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Saint De’Angelus

The morning that Big Sean drops his 5th official studio album Detroit 2, I find myself awake at my usual time, restless and in desperate need of a drive. It’s a Friday morning where just four days after starting her first virtual school year, my 9-year-old daughter is well on her way to sleeping in- thanks to the global pandemic shortening the school week by one day. I would normally be making her breakfast now and getting into my morning ceremony of coffee and cannabis, but today I have the opportunity to pretend I’m cool while my fiancé and 6-month old sleep alongside each other in the bedroom on the opposite side of the hallway from my 4th grader. Before I realize it, I’m at the gas station rolling my last gram as life on the west side of Detroit happens all around me. Nephews and old heads coming and going for rellos and loosies, tryin’ to get change for the bus or $5 on pump 6- but each with millionaire presence. Sean picked a good ass day.

It IS a good ass day matter’ fact. It’s already about 75 degrees, the sun is out and the holiday weekend leaves traffic on the freeway clear. By the time I’ve turned off W. Davison to the E. 96 entrance ramp, Big Sean is approaching the climatic change of “Lucky Me”. I have decided to include “praying hands, amen” to my lexicon of exclamatory phrases by the time I merge onto the Lodge from W. 96. Anybody from Detroit knows where I’m headed. I take the Lafayette exit to Fort Street & creep behind the main post office, up W. Jefferson, just at the furthest end of where they’ve completed the Detroit RiverWalk development. The initiative designed when people Sean’s & my age would’ve been in high school, about 15 years ago. However, just two years ago, it was the site for the finale event to Big Sean’s inaugural summer give-back “Don Weekend”. As I pull in behind an old man fishing off the riverfront I flashback to myself at the other end of the river-walk in 2018 when I worked with one of the production teams to support the community events that Sean brought to the families and youth in Detroit.

In a brief moment backstage, I observed Sean while trying to figure out how to connect with him professionally without “networking him” at his own event. I eventually thought differently of it when I recognized Sean had the saddest look on his face. It was more than tired from a 4 day weekend of giving to a city that didn’t always love him back, or the mental and physical demands of hitting a career-high. Sean looked tired of everything. Big Sean has always been one to tout the power of the mind, installing affirmations in everything around him from his stage-name to his album titles. It has been the thing to serve him most-well, and that’s no more apparent than on Detroit 2. The lyrics are often a blend of regional sayings delivered as mantras with the signature attitude and style expected from one of Black America’s most iconic cities. Maybe what made Sean tired during that time was the exhaustion of expectation.

Sean Anderson is from an era of Detroit hip-hop that holds a very storied history in the mainstream music industry. Even though the Detroit hip-hop community itself is splintered into about three different sub-communities, they were at one time all united by their inability to get along with major label interests. Whether it was pulverizing touring acts, or not delivering on the terms of their recording contracts and being generally unpleasant to work with, Detroit artists at major labels had developed a reputation for having their albums shelved and eventually being released from their label. Not only was this the expectation that the city had for Sean, but it was also the wish of those who felt like Sean didn’t represent their section of Detroit Hip-Hop or that he somehow circumvented the requirement of starting local by the chances he took actually paying off. By the time that Big Sean’s first album “Finally Famous” debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts, Sean’s career had already survived appearing to fall in the ranks of priority at GOOD Music with artists who were signed after him releasing albums ahead of his debut, as well as peers hijacking his rhyme-style. It’s no wonder that success as defiance has been such a consistent theme throughout Sean’s work. But that was almost 10 years ago.

I wonder to myself across the next few tracks if Detroit and Sean have grown past the strain of their association and the need for one to make the other not look bad, but I’m snapped out of my train of thought as I realize that I recognize the story that Dave Chappelle is telling on the first of three “Story” interludes. It’s the one that made news headlines back in 2015 where he bombed at Detroit’s Filmore Theater after smoking weed with another hometown hero, Danny Brown. I have fan paintings of Danny Brown that I got from hanging backstage at Bruiser Thanksgiving, and I’ve been in the very dressing room at the Fillmore that Dave Chappell describes in his story, but what sticks with me the most, more than the delicate balance of pride and embarrassment in these minor associations, is the emergence of a friendly older gentleman who just so happens to be Big Sean’s father. The story that Dave relates to the listener about Big Sean’s father being there for him in a moment of failure just as casually as my own dad would with my friends strikes a chord with me. It strikes the same chord as the lyric he delivers on “Deep Reverence” about his father still expecting more from him even though Sean has lived up to his own expectations.

Expectation. It is something that I keep coming back to throughout writing this. It is something that men employ to safeguard complacency. It is the holy grail of manhood, but here is how you get it: You learn not to take expectations so seriously. You write the goals down with enough wisdom to know that they won’t happen exactly how you wrote them. You validate your own hard work by celebrating yourself and then surrounding yourself with those who celebrate with you. You understand that “celebration” is more than just a party, but the fulfillment of a social contract by people who work alongside you. You become generous with your sharing before moving to the next set of expectations. This is what Big Sean has done with Detroit 2.

It’s the Friday after the release now, and I wake up early to finish writing. Except I end up in my car again, even earlier this time, to chase my current obsession with watching the sunrise. This time I take Livernois to 96 and come up at Rosa Parks after exiting the Fisher Fwy. Instead of revisiting the fishing hole, I take Fort Street into downtown Detroit and let the cinematic feel of Lithuania playing against all the hotel and skyscraper lights overtake the moment. This is the best way to take the music in and appreciate how Sean continues to feed regional culture, consciousness, and hip-hop history into his musical experiences. It is not how I expected to experience the album this morning. But the thing about expectations is that things can always turn out better than what you expect. I think Big Sean knows that.

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