By Jared Graf
Asst. Arts & Features Editor
When Big Sean began teasing a sequel to his fan-favorite “Detroit” mixtape earlier this year, I was admittedly a bit skeptical.
Not all great things need a follow up.
I loved “Detroit” but wondered how Sean would be able to capture that same lightning in a bottle eight years later. Only three songs into “Detroit 2” and I was eating my words, doubts aside.
The album is a nice balance between Big Sean’s old and new sound. Although he’s mainly mature and introspective throughout the 21-track dedication to his hometown, Sean channels his overtly-juvenile “Finally Famous” days on a few songs, which only adds authenticity to the project.
With a cast of music’s most streamed artists – Post Malone, Travis Scott, Eminem, Young Thug, and Ty Dolla $ign to name a few – it should come as no surprise that “Detroit 2” moved 103,000 units in its first week on the charts, earning Sean his third number one album.
Sean kicks off the project with “Why Would I Stop?” an upbeat, aggressive intro track accompanied by a choppy flow. “Dilla and Pimp C, the trilla, this might go too trill for Triller though / I see you critical, I’m not hospitable, favorite rappers I done cut they umbilical,” he callously spits.
Aside from a cliché and borderline corny hook, Sean’s wordplay is on point, and he effectively sets the tone for the project with one gameday anthem of many.
Speaking of gameday anthems, “Don Life” is the official song of the 2020 NBA Finals – and one of the project’s stand-out tracks. Big Sean taps Lil Wayne for his best guest verse in years, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to seasoned fans who know Sean has repeatedly brought out the best in Wayne.
Beginning the verse with his signature lighter-flick, Weezy immediately enters mixtape mode while Sean drops multiple quotables. “You can’t fill the trophy cases up with nominations,” and, “My girl expensive, remember you get what you pay for,” he boasts over the hard-hitting beat.
If someone told me they broke their neck nodding along to this, I’d believe them.
The production, handled by Hit-Boy, is some of the most unique, yet enticing I’ve heard in years – as it samples “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson, putting a triumphant twist on the classic track.
Now that Sean’s received some flowers, it’s time Hit-Boy does too.
The super-producer has single-handedly put 2020 on his back and deserves the MVP award for hip-hop curators. Fresh off producing an entire Nas album that dropped two weeks prior, Hit-Boy returned with “Detroit 2,” which he also executively produced.
With eight production credits, Hit-Boy’s influence can be heard all over the project. In Big Sean’s own words – he’s been “consistently consistent.”
Thanks to Hit-Boy, Sean was able to secure one of the most anticipated features on “Detroit 2” with the late Nipsey Hussle’s contribution to “Deep Reverence.”
The song, which served as the album’s lead single, is a bass-heavy banger packed with reflective lyrics. “Look, f**k rap, I’m a street legend / Block love me with a deep reverence / I was birthed in a C-section / Hella cops and police presence,” Nipsey raps with a chilling passion.
Sean treats his two-minute long verse as a confessional – addressing suicidal thoughts, rumored beef with Kendrick Lamar, and a miscarriage with longtime girlfriend Jhené Aiko. Although he gets candid on other songs, Sean’s verse on “Deep Reverence” acts as the album’s introspective centerpiece.
Despite its title, “Harder Than My Demons” is one of the more lighthearted tracks on the project.
With an infectious bounce and confident tone, Sean asserts dominance over his demons on Mike WiLL Made-It production. Justin Bieber also makes a cameo, lending his vocals to the song’s outro, while Sean sticks to his strong suit – clever one-liners.
On the bar-heavy Detroit posse-cut “Friday Night Cypher,” Sean gathers both up and coming and established artists from his city to go verse for verse over production courtesy of Hit-Boy and KeY Wane. Features on the song range from Tee Grizzley and Sada Baby, to Royce da 5’9” and Eminem.
With 11 verses including Sean’s, the track clocks in at nine and a half minutes long. However, multiple beat switches and an eclectic cast of characters keeps the song from becoming too repetitive.
“Lucky Me” finds Sean wasting no time – or breath – letting his competition know he’s still hungry as ever. “Just know I want this s**t more than whatever it is you want from me / And the only thought at night that comforts me is starving whoever’s hunting me,” he begins his verse.
The unconventional and minimalistic production from DJ Dahi, Teddy Walton, and Hit-Boy provides a perfect canvas for Sean to get personal – touching upon a heart disease he was diagnosed with at 19 years old. According to the rapper, doctors said he’d need open heart surgery and a pacemaker to keep him alive, until holistic doctors saved his life.
“Went back to the regular doctors and they said, ‘Huh, damn, looks like we don’t need to proceed’ / That’s how I know that western medicine weak,” he says in his verse. After using the track as a diary for two minutes, the beat flawlessly changes and Sean ditches his smooth, conversational flow for something more suitable and up-tempo.
Although Big Sean’s brilliance is on display throughout the album, “Detroit 2” does have its fair share of lackluster moments.
“Time In” with Jhené Aiko finds Sean repeating, “I just wanna put the time in,” 13 times in a row at an increasingly higher pitch. This attempt at a “chorus” – if you’d be generous enough to even call it that – leaves us with some pretty pressing questions.
For example, approximately how much time is Big Sean willing to put in, and with whom? Does he have an ample amount of time to spare each week, or is he operating on a schedule? Do certain days work better for him than others, and if so which ones? The list goes on forever…
“Lithuania” marks another lapse in creativity for Sean, as we get a lazy attempt at a radio single, entirely reliant on a Travis Scott feature – which unsurprisingly sounds like every other Travis Scott feature ever.
Following the trend of dull and monotonous tracks, Sean delivers the most unbearable of them all with “The Baddest.”
Sampling the “Godzilla” theme song, “The Baddest” is a difficult listen to say the least. With production from No I.D. that could easily be confused with that of a high school marching band, the track is a swing and a miss.
Thankfully, poor production is scarce on “Detroit 2,” as there seems to be a real chemistry among Sean, Hit-Boy, and most of the album’s other producers.
This chemistry is best displayed on “Full Circle,” a thought-provoking, KeY Wane produced track. Accompanied by a verse from KeY Wane and interludes from Diddy, Sean raps over dreary drums and piano keys packed with emotion, as the beat seems to say just as much as he does.
Sean reminisces on how his career has come full circle, from signing to Kanye West and rapping alongside Diddy – two of his idols growing up. “Full circle like losing friends from bagging up yay to rapping for ‘Ye / Who dropped his first album, I was in the tenth grade / To ten years later me dropping a number one the exact same day,” Sean spits.
His flow becomes progressively poignant, as he ends the track with some words of wisdom, “Drop all that jealousy, that s**t is gon’ hurt you / Quit giving energy to ones that don’t deserve you.”
If every song triggered nostalgia like this, the album would have been my favorite of the year.
One thing I was concerned about was Sean doing too much on the project. However, it’s not overly conceptualized and for the most part, he sticks to the same blueprint as the first “Detroit” – a hearty offering of music, split up by various skits of celebrities recounting their own memories of the Motor City.
The album serves more as a moment for Detroit than anything else – bringing attention to a city most would write off and ignore.
“Detroit 2” is a testament to Sean’s loyalty, and further proves the point Hit-Boy is not human. It’s unfortunate that a handful of mundane songs cast a cloud which looms over a good project, preventing it from shining and being great.
“Detroit 2” perfectly complements its predecessor, but lacks the same originality.