Arts, Music, Review

Big Sean Steps Up to the Plate on ‘Detroit 2’

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Detroit 2, released on Sept. 4, is Big Sean’s first solo album since 2017’s I Decided. The album does more than pick up where Big Sean left off. In a sense, it is a classic Big Sean album: composed in all aspects, lyrical and musical. He raises the bar for both himself and the genre of hip-hop. With features from other musical artists, including Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, Diddy, Nipsey Hussle, and more, Big Sean takes control of his own narrative on Detroit 2, but he also finds purpose as he reimagines Detroit in a new light. 

Over a slightly warped, harp-heavy beat, Big Sean jumps right in on “Why Would I Stop”, rapping: “Critical / Ain’t no time left on the clock / When it’s your time, give ’em something to watch.” Then, the 808s kick in prominently, and the intro track sounds like a typical, on-trend rap song. Big Sean quickly reminds listeners that he is better than the average rapper, though. “Why Would I Stop?” sets the tone for the album, which perfectly balances his boastfulness with humility. 

Big Sean released “Deep Reverence” featuring Hussle as a single off the album on Aug. 25, 10 days after what would have been the late rapper Hussle’s 35th birthday. Hussle’s first verse rides the beat like a car running its hydraulics. On this track, Big Sean explains what he feels is his life’s purpose. Even though many people found out about Hussle’s community involvement and investments—including paying for funerals and renovating playgrounds in Los Angeles—only after his passing, Nipsey undoubtedly made his mark and has been immortalized. 

Back in Big Sean’s Finally Famous era, he shares that exact insight on how to be immortalized on “All Figured Out.” Nine years later on Detroit 2, Big Sean admits he is still figuring it out, in part because of his anxiety and depression. Nevertheless, Big Sean has a clearer view of his path and claims his rise to being a “street legend” for Detroit. “Deep Reverence,” as a part of the entire Detroit 2 listening experience, is necessary to the album’s comprehensive chronicling of his growth. 

In 2013, Detroit became the largest municipality to file for bankruptcy. In the last 20 years, the population dropped to just under 700,000 from 2 million. As the city’s population fell, it became a majority Black city. Today, over three-quarters of the city’s residents are Black, whereas in 1950, when the population was at its peak, Black people made up 16 percent of the population. 

In general, portrayals of Detroit are rarely positive. Although it is a bustling city, it is not publicly perceived in the same light as other major U.S. cities. This is why Big Sean’s consistent emphasis on uplifting and acknowledging his city’s struggles is important. He ensures he is seen as a member who understands his community, dismissing claims of a savior complex. 

With the systemic troubles the city faces, Big Sean cannot be the sole proponent for a better Detroit, but his ability to highlight or to at least acknowledge other diverse Detroit leaders lacks on this album. He elevates other popular, up-and-coming Detroit rappers on “Friday Night Cypher.” Historically, a rap cypher elicits the hungriest and most talented lyrical artists. Featuring slightly more seasoned rappers and rookies, the album’s cypher pits nine additional artists against each other. 

Only one rapper, Kash Doll, represents the female rappers in Detroit. Although she delivers sharp and witty lyrics, she is only one of two female rappers featured—the other being Jhene Aiko, who appears twice on the album. This decision shows that the rap community still has work to do to position female rappers in the limelight. Although it is inconsistent with the scope of the album, the cypher offers a glimpse at a vehement and lyrically diverse future for hip-hop.

Detroit 2 precisely illustrates Big Sean’s dynamism and purpose, and it documents his systemic awakening through original, musical storytelling and anecdotes from Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu, and Stevie Wonder, all of whom share notable memories of Big Sean on his album. These artists also show that Big Sean has always been a champion for Detroit, but he has also always been a champion himself. 

Featured image courtesy of GOOD Music.

September 14, 2020

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