This week the world saw the return of Big Sean. The Detroit rapper—who for the better part of this year and mostly all of last year, was involved by what many viewed as a self-imposed exile. Big Sean had only recently been teasing new music through his social media accounts, while also lending his vocals to other artists— most notably Icewear Vezzo’s “Balance” and Kash Doll’s “Ready Set”—two premiere Detroit recording artists (more on that later). Sean was generous enough to gift fans with two new singles “Overtime” and “Single Again”, respectively. While anticipation for new music from Big Sean were high, both songs have received mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. The most jarring feedback is the amount of hate Big Sean has garnered in the hours since he dropped those singles. Many Big Sean detractors under the guise of hip-hop purist were quick to type in 280 characters or less their disparaging opinions about the G.O.O.D. Music rapper. Overrated and corny seemed to be an occurring theme over social media platforms. The one question is: where did all this hate come from? Despite Big Sean being considered one of the biggest stars of his generation (behind Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole), his philanthropy efforts, and repping for a city that was once a benchmark in American music history, Sean Don is still amongst the most hated in his city—a hatred that stretches far beyond his hometown city limits, too.
Signed to Kanye West’s GOOD Music imprint as early as 2007, Big Sean had made waves with his stellar Finally Famous mixtape series which lead to his debut album of the same name in 2011, Big Sean was well on his way to be one of the biggest rapper in his city not named Marshall Mathers. Though Finally Famous: The Album lacked the newness and creativity that the mixtape series had, it still was an album that proved he could produce hit singles: “My Last” featuring Chris Brown, Marvin & Chardonnay” with mentor Kanye West and Roscoe Dash (remember him?), and “Dance (A$$)”. The latter got an upgrade in the form of a remix featuring Nicki Minaj. Things started to turn around for Sean the following year with the release of the classic Detroit mixtape. It was on that tape that solidified Big Sean as standout rapper in a sea full of emcees all vying to make a name for themselves. This was on the cusp of the SoundCloud rapper wave that would eventually change the course of the music industry forever. Detroit was praised for its cohesion, lyrics, beat selection, and creativity—something Finally Famous lacked in so many areas.
Detroit meant that Sean’s imminent sophomore effort was without question going to be one of the most anticipated projects upon its release and that stakes were really high. Then came Hall of Fame in 2012, the aforementioned second album that was sandwiched between Kendrick Lamar’s masterful debut Good Kid M.A.A.D City of that year and Drake’s impressive third run with Nothing Was The Same the following year. Not to mention, the most talked about song of the decade was the No I.D.-produced “Control” —a Big Sean song that featured Jay Electronica and a scene-stealing and game-changing verse from Kendrick Lamar. In the song, Lamar threw lyrical fisticuffs at all his contemporaries and even self-proclaimed himself to be the King of New York. “Control” was so big that even rapper names not mentioned in the song took offense to it and laid down their own responses. There are those that believe Big Sean held his own on that song. It wasn’t a complete wash like so many have said over the years, but still this didn’t swing the pendulum in Big Sean’s favor.
The Don was able to rebound and birth his first official classic of his discography, sans mixtapes. The album Dark Sky Paradise is head and shoulders the best project he’s made outside of the Detroit mixtape. It featured his biggest hit “I Don’t Fuck With You” with E-40, along with “Play No Games”, “Blessing” featuring Drake, and a slew of other noteworthy songs.
The years that followed after his triumphant opus , was a series of failed relationships with Naya Rivera and Ariana Grande, that and the fact that Kendrick’s “Control” verse still loomed over his career. Big Sean still wasn’t receiving respect from the hip-hop community even though he’s been on songs with the likes of JAY-Z to Eminem to Lil Wayne. Internet bullies and bloggers dubbed his rhyming ability to be amateur to mediocre. Tired of taking the high road, Big Sean couldn’t endure the reticule any longer. He decided to take out his frustrations on those who didn’t respect his lyrical prowess and targeted the very man that he viewed was the cause of all this in the first place: Kendrick Lamar.
In October of 2016, a year and some months removed from Kendrick’s second masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly, Big Sean dropped “No More Interviews”. Though never really mentioning his name, all the shots on that song were aimed at Kendrick Lamar, who at this point in his career was the biggest artist in music period next of Drake. Big Sean rapped: “…And I’m just not impressed by you niggas rapping fast/ Who sound like one big asthma attack but trash when I’m rapping it back/ Who you put in your top five and claim they the savior of rap.”
The gauntlet had been thrown but was Big Sean prepared to challenge Lamar for rights to the throne? Even Drake had chilled out a bit with his sneak dissing of Lamar after “Control” came. Not only did Lamar respond to “No Interviews” with “The Heart Part 4”: My fans can’t wait for me to son ya punk ass and crush your whole lil shit/ I’ll Big Pun ya punk ass, you a scared little bitch/ Tiptoein’ around my name, nigga, ya lame/
And when I get at you, homie, don’t you just tell me you was just playin’/ ‘Oh I was just playin’ with you K-Dot, c’mon/ You know a nigga rock with you, bro’/Shut the fuck up, you sound like the last nigga I know.” Kendrick went the Hov route with taking a hot line (in this case a catchphrase) and making it a hot song. Speculation was rampant when Kendrick Lamar released “HUMBLE.” off of his critically acclaimed album DAMN. that won him a fucking Pulitzer Prize, and basically used Sean’s “Lil Bitch” catchphrase as a way to taunt him throughout the song’s chorus. No response came after from Sean really. Not one that gained any momentum to challenge Kendrick, so many started to believe Sean’s hype was indeed overhyped. How are you going to start the fight and not finish it?
Back home things weren’t as great either. His Finally Famous crew just seemed like a mere cool phrase to say rather than a crew on the verge. The major talk in the city was that Big Sean didn’t support acts in his hometown the way Drake puts on for up-and-comers in his city of Toronto. Another argument was that Big Sean didn’t embrace the Detroit sound. A sound that’s been ran into the ground by other Detroit acts. The formulaic sound popularized by the late and great Blade Icewood. Sean paid homage to Blade and that sound on Dark Sky Paradise’s “Platinum and Wood”.
2019 we’ll see if Big Sean can have another run and create a body of work that can change things around for him career wise. Off the heels of another breakup, this time with Jhené Aiko (who surprising appears on the new song “Single Again”) and another forgotten album I Decided. , we’ll see how this new spiritually motivated Big Sean will fair in this musical climate. Many seem to have already written Big Sean off , and it feels at this stage no matter what he’s able to do musically, he’s not going to change the way people view him. With that being said, if he’s in this new mental, spiritual, and creative space, he probably for the first time in his career not falling for the same traps that has stifled his career from pushing forward in years past. Well at this juncture, we can only hope.