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'Bossing up and being the best version of yourself': Big Sean grows up

Del Cowie

It might sound weird for someone who has the word "big" in his moniker, but Big Sean's new album, I Decided, may be the record where we really see him growing as an artist.

There's definitely nothing wrong with having fun and Big Sean was doing plenty of that on his earlier records. After gaining attention and traction through mixtapes and meeting Kanye West (who would eventually sign him after meeting him as a hungry-for-success Detroit rapper), he'd punctuate his early major-label career with what some had called the hashtag style of rapping. Playful asides and adlibs like "Swerve!" and "Oh God!" seemed to show up on every record he'd appear on. However, those phrases faded from his vocabulary and on his third album, Dark Sky Paradise (featuring songs like "One Man Can Change the World"), a more serious side in his music had begun to emerge.

That's not to say Big Sean has stopped having fun. Indeed the positivity of "Bounce Back" and the cheekiness of "Moves" indicate Big Sean is still enjoying himself, but on his fourth record, I Decided, the balance between the party and the pensive is more evident than ever with songs like "Sunday Morning Jetpack" dedicated to his mother and grandmother. It seems to have worked. I Decided debuted at No. 1 on the Canadian iTunes charts when it was released last month.

CBC Music caught up with Big Sean a couple of weeks ago to discuss his approach to his album and growing up in the public eye.

It’s been 2 years to the day since you released your last album, Dark Sky Paradise. What differences do you see between that record and I Decided?

"I just feel like Dark Sky Paradise was a personal high for me. It was a blueprint for how to make my albums and just follow my instincts. I feel like I Decided is the evolution of that. I wanted to give people the type of inspiration that I feel like I needed and that I’ve gotten in my life, you know, so hopefully I gave 'em something to live to.

"Different parts of the album are for different moments and feelings, but it all has the underlying theme of, like, bossing up and being the best version of yourself, you know, and kind of having an older you guiding you throughout your life with that wisdom when you’re young and really going through crazy shit. Having a family is a part of it, God, spiritual [things] — all these different lessons and things I’ve personally been going through, so it’s cool to execute that. I’m really happy with how it turned out."

I remember one of the first times when you came to Canada when your mixtapes were still coming out. I remember you got emotional at the response you got.

"Hell yeah."

So you remember that?

"Yes, it's hard not to remember that. It’s a blessing to be here and it’s just a constant elevation, so I just I can’t even express how thankful I am for it. For the support and [to] still be here. A lot of people hit their peaks and go down but I feel like I’ve been going up every album and every project, so that’s something to celebrate and be happy about."

And again to see that progression is interesting. It even goes back to an appearance freestyling on Canadian television when you were in high school.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. That wasn't in high school. I was like in eighth grade. That was cool to see that. That was a major moment for me."

The latest video from the album is for ‘Halfway Off the Balcony’ and it is a bit more introspective than the party-starting songs like ‘Moves’ and ‘Bounce Back’ that you released from the album so far. Can you talk about what went into the thinking process behind that?

"I mean, I love that song. It’s from the part of the album that’s in a different section from ‘Bounce Back’ and ‘Moves.’ It’s something that is more of a feeling, something I felt that a lot of people probably feel. It’s just a darker-sounding track. I hadn’t heard too many songs sounding like that, in that vein from a production standpoint and it was produced by Amaire Johnson who was one of the producers I signed. I was just really excited to approach the song and just execute it. It’s definitely a really vibed song. I’m hoping people can take something from it and live to it and get something out of it."