Is anyone else slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new hip-hop music in 2018? Even if it’s just from mainstream, topline artists like Drake, Travis Scott, Migos, and Kanye West, it feels like everyone who ever even contemplated rhyming words on a beat put out at least an EP’s worth of material this year, resulting in a veritable deluge of new songs, wild variety, and an embarrassment of riches for hip-hop fans.
Except that there’s one name that, upon reflection, has been conspicuously missing from the “New Releases” pages of your favorite streaming services for nearly 50 Fridays this year. In fact, he hasn’t made too many headlines, or appeared on any festival schedules. Truth be told, the last time he did either, it was for a tour that he canceled midway through the year that would have showcased the talents of his fellow Detroiters like Tee Grizzley and Kash Doll while reminding concertgoers that despite social media’s tendency to mock, he has long been one of the premiere artists within the upper echelon of hip-hop talents. Amid the torrential downpour of new music from every quarter and subgenre of rap, I just couldn’t seem to shake the question: Where on earth is Big Sean?
I can’t have been the only one wondering, and it’s not like there weren’t plenty of reasons to. One of the biggest was Kanye West and his major announcement that he’d be producing a collection of albums — whether they were full-lengths or EPs is up to interpretation — with a significant portion of his GOOD Music roster, including Pusha T, Teyana Taylor, and Kid Cudi, the latter of whom isn’t even officially on the label anymore and hasn’t been since 2013. Included in the release circuit was Nas, whose lackluster effort with Kanye was jointly released by GOOD and Nas’ own Mass Appeal imprint, and Chance The Rapper, who hasn’t been on a label, well, ever. Even Cyhi The Prynce received a glimmer of reflected spotlight from Kanye’s controversial Twitter antics, all while Sean remained mysteriously silent on the subject of Kanye’s political tap-dancing as well as the so-called Wyoming Projects.
While a who’s who of celebrities from musical collaborators of West’s to filmmakers, actors, and fashion icons made sure to post images of themselves at Kanye’s album release party to social media, Sean has, instead, posted photos of himself practicing the piano — although comedian Chris Rock assured the crowd the Detroit rapper with the distinctively elastic flow was in attendance. In fact, Sean’s social media remains as opaque about his doings in the past few months as everyone not named Donald Trump wishes that Kanye’s had been over the same span. His Instagram has a few scattered images from his 30th birthday celebration, some videos of his philosophical final thoughts of age 29, a handful of studio shots featuring Asahd Khaled, and the latest, a photo of himself munching on a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on a private jet.
His Twitter is about as forthcoming, showing off some of his philanthropic endeavors like the DON Weekend in Detroit, with museum benefits and block party. He hasn’t been on tour and claims that he canceled the tour in order to focus on the studio, which lines up his sparse Instagram activity, but not his output; so far, he’s been featured on a bare handful of songs throughout the year: Mike Will Made-It’s “Aries (Yugo) Part 2,” Fat Joe’s Mothers’ Day anthem “Momma,” and YG’s Stay Dangerous single “Big Bank” with Nicki Minaj. Sean’s barely even promoted his late 2017 collaborative album with Metro Boomin, Double Or Nothin’, except to release two singles during the release month, “Pull Up N Wreck” featuring 21 Savage and “So Good” featuring Kash Doll.
This radio silence is equal parts foreboding and promising. It could mean that Sean is gearing up for a splashy return, getting all his ducks in a row for a relentless promotional onslaught to make up for the year spent basically in hiding. That’s what Nicki Minaj did earlier this year, before dive-bombing her way back into the game with her two Queen singles, “Chun-Li” and “Barbie Tingz.” From there, she rapidly revved up the production engine, serving up a steady schedule of single releases until her return album dropped after a few hiccups along the way. However, Queen‘s reception was lukewarm, which can likely be at least partially chalked up to time spent out of the limelight as the increasingly frenetic pace of musical releases swept by, filling up fans’ plates by its August release date.
Consider the contrasting approach of Quality Control Records, which has made it a point to keep up a steady diet of releases from every artist on its roster. City Girls, Lil Baby, Migos, and even Lil Yachty have all dropped multiple projects this year, if you count Migos’ three solo albums along with Culture II. The belief that “more is more” follows the precedent long-established by New Orleans legend Lil Wayne, who flooded the market with so much material in his heyday that some commentators wondered if he was in danger of oversaturation. Of course, that oversaturation may ultimately have been what propelled the excitement for his own comeback album, Tha Carter V, which was as successful as his labelmate Nicki Minaj’s comeback was soured by her late-stage promotional strategy of beefing with Travis Scott’s baby.
Ultimately, there’s no telling what Big Sean will pop up with next or when, but one thing is for sure: His absence isn’t doing his fans any favors. He recently changed his profile pictures on social media to completely black backdrops, which could mean nothing, or could be the first sign that he’s making ready for a late-year release. The problem is, more people are talking about Ariana Grande’s magnanimous references to him on “Thank U, Next” than buzzing with excitement for a potential surprise release. Big Sean has a lot of hurdles in his way, from the continual content churn that has already buried some promising projects this year, to the political backlash caused by his label head, Kanye West. Wherever Big Sean is right now, let’s all hope that whatever he has planned next is big enough to beat the 2018 mainstream slump, because he’s the last big name left to give it a try.