I’ve never had much of an affinity for my hometown.
Lincoln has served me well, but I’ve always felt that there’s more out there — that things could be better than this. My friends are great, but they come from similar environments. I’ve made many memories in unsung places, but returning to the deep woods and seedy spots where I spent my time coming-of-age doesn’t have the same staying power as I thought they would.
I view Lincoln as one stop in a series of destinations in my hopefully prosperous life. For rapper Big Sean, however, his hometown of Detroit is in the essence of his being. The rapper’s latest release, “Detroit 2,” is an emphatic comeback record that, despite its over-bloated tracklisting, shines with capturing the heart of the Motor City.
The mixtape “Detroit,” released in 2012, was a sign that Big Sean really was “Finally Famous,” as his preceding album implied. The mixtape’s release caused the distribution site DatPiff to crash. It has been hailed as Big Sean’s best work to date, even earning him a Best Mixtape accolade at the 2013 BET Hip Hop Awards.
The connection between Big Sean and Detroit has been expanded upon in interviews leading up to the release of “Detroit 2.” In a sit down with the Detroit Free Press, the rapper said he wants the audience of his newest release to “feel the roots of Detroit — the undeniable soul, that unbreakable spirit.”
Not having a connection with my own hometown left me worried I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate Big Sean’s thesis with “Detroit 2.” I’ve also never been a fan of Big Sean’s lyrical repertoire and vocal delivery.
Despite these shortcomings, Big Sean is able to deliver a heartfelt ode to his city to the best of his ability. The flaws of his previous work have been toned down, and the lyrics on “Detroit 2” are some of the strongest of his career. The album has a litany of highlights and fantastic guest performances.
One of the best tracks is the opener, “Why Would I Stop?” where Big Sean delivers energetic bars over a window-thumping trap beat. Rather than letting the impressive beat do the talking, Big Sean takes command of the track. He’s aided by a quality sound mix by legendary hip hop producer Hit-Boy, who is able to balance the EQ perfectly with Big Sean’s tight voice blending seamlessly with the high hats and synths as a meaty kick and sub-bass keep the track’s heartbeat pulsing.
The lyrics are fairly surface level, but they serve the track well. I anticipate walking into the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Recreation Center and hearing “Why Would I Stop?” blaring from the speakers — the song is perfectly suited for workouts with its upbeat drums and motivational lyrics. It’s hard not to feel your blood pumping as Big Sean declares to the listener, “Why would I stop? I am unstoppable.”
Another highlight is the third track, “Deep Reverence (feat. Nipsey Hussle).” The late Nipsey Hussle recorded the verse before he died. He delivers a powerful performance that’s forceful yet eloquent, painting a perfect picture of Hussle’s road to success and how the efforts he put in throughout life made his block respect him with deep reverence. Big Sean feeds off of Nipsey’s energy and reflects on the violence, personal struggles and the weight of the rap game with excellent heartfelt delivery.
Nipsey Hussle is one of the many A-list stars featured on the project who churn out great performances. Ty Dolla $ign and Jhené Aiko both give smooth, sensual performances on the track “Body Language,” and superstar Travis Scott pops up on “Lithuania,” a song which sounds like it was plucked straight from Scott’s last album, “ASTROWORLD.” Other stars like Post Malone, Diddy, Lil Wayne and more also make appearances.
The most feature-heavy track is “Friday Night Cypher (feat. Tee Grizzley, Kash Doll, Cash Kidd, Payroll, 42 Dugg, Boldy James, Drego, Sada Baby, Royce da 5'9'', and Eminem).” The over-nine-minute-long freestyle is filled to the brim with lyrical content. Each Detroit-native makes a dominant appearance. The unfortunate aspect of the cypher is an atrocious beat that feels like an amalgamation of random Garageband loops thrown together in one haphazard mess.
These features create an inadvertent issue on the project, which is that most of these guest appearances overshadow Big Sean. One example of this is the song “Respect It (feat. Young Thug, and Hit-Boy).” Big Sean’s chorus is a bit too chill for the banging beat, but when Young Thug appears on the track, everything comes together. With a constantly varying flow and unique vocal delivery, you begin to forget that this is a Big Sean song.
One aspect that deters the listener from reaching some of these great tracks is the album’s bloated length. Totalling 21 songs and 71 minutes of runtime, “Detroit 2” can feel like a slog to listen to in one sitting. Especially with three different spoken-word interludes from Dave Chapelle, Stevie Wonder and Erykah Badu. I love hearing their voices, but these three stories do not work in connecting songs to each other. It feels as if Big Sean was scrolling through his contact list and thought, “I should put them on the album,” without thinking of the project’s narrative structure as a whole.
While “Detroit 2” lacks consistent structure, it does have a lot of heart. You can especially tell with the solo tracks that Big Sean has used his three year break between now and his last project to hone his technical skills. One striking song that best exemplifies this is “Lucky Me,” where Big Sean drops a bombshell stating that he was diagnosed with heart issues at 19. Turning his pain into a motivator for success is a great message that he tries to convey in the overall album with middling success.
“Detroit 2” has many enjoyable qualities, which ultimately makes the album a positive experience despite its glaring flaws. Big Sean is able to capture the undeniable spirit of Detroit, with sincere and unfeigned bars that have much more of an impact than other rappers who claim to have started from nothing. Big Sean delivers some of his best material to date, but some songs were better off on the cutting room floor.