Album Review: Big Sean, ‘Detroit 2’

Three years without new music can feel like a decade. Just ask SZA and Bryson Tiller, two artists who last released albums in 2017 and are being hounded for new music as if they took a 15 year break. Five-time Grammy nominee Big Sean also released his last album in 2017. The Platinum-certified I Decided housed such hits as “Bounce Back” and “Moves,” building on the commercial success of 2015’s Dark Sky Paradise. Aside from some one-off singles and some guest verses here and there, Big Sean has been relatively quiet on the music front for the past few years. In an era where music feels more oversaturated than ever, where his contemporaries were pumping out singles/mixtapes/projects/albums every six months, Sean was essentially silent.

In an interview with Vulture, he detailed why he didn’t release a 7-track album in 2018 like his G.O.O.D. Music labelmates Teyana Taylor (K.T.S.E.), Nas (NASIR), and Kanye West (ye; KIDS SEE GHOSTS). He noted that he “just wasn’t feeling the vibe.” He went on to say that “when it was time for me to really get in there on that, I guess I wasn’t inspired. I was going through things in my head that I was still working out. I wasn’t ready to be creative right then.” In essence, and in his own words, Sean had to work his way back. Like so many other recent projects from big stars, Sean is coming home to himself on his latest album. Detroit 2 sees Sean working his way back to what matters most to him and what motivates him beyond the fallacies of fortune and fame. The 21-track album is simultaneously Sean’s love letter to his soul and his love letter to his illustrious hometown of Detroit. Graced by guest verses from Detroit natives and spoken word stories of the power and soul of the city, Detroit 2 is an effective tribute to his city that sometimes gets bogged down by a few forgettable tracks.

Detroit 2 commences with a stellar four-track run. “Why Would I Stop” marks Sean’s grand return with triumphant production courtesy of Hit-Boy and a rapid-fire flow that showcases a renewed passion and hunger. Hit-Boy handles the majority of the album’s production and his busy yet polished beats signal a sense of urgency: Sean has something to say and something to prove, if not to us, then to himself. After the effective intro of “Why Would I Stop,” Sean immediately launches into one of Detroit 2‘s earliest standouts: “Lucky Me.” The song sets the introspective trend that dominates most of the album and features a few jarring flow changes that eventually settle into a smooth groove by the first chorus after that excellent beat switch. Sean is rapping on this track. A few of hip-hop’s recent brightest stars and biggest hits have been criticized for their simplistic “ABC” raps. Sean goes out of his way to deliver intricate internal rhyme schemes like “soul/solace/soldier” and “covid/covert/code.” On “Lucky Me,” he raps about holistic medicine and his heart condition, it’s a vulnerable track that still feels grounded and celebratory. He then launches into “Deep Reverence,” the Nipsey Hussle collaboration that served as the album’s lead single. The song applies the concept of “deep reverence” to the love that Sean and Nipsey’s hometowns have for them and the respect they have for their ancestors and those that came before them. Most importantly, “Deep Reverence” upholds the importance of genuine love from your city over the fickleness of mass commercial success, a theme that is centered on Detroit 2. “Wolves” completes the stellar opening four-track run. On paper, a Big Sean and Post Malone collaboration sounds like a quick grab for streams that you would find on one of those overstuffed DJ Khaled albums. In actuality, the the two have surprisingly great chemistry. Sean and Posty employ a “Plain Jane”-esque flow in the hook as they rap about their rugged upbringings. This is the first track on Detroit 2 that sounds like a legitimate radio single and it’s absolutely worthy of being Sean’s next big hit.

Def Jam/GOOD Music

On another note, at this point, is it really a Big Sean project if Jhené Aiko doesn’t appear at some point? On the heels of her own 2020 album, Chilombo, and a guest appearance on Kehlani’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, Jhené pops up on “Body Language,” a clunky attempt at a bedroom banger. This isn’t the strongest Sean-Jhené collaboration and its placement after “Wolves” feels haphazard. Fortunately, the two have a stronger collaboration later on the album titled “Time In.” “Time In” acts as the official resurrection of TWENTY88, the super duo formed by Sean and Aiko in 2016. This track is more in line with the slinky sensual nature that made the TWENTY88 album such a success. Big Sean also teases a bit more of his singing prowess and leans into R&B which he explores more on the rewarding “Guard Your Heart.”

Detroit 2 works best when Sean isn’t looking to follow trends. He truly excels when he gets vulnerable and introspective about his life and his career. This is the reason why tracks like “Harder Than My Demons,” “Full Circle,” “Don Life,” and “Everything That’s Missing” are so strong; Sean effortlessly finds a way to condense his unflinching honesty into a short palatable listen. The albums features three spoken word interludes from Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu, and Stevie Wonder where the legendary artists reminisce on their love and respect for Detroit. They’re wonderful moments that help tie the album together in the face of some tracks that feel unnecessary. Detroit 2 could have greatly benefited from slimming down its tracklist — a hour long runtime and 21 tracks is a lot to sit through for any artist. It doesn’t help that Sean felt the need to include “ZTFO,” for example, which sounds like a poorly done cover of a Travis Scott album track. This song, in particular, is confusing because there is a stronger and more fleshed out Travis Scott collaboration titled “Lithuania” just three tracks later. “FEED” and “The Baddest” also feel empty and fail to retain attention so deep into the album’s runtime. Luckily, Sean pulls everything together by the very end. He rallies eleven Detroit rappers for an impressive “Friday Night Cypher” and concludes the record with the victorious “Still I Rise.”

Detroit 2 isn’t an earth-shattering or culture-shifting album by any means, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s just nice to have Big Sean back and hear him more at peace and self-assured than ever before.

Key Tracks: “Lucky Me” | “Respect It” | “Wolves” | “Deep Reverence” | “Guard Your Heart”

Score: 70

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