LOS ANGELES — Big Sean might be the hardest working man in rap. Since signing with Kanye West’s GOOD Music in 2008, the Detroit rapper has released three mixtapes, three studio albums (including this year’s "Dark Sky Paradise," which earned Sean his first No. 1 on the Billboard 200) and has been featured on a few dozen tracks by buds like Justin Bieber and Drake. And what other rapper would write a line like, “F--k a vacay, I feel better at work”?
In any case, that narrative was given even more credence by his high octane, well-paced show Saturday night at LA’s Hollywood Palladium. The concert — supported by Mick Jenkins and buzzing Minneapolis rapper Finding Novyon, who is being recognized with the go-dumb banger “Lots" — was part of the monthlong Red Bull Sound Select Presents: 30 Days in LA festival.
Big Sean more than matched the energy of the crowd, which by the time he hit the stage, after 11, had been whipped into a twerking, moshing, fist-pumping frenzy. With strobes flashing, images of storm clouds roiling and Mike Will Made It’s menacing beat marching, he rose out of the stage rapping “Paradise.”
Sean’s stage show is impressive not just for the no-expenses-spared production values, but also for the care he and his musical director took in crafting it. Employing a band during a hip-hop concert can often overwhelm a solo rapper’s vocals, but Sean’s band added subtly to the songs without stepping on them. Speaking of vocals, Sean was indefatigable and displayed incredible breath control — especially noticeable on the verses he rapped a cappella.
The show Saturday night was also paced extraordinarily well. As blue raspberry-colored clouds and bursts of cherry light swirled on the scrim behind Sean, he performed a crowd-pleasing set, playing not just his own hits like “Dance (A$$),” but also his verses from songs like “Clique” and “How Many Times.” After ragers like Calvin Harris’ “Open Wide,” he inserted slower songs like “My Last” to give himself — and the audience — a chance to discretely catch his and our breath.
Two more of those little respites came when Jhene Aiko, a local who’s become a mainstream darling, bounced out to perform “Beware” and “I Know,” a slithery, slow burner of a song.
Instead of calling it a night, Sean kept going, giving the crowd a sneak preview of two new songs, one produced by Mike Will and another produced by Metro Boomin that features Future. (Watch the clips below.) Then he ramped up again with his “Mercy” verse and dipped down both to share his grandmother’s legacy as one of the first black female captains in World War II and to inspire the crowd to follow their own dreams.
And the show still wasn’t over. Big Sean continued to perform hits — “Blessings,” “Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay” and “Guap” — until his set hit the 90-minute mark, and he finally had to chuckle at himself.
“That’s almost my time. Well, they already told me it’s my time,” he said, clearly disregarding the warning by launching into “IDFWU.”