Concert Review

Big Sean Struggles To Step Out of Kanye's Shadow At Pot Of Gold Festival

I used to not like Big Sean as an artist. I disliked his voice and adlibs, and in his early days, I was simply not impressed with the music he was putting out. When Kanye West brought the Detroit rapper under his tutelage, I knew we would watch Kanye mold and shape Sean into a better artist, a process that can take some time. In fact, Sean sat on Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music label for a long five years before dropping his debut album Finally Famous. The freshman project received solid reviews and had a couple of hit singles but, for me, the album never broke the ceiling of Sean’s artistry. Since then, it has been a whirlwind for the 27-year-old emcee. After featuring on multiple hit singles put out from his G.O.O.D music family and releasing well-received mixtapes such as Detroit, Sean is clearly showing that he has come a long way. His last release, Dark Sky Paradise, received strong reviews and just crossed the platinum mark, making it Sean’s first release to do so. I actually enjoyed the project and was curious to see if Big Sean could finally win me over with his performance at last Saturday’s Pot Of Gold Music Festival.

Kanye’s influence on Sean was clear from the jump. A giant LED screen emblazoned with interesting visuals such as multicolored lightning clouds, glitch art, and close ups of Big Sean’s face sat on the Rawhide stage as Big Sean came out to the song, “Paradise.” The extended version of this song features some of Sean’s most acrobatic rapping, and he showed this by cutting out the beat during the second verse and rapping the verse a cappella, much to the delight of the crowd. I am actually enjoying the returning trend in hip-hop of rappers rocking the stage solo without 40 of their friends in the background. Big Sean used the entire stage very well as he ran side to side encouraging his fans to raise their hands.
Big Sean ran through several songs that have him featured on it, such as “Clique” and “I Don’t Like.” All of these songs have stand out verses from Sean. In fact, his guest appearances on these songs are easily better than most of his solo music. The audience seemed to agree with this sentiment as they sung right along to “Mercy” and watched Big Sean dance across the stage. Big Sean rewarded his long time fans by performing songs from his early mixtape days, which seemed to fall on deaf ears for the most part. Performing his old stuff seemed like a bad move but then I realized that Big Sean was performing an hour-and-a-half set, and while he is popular, he doesn’t have THAT many recognizable hit songs when compared to his mentor Kanye. In fact, the crowd seemed more responsive to the music of 311, a band with a decade-plus of hit songs under their belt.

The audience resonated well to his Dark Sky Paradise songs. The Drake- and Kanye-featured “Blessings” hit hard through the speakers as the crowd helped Sean sing the parts of the absent rap stars. I am convinced that the Travis Scott-produced “All Your Fault” was a Kanye throwaway that he gave to Sean, as the G.O.O.D. music general is featured heavily on the track. Fans ate up Sean’s performance of his verse as he ripped through one of the strongest songs in his catalog. Sean finished up the night with his biggest hit, “I Don’t Fuck With You.”

At this point in his career, Big Sean may have hit a glass ceiling as far as his influence his receiving from his boss, Kanye. Dark Sky Paradise represents the culmination of his almost a decade long stint with G.O.O.D. Music and the influence clearly bleeds into his live performances. Big Sean shows that he is willing to grow but I feel like he still as some way to go before he can truly stand on his own two and move from under the shadows of Mr. West. 
Critic's Notebook

Last night: Big Sean at the Pot of Gold Music Festival

Overheard: "I swear to sweet baby Jesus that if I find the person who put all these damn flyers on my car, they are done." 

Crowd: A much more streamlined crowd than Thursday night. Late Generation Xers and early Millennials dominated the audience. I feel like if you graduated high school around the time 9/11 happened, you were at this concert. The crowd was surprisingly more divided than Thursday, as there was a major drop in people after 311 left the stage. 

Random Notebook Dump: The vibe here is way more calm than Thursday. It could be just all of laid back 311 fans who probably don't care about Big Sean.

Personal Bias: If you take away all of the Kanye West influenced songs from Big Sean's catalog, his set isn't strong enough to warrant a headlining slot at a major festival.
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Jaron is a musician, writer, promoter, videographer, and a founder of the like-minded collective and movement known as Starstruck.
Contact: Jaron Ikner