Timing is everything. In 2013, Big Sean was ready to graduate from gangly court jester in Kanye West’s empire to genuine pop star. His grab for the brass ring couldn’t have been better planned: He dropped a thunderous single called “Fire” accompanied by a striking video starring a bra-clad Miley Cyrus, then the hottest tongue-wagger on the planet. But “Fire” failed to crack the Hot 100, and the album it came from, Hall of Fame, sank into obscurity.
Smash-cut to last fall, when Sean’s vitriolic post-breakup anthem “I Don’t F- – – With You,” a deeply uncommercial track featuring a cameo from underground hero E-40, became the biggest hit of his career. Perhaps he got a profile boost from girlfriend Ariana Grande, or maybe people just like F-bombs. Whatever the case, he’s capitalized on this newfound attention with his third album, Dark Sky Paradise, a spirited combination of grown-man statement-making and round-the-way bull. The gilded guests, including Lil Wayne on the punchy “Deep” and Grande on the smooth “Research,” augment Dark Sky without eclipsing its star. Heavy ideas sometimes threaten to topple tunes such as the austere, skyscraping “One Man Can Change the World,” delivered with assists from Kanye and John Legend, but Sean juxtaposes that heft with tasty boasts like “She done sent so many naked pics/My phone ain’t got no data” (on “All Your Fault”). An impressive contacts list and famous lady don’t hurt, but it’s left-field bons mots like those that have earned Sean a seat at the mainstream table. It’s just taken a minute for everyone else to catch up. B+
ALL YOUR FAULT – An end-of-days stutter step
OUTRO – A filthy, feel-good throwback jam