For a rapper who’s been in the spotlight for years, Big Sean’s ascension still seems like a sneaky one. He’s long been known (for better and for worse) as much for his numerous features in songs from the likes of Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne, and Ariana Grande as for his own releases, despite his solo albums’ ever growing sales and his rapid improvement as a live performer. Still, Sean arrived at the sold-out Hollywood Palladium (as part of Red Bull Sound Select Presents: 30 Days in LA) with more confidence than usual for his 75-minute set. But even better, he backed up the confidence with a set that confirmed his rise as not just a rap sidekick, but a star in his own right.
Following a successful opening performance from Minneapolis’ Finding Novyon, whose infectious party raps fit with Sean’s style well, and an unsuccessful turn from Mick Jenkins, whose message-heavy rhymes came across as heavy-handed and preachy in this setting, Big Sean instantly upped the level of spectacle that fans are used to from the Detroit rapper by diving in with his production. Armed with an LED screen that backed the entire stage, Sean opened with “Paradise” while perched on top of the screen, where his band would remain for the entire set. It might seem like a simple addition when you consider that Kanye and The Weeknd have long been using the devices as their primary set props, but for Big Sean, it is a direct attempt to join those arena-level artists as the stages get bigger for himself.
Indeed, Big Sean usually only appears at arenas when part of a stacked bill, but at the 4,000-capacity Palladium, the rapper made his case for the possibility. His album sales are there, with all three of his studio LPs landing in the top three on the Billboard 200, while his latest is his best yet with a number one debut. And on Saturday night, Big Sean showed that the songs and the charisma are there, too. Both the front and back portions of the set rolled out continual hits, leaving the middle section for deep cuts and early work. And when the song might have been less familiar, it was sold with his personality. The artist spoke about 2015 being the best year of his life despite the loss of his grandmother to start it, and the performance seemed like it. Confidence is infectious, and a confident Big Sean has become something more captivating than his critics could have ever thought possible.
Most of the talk leading into the night was of the possibility of special guests, with frequent collaborators Kanye West and Justin Bieber, along with Drake, all being floated as potentials. In the end, only a brief cameo from Jhené Aiko for the track “I Know” found Big Sean sharing the stage with, well, anyone. And while the glutton in every fan would have loved to see Ye or Drizzy pop up for a verse or two, the truth is that Big Sean didn’t need the help. Tracks like “Sanctified”, “Mercy”, “Blessings”, and “Don’t Like” were still trucked out without their more famous cohorts and revved up the audience like clockwork. And it was still Big Sean’s own hits, notably the opening “Paradise”, the lion mascot-featuring “Guac”, and the huge closing “I Don’t Fuck with You” that proved to be the evening’s most memorable moments. It was a rare evening that concluded without the request of an encore from fans, as if they knew that their headliner had left it all out onstage, as if anything further would only tarnish an already impressive outing.
All Your Fault
How Many Times
Play No Games
Two New Songs
One Man Can Change the World
Marvin & Chardonnay
I Don’t Fuck with You