by Jarrett Lampley, LA
Big Sean's Albums Ranked
by Joshua Robinson, ATL
February 3, 2017 saw the release of Big Sean’s senior album, I Decided. Fans of Sean and casual Hip-Hop fans all know that no one else’s career has been as much of a roller coaster ride as the G.O.O.D. Music Emcee’s. Big Sean is practically an anomaly in the Hip-Hop circle due to the inconsistent commercial performance and foul criticism plaguing the beginning of his career.
From the start, Big Sean was an oddball, somehow finding the uncanny opportunity to rap for Kanye West outside of a Detroit radio station in 2005 and eventually signing with him in 2007. Yet for some reason, 4 years passed before Sean was finally geared up for his first commercial release, Finally Famous. On the heels of his stellar mixtape, Finally Famous Vol. 3: BIG, Big Sean released Finally Famous in the summer of 2011, spawning 3 hits in the process. While he sold over 87,000 copies his first week and debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200, it was met with decent reviews.
However, the Hip-Hop community wanted to see Sean progress into a more serious emcee who could craft more thoughtful and meaningful albums after his somewhat juvenile debut. On the way toward making his sophomore album, Hall of Fame, he released Detroit to hold his fans over for the real album. Let’s just say that Detroit should have been Big Sean’s second album. In 2013, Hall of Fame debuted at number 3, and it sold 15,000 less copies than Finally Famous. For the first time since his steady rise to fame, Sean was consistently being trashed by critics and fans alike.
Yet somehow, Big Sean found a way to overcome his sophomore slump with his hardest hitting album up to that point with the number 1 album, Dark Sky Paradise. It was Sean’s highest selling album, most well-received album, and first album to be certified platinum. Now 2 years later, he strikes again with another number 1 album in the form of the loose concept album, I Decided.
Big Sean’s journey to where he is today has been an unlikely one, and he still doesn’t get a lot of the credit that he deserves as an artist. He has gone from being one of Hip-Hop’s least desired voices in the new wave of rappers that included the likes of Kid Cudi and Wale to now being a force to be reckoned with on release days. In a sort of Big Sean appreciation article to celebrate the rapper’s recent release of I Decided, I decided (see what I did there) to weigh and rank all four of his commercial albums against each other to not only determine which of his albums reigns supreme, but also to shed some light on an underdog artist who has finally found his way in the industry.
4. Finally Famous (2011)
Billboard Debut: #3
First Week Numbers: 87,000 Album Sales
At the bottom of the list is Sean’s debut, Finally Famous. This album holds a very special place in my heart as a Big Sean fan. After mixtape after mixtape of promises of “Finally Famous the album coming soon,” it was rewarding to finally receive a proper studio album from the Detroit emcee. With a standard version of 12 tracks, the album was concise and an easy ride. While Finally Famous didn’t add a classic album to Big Sean’s belt, it did produce multiple classic hits and his classic album closer, “So Much More.” In fact, every student of the game should commit “So Much More” to memory. The album has great replay value and has aged well 6 years later; “Finally Famous” used to practically be my mantra in middle school. I’ve ranked Finally Famous at the bottom not because of its weaknesses but because it is Sean’s most cookie-cutter album and the least important compared to the rest of his discography.
3. hall of fame (2013)
Billboard Debut: #3
First Week Numbers: 72,000 Album Sales
This album has been nitpicked and overcriticized by the Hip-Hop masses, and that is not okay. I used to argue that it was the classic that Big Sean marketed it as. However, it hasn’t aged as well as his other albums, and that is simply due to the insane amount of filler on the album and the need for the track list to be reworked. With more classic tracks like “Fire,” “Beware,” and “First Chain,” Big Sean was packing the heat on his sophomore outing, with emotions and experiences embedded in his lyrics. Hall of Fame found Big Sean finally telling stories and sharing wisdom about things that matter, and that is why I rank it higher than his debut album. I think the album would have been a certified classic had he reworked the track list by removing the empty filler like “Mona Lisa” and “It’s Time,” moving “Guap” and “Switch Up” to the regular track list instead of bonus tracks, and adding the legendary “Control” to it. Nonetheless, Hall of Fame is an important step in Big Sean’s evolution, showing growth and progression for the Detroit artist.
2. I Decided (2017)
Billboard Debut: #1
First Week Numbers: 151,000 Album Sales
Big Sean’s latest offering is arguably his most focused and inspirational project yet. While it was marketed as a concept album, it fell a little short in that department, but the album’s message did in fact hit home. I Decided finds Sean hungry but missing that spark that made Dark Sky Paradise such a huge smash record. The album is his second consecutive album, and it is well deserved, regardless of how it holds up to his previous album. I also believe that this may even be the album that scores Sean his first Grammy. G.O.O.D. Music’s underdog somehow improves in multiple areas on every album release, and while I believe that I Decided is a slightly better album than Dark Sky Paradise (the new fillers are a lot better than the old ones), it just isn’t as special and meaningful to Sean’s career in the long run.
1. Dark sky paradise (2015)
Billboard Debut: #1
First Week Numbers: 173,000 Album Sales
This album is arguably the most important album in Big Sean’s entire discography. As critical opinion wavered and he suffered from public relationship issues, Big Sean could have been over after Hall of Fame. Yet somehow he buckled down and created the Big Sean album that everyone wanted and needed. Another concise playlist save for the 3 stellar bonus tracks, Dark Sky Paradise finds Big Sean balancing his hit potential with substance. His junior outing boasts the best production of his four albums, and he provides amazing features as well, all the while making sure that he is still the star of the show. It’s cohesiveness rivals I Decided, although the opener and closer don’t even touch “Light” and “Bigger Than Me” from his latest album. Regardless, the album offers everything you can imagine, from a Watch the Throne-esque performance between Sean and Kanye on “All Your Fault” to Lil Wayne croaking that Big Sean is underrated on “Deep.” Dark Sky Paradise is also home to Big Sean’s most beautiful song, “One Man Can Change the World.” The only other song to come close in his catalogue is “Memories,” and ironically when he was teasing “One Man Can Change the World” before Dark Sky Paradise’s release I thought it was possibly “Memories Pt. 3.” With all of that said, Dark Sky Paradise is Big Sean’s biggest and most important album to date, which is why it tops the list.