Big Sean wasn't really famous until he started dating a famous woman. He somewhat acknowledged his lesser status on Drake's "All Me," when he bragged about Naya Rivera, rapping: "My new girl is on Glee and shit/ Prob'ly making more money than me and shit." That same verse opens with this unfortunate line: "Ho, shut the fuck up."
Sean and Naya's engagement ended bitterly, so he blessed us with the frigid ether of "I Don't Fuck With You"—which isn't about her, he says, except that it is—and now he's got an album that's in part an ego-fueled journey into the mind of a dude dressed in his best fuckum-bruh outfit.
He hardly lacks emotion. He's rapped sentimentally about women before—"Ashley" is an ode to one of his first loves. He's cried on stage. In real life, he's played second fiddle to two high-profile, powerful women (currently, Ariana Grande), which makes his raps seem even more like aspirational performance art. He's always struck me as the nice dude with infuriating misogynist streaks. Not really a straight-up woman hater, but someone who defers to a persona and who'd be quick to hop on "Suck it or Not." "Ho" is a crutch in his vocabulary.
Dark Sky Paradise, his third album, sticks with this Kanye-esque approach of egotistical sadness, mostly targeting gold diggers and side chicks. It's a back and forth between casual aggression and honest love. Unlike his biggest competitor Drake, who personalizes his relationship experiences so much that it doesn't feel like an indictment of women, there's little wallowing and psychoanalyzing from Sean. It makes for a more stressful listen, half enjoyable and half a headache. The bluntness and beauty of "I Don't Fuck With You" is a classic example.
It's easier for women to rap along to that song if we consider it more of a relatable breakup anthem, which it is, than a song about dodging "a crazy bitch": He doesn't hate us, he hates her. Or, he hates "those type of women."
Does it make it better that he tried to remove Naya from the equation by claiming he wrote it before their breakup? It's still about her, because it can be. At the end of it, he has a moment of clarity:
"It seem like everybody breaking up/ That shit could break you down if you lose a good girl/ I guess you need a bad bitch to come around and make it up"
"Still, stupid ass bitch, I ain't fucking with YOU!"
The immaturity of it is, frankly, awesome. Bye. IDFWU. You've been reduced to an acronym. The appeal is that it's obviously a mask. He's unconvincingly convincing himself that he's fine.
Next to "All Your Fault," the album's clear winner, "Play No Games" is one of the best tracks on Paradise, not just because it samples Guy's "Piece of My Love." Sean shows some charm while bragging about being one of a kind:
"Chauffeur a Range for you/ I'll take that flight alone earlier in the day for you/ Just to beat you there, prepare, and let you know I'm waiting for you."
In keeping with his "finally famous" persona, though, there's not a whole lot of chivalry here. The gist of it:
"Bitch, watch how you speak to me" ("Dark Sky")
"She done sent so many naked pics, my phone ain't got no data" ("All Your Fault")
"I got ya dream girl/ Yeah, she actin' like a ho at that" ("All Your Fault").
"I always wanted to fuck that bitch/ Thank God I fucked that bitch" ("Paradise")
"She like girls if she don't like me" ("Stay Down")
"She won't leave me alone/ I tell the trick to get a hobby" ("Stay Down")
Typical bitchassness. Boston Globe's Ken Capobianco wrote that Paradise, "despite creative production, finds him wallowing in hurt, expressing such deep resentment toward women that it becomes numbing" with songs that "overflow with shake-your-head misogyny."
I'd rather hear rappers rap about their feelings than not. Emotional songs and fuck-you songs are needed. Let them angry-rap about love because it adds some breadth. It'd be better if "ho" and "bitch" weren't slung around in the process—to say the reductiveness is a turn-off would be an understatement and it's clear how this contributes to our tense relationship with rap as women.
A rare boast-free moment comes on "Win Some, Lose Some," where Sean references his sexual assault case (the charges were dropped in 2011), rapping: "Now I'm in court for some shit I didn't do, 'cause of my nigga/ Knowing my career just could've been through." He also talks about being on the phone with his mom and buying her a Caddy, something he's only able to do four years into his career. And he mentions losing a great love. It's very different from what he says on "IDFWU"—"Real life will teach your ass way fuckin' fast/ I always thought my last girl was supposed to be my last."
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