Big Sean's roots are inarguably in Detroit. He may have grown into a multi-platinum rap superstar, but the unpolished talent and blunt force of his style owe a significant debt to being raised in the beautiful but unforgiving city that has consistently produced some of music's most unique artists. Sean's 2012 mixtape Detroit was an early testament to his love and gratitude for his city, and eight years later his fifth studio album, Detroit 2, finds the rapper revisiting themes of formative experiences, self-reflection, and growth through a lens of appreciation for the city that made him. One of the first things that stands out about Detroit 2 is its nearly overwhelming guest list. Songs are dotted with features from huge names, with some of the most inspired moments on the album coming from the late Nipsey Hussle's verses on "Deep Reverence," Lil Wayne's signature all-directions-at-once wordplay on "Don Life," and Travis Scott's narcotic hooks on "Lithuania." The album's energy crests with the ferocious, nearly-ten-minute freestyle session "Friday Night Cypher." As the beat changes frequently, 42 Dugg, Tee Grizzley, Kash Doll, Sada Baby, Eminem, Boldy James, and other Detroit heavyweights take turns on the mike, further highlighting the collective intensity of the Detroit scene. As if the musical cameos aren't enough (Post Malone, Young Thug, Diddy, Anderson .Paak and many others all swing through on various tracks), the album is broken up into three segments that start with anecdotal spoken stories about times in Detroit from Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu, and Stevie Wonder. Despite a personnel list that borders on audacious, Big Sean is at his best on Detroit 2 when he sounds like he's standing alone in his room giving himself a pep talk. "Harder Than My Demons" somersaults through bars that slowly move from confidence to triumph to belligerence. "Lucky Me" finds Sean effortlessly trying on different flows like he's shopping for a new hat, spitting out biographical lyrics that jump between different points in his life. The production is clean and engaging, with polished beats and the occasional glossy hook (the R&B-infused "Body Language") providing a contrast for Big Sean's visceral rhymes and urgently delivered performances.
© Fred Thomas /TiVo