Preview: We Heard Big Sean’s ‘Dark Sky Paradise’ And It’s Pretty Damn Great

Album Reviews

Five things we learned from a first listen of Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise


Scheduled in the midst of Grammy weekend in Los Angeles, the listening event for Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise is a hot ticket. Hosted at Soho House LA, the session caps at an exclusive 60 people, reserved for media, music industry folks, Big Sean and his mom, of course. But once you’ve got that golden RSVP—thanks Def Jam!—finding the small, plush theater is the hardest part.

You’ll run into Pharrell and Terrence J, separately, in the parking lot while making your way to the correct tower. (Later, Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill will stroll into the hotel’s restaurant, hand-in-hand). But once you wander into the West Hollywood hotel’s cinema room, Big Sean is the only star holding court. You pick out your own red armchair, kick up your feet on a personal ottoman and set a flute of Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial on your side table, while the G.O.O.D. Music vet introduces his third long-player, seemingly both proud and nervous.

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“There are so many emotions in this album,” says the 26-year-old, with a looped video of gloomy clouds and the album title projected on a movie screen behind him. “From rapping about my grandma to different situations I went through, hitting so many low points and high points at the same time.” You feel those ups and downs through the 15-song playlist (including bonus tracks), but Dark Sky Paradise (out Feb. 24) is mostly a brooding affair. In just one listen, it’s clear that Big Sean has finally found the edge—and focus—his discography needed. Here are five early takeaways from the best and most cohesive album of his career. —John Kennedy (@youngJFK)

1. This is Big Sean at his darkest
Sean’s first two LPs, Finally Famous: The Album and Hall of Fame, are both built around vibrant turn-up smoothies, from “My Last” and “High” on the former to “Beware” and “Fire” on the latter. The sonic skies are much greyer here. “I Know,” a lethargic duet with Jhené Aiko, is produced by DJ Mustard yet void of the electro bounce for which he’s become known. An extended version of “Paradise,” originally leaked as a snippet by Sean as part of his four-song drop in September, sounds nothing like its title implies, dragging along with Mike WiLL Made It’s low-register tuba and synth sounds. Even when Sean toasts to prosperity with Drake on “Blessings,” there’s an overcast blocking out the suns rays (“Amen,” Drizzy’s 2012 collabo with Meek Mill, would be it’s musical inverse). Big Sean steps into the dark side and it works.

2. But there are bright spots
Lead single “I Don’t Fuck With You”—with it’s grade-A pettiness—is easily the most radiant record on DSP. But the clouds clear by the closing tracks. Sean uses an optimistic piano key sound bed on “One Man Can Change The World” to eulogize his late grandmother, who passed away in December after having a stroke: “When I die I hope you teach me how to fly/All my life you been that angel in disguise.” It’s warm and genuine and… why are you still reading this? Go call your grandma and tell her you love her! “Outro” just has that knock. Pounding drums. Light guitar strings. A sliced-up vocal sample. And a hook-free barrage of punchlines, including this clever couplet: “All these singer bitches know me/like do-re-mi/fa-so-la-ti-do, but dough come first, no late fees.” But once the run time elapses, fittingly, the sound of thunder rolls in and fades out.

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3. Every guest holds his (or her) own
But there’s no “Control” moment on Dark Sky Paradise. In fact, Sean probably shines brightest on “Blessings” alongside hip-hop’s number one and two, Kanye West and Drake (in no particular order). Still, nothing is phoned in. Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign unite for another anthem (“Play No Games”). Sean trades bars with Kanye on the dope “All Your Fault.” Wayne shows he’s still got it on “Deep” (although his Cash Money shoutout dates the extended verse to sometime pre-Birdman beef). And ever since Detroit’s “I’m Gonna Be,” Sean and Jhené Aiko have been batting 1.000.

4. The deluxe version is worth the extra $
Once you make it to the bonus tracks, the mood lifts. Melodies get a bit lighter. And Sean has some fun. On “Research” he vents about having Robocop for a GF, mocking: “These hoes be doing research/I swear, she like, ‘This piece of hair up in the sink ain’t come from me first,’” as his real-life wifey Ariana Grande floats all over the hook. He’s nostalgic on “Platinum & Wood” and the PARTYNEXTDOOR-featured “Deserve It.” The former reminisces on pre-fame high school days while the latter cleverly recalls a tale of a run-in with a woman named Alicia, a top-percentile baddest chick of his graduating class. (Cryptic moral of the story: Everything ain’t for everybody.)

5. This might be Big Sean’s best project to date
Dark Sky Paradise has a conciseness, honesty and confidence to rival his awesome freebie, Detroit. Sean’s unique flow hops on and off the tracks every now and again, but his wordplay is at its wittiest. I’ve only heard the album once, but it’s sounding like Sean’s potential and performance have finally intersected. See for yourself when DSP drops on Feb. 24. And grab the deluxe (see #4)!

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Standard version:

01 Dark Sky (Skyscrapers)
02 Blessings feat. Drake
03 All Your Fault feat. Kanye West
04 IDFWU feat. E-40
05 Play No Games feat. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign
06 Paradise (Extended)
07 Win Some, Lose Some
08 Stay Down
09 I Know feat. Jhené Aiko
10 Deep feat. Lil Wayne
11 One Man Can Change the World feat. Kanye West & John Legend
12 Outro

Deluxe version:
13 Deserve It f. PARTYNEXTDOOR
14 Research f. Ariana Grande
15 Platinum & Wood