end of the day, Sean doesn’t have a whole lot to say when he isn’t talking about his cars, his clothes and his hoes. The end result is that entire chunks of the album wind up being little more than place-holding fillers, tracks that exist for the sole purpose of padding the album’s stronger songs and giving the album a fabricated sense of size. The issue here is one of talent; it isn’t that Sean lacks but rather that he simply doesn’t have as much of it as he thinks he does.
Sean’s position isn’t an uncommon one – there are plenty of MCs who were much better suited to dropping hot verses on hot tracks than they ever were at stringing together worthy, full-length albums. In fact, Sean has an edge that many of them lacked – he a natural entertainer, charismatic enough that thousands flock to see him even after the disappointment of his previous album. It’s that energy that often more than compensates for Sean’s frequently forgettable flows and it’s that same energy that makes listeners sit up and take note on the rare occasions that Sean is able to switch it up. It is therefore perplexing that much of Dark Sky Paradise lacks that carefree liveliness, opting instead for a more downtempo, sombre tone. It’s not one that Sean is accustomed to and his discomfort is apparent throughout the album. The first half of the album is undoubtedly the stronger, with the demure and uncharacteristically restrained title track ‘Dark Sky Paradise’. There’s little enough of Sean’s trademark stuntin’ in evidence but has some solid lines (“Shit yeah, I guess, I guess it took ten years for me to be a overnight success”). The albums builds up some steam with great guest verses from Kanye West and E-40 before throwing it all away for a forgettable Chris Brown collaboration. After picking up briefly on the extended version of ‘Paradise’, the album nosedives quickly until its closing track. ‘Outro’ has both the album’s catchiest beat and Sean’s best lines and it’s a shame that few listeners would wade through the track’s predecessors to get to it.
The common theme in Big Sean’s albums is that they are buoyed either by popular guests or by better production that the guy’s flows deserve. There’s a little of both in evidence on Dark Sky Paradise – with Lil’ Wayne, Kanye West, John Legend and Jhene Aiko contributing, several otherwise weak tracks are somewhat salvaged but any one listening knows that once the guest verse ends, they’ll be back to listening to Sean and not everyone is as excited about that as Sean himself. The production isn’t as solid as No I.D and KeY Wane’s work on Sean’s last album, Hall of Fame; this album’s sound is mellower, more solemn and just atypically reflective. It isn’t particularly clear that this album’s production is the result of a handful of producers instead of just one or two – the album’s is consistently melancholy and reflective through the album. To some extent, Sean is able to capitalize on the different approach but he often ruins it by trying to do too much on a track that just isn’t meant to support it.
In the end, Dark Sky Paradise reminds us of the wisdom of the saying ‘Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed’. Most fans didn’t pick up the album expecting track after track of bangers but if you’re a fan of Sean’s mix of the languid and the manic, then you’ve come to the right place. Dark Sky Paradise really doesn’t do anything different and barely does anything better, but for all that, it’s entertaining enough, filled with cheeky lines and augmented well by his customary smirk-and-swagger style. Still, the small collection of fans hoping for Big Sean’s big break will find that their wait continues.
- Dark Sky Paradise
- Paradise – Extended