Big Sean’s third official studio album, Dark Sky Paradise, is a cathartic exhale. Narrating the ups and downs of what he has publicly described as some of the hardest times of his life, the offering doubles as a 12-track (or 15-track, if you’re going with the Deluxe Edition) journal entry that archives, among other dark sensations, Sean’s recent run-ins with loss. The loss of family, revealed in the bittersweet melodies of “One Man Can Change the World,” a tune dedicated to his late grandmother; the loss of friendship, approached in the brutally honest, “Win Some, Lose Some;” and the loss of love, also visible in “Win Some, Lose Some.” And while the harder moments seem to overshadow the pleasant ones in this release, glimpses of high spirits are evident in songs like “Blessings,” “Play No Games,” and “IDFWU.” Additionally, there is an almost comical juxtaposition between Big Sean’s B.A. (Before Ariana) psyche as opposed to that which came A.A. (After Ariana)–sound proof that many of his verses must’ve been constructed over a lengthy period, allowing enough time for the good AND the bad to supervene.
Due to a variety of moods in the lyrical content, it’s unclear why Sean landed on the distressed title of Dark Sky Paradise and opted for the ominous visuals on the cover, which see the Detroit rapper’s face shadowed by what might be a symbolic dark cloud. This is especially curious considering that the break-out single (“IDFWU”) is an uptempo club anthem, and as previously noted, his past year wasn’t all about singing the blues. However, upon a closer listen, it’s apparent that the album is vesseled almost exclusively by mood-wrenching, dark instrumentals which, as it turns out, soundtrack the title and art rather appropriately. These production elements hint that Sean decidedly borrowed a page from Yeezus’ book, and tried his hand at a project that weaves through a sonic maze of eerie synths and sped up samples, seldomly crossing over to the lighter dance or pop-inspired tracks he has delivered in the past–though he came dangerously close with the infectiously catchy, and yes, pop-esque duet, “Research.” The G.O.O.D. Music signee must have expected that with a title so similar to his predecessor’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, that he would get some comparative reviews. Unfortunately, while Sean’s project has some beautiful moments (particularly in the selfless dedication, “One Man Can Change the World”), some dark moments (i.e. “I’m pretty sure you see it in my eyes/Sometimes I wonder if I already died/That sh*t get deep”), and some pretty twisted moments (five words: I Don’t F*** With You), pound for pound, it’s just no match for Ye’s instant-classic release.
In all fairness, Dark Sky Paradise, has a healthy portion of gems, most of which were recorded in Sean’s newly acquired home studio. According to the 28-year old rapper, creating in his living quarters allowed the luxury to “live out the music,” but also casually invite over the army of collaborators who helped nurture this brainchild into existence. On the production front, Sean guestlisted the likes of DJ Mustard (“IDFWU”), Mike WiLL Made It (“Paradise”), Boi-1da (“Win Some, Lose Some” & “Blessings”), Travi$ Scott, Da Internz, Key Wane (“Play No Games”), Vinylz (“Blessings”), Bongo the Drum Gahd, and Kanye (“All Your Fault”).
And well, as impressive as that list may be, it is unmatched in caliber by the artists on the features roster, which includes Drake, E-40, Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign, Lil Wayne, Jhene Aiko, John Legend, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Ariana Grande, and, once again, Kanye West, all making uniquely hefty contributions. While these artists are neither overpowering nor unwelcome, their presence begs the question, what does a Big Sean project sound like without features? Seeing as how Finally Famous and Hall of Fame, also host a number of guest contributors, a definite testament to Sean’s artistic maturity would be to keep this number at a lower level.
The album greatly documents Big Sean’s next chapter in developing his own atristry. It shows that Sean’s life’s lessons are still very much in session, and as he so astutely put, “Sometimes the best teacher is ourselves going through somethin’/Real life will teach your ass real fuckin’ fast.” Certainly, if he continues on this path to enlightenment by way of real-life examples, he’ll be moving out from under the dark sky and into an actual hall of fame in no time.