Big Sean, "Dark Sky Paradise" (G.O.O.D./Def Jam)
Big Sean clings to vowels like a race car driver to turns — tenaciously and mind-numbingly. He has always been a technical rapper but rarely a fun one, managing to squeeze the thrill out of his pyrotechnics, sometimes cramming so many words into phrases that he sounds nervous. In the past year, he has made real strides toward lucidity, and on this, his third and best album, he is more human than ever before.
Of course, much of this comes in the wake of Drake, who has made emotional terrain safe for others, and to whom this version of Big Sean feels indebted. That's clear from the songs "I Know" and the surprisingly vulnerable "Win Some, Lose Some."
At his best, Big Sean is a flexible rapper. Lately, though, what Big Sean's been known as is a great boyfriend — first with "Glee" actress Naya Rivera and now with pop-R&B siren Ariana Grande.
So it's only natural that on this album, he unifies the two sides of his personality — his love for vowels and his love for love — on "Play No Games." It's great that his heart is overflowing, but so are his verses.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times
Kid Rock, "First Kiss" (Warner Bros.)
Even Kid Rock didn't like his last album, 2012's "Rebel Soul." "That was a bad album," he told Rolling Stone. "I didn't spend enough time on it. So this one is more pressure." But he didn't fix the problem. "First Kiss" may be even lazier, showcasing what may be the laziest lyrics on a major-label release this year.
Let's take "Johnny Cash," a song he dedicates to the marriage of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. "I like to watch you shoot your guns," he sings. "And I like the way you love having fun." Other things he likes: the way you turn me on, the way you shake it, the way you hold my hand, how you don't give a damn.
There are other problems. The title track takes more than a little inspiration from Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69," in sound and in theme. On "Good Times, Cheap Wine," Kid Rock takes shots at Coldplay and Coachella, while proudly proclaiming his disinterest in social media.
Although the music, mostly provided by Band of Heathens, is generally good, it gets lost in Kid Rock's ridiculous rhymes. He's at his worst in "Ain't Enough Whiskey," worrying about gun control, calling lawmakers "monkeys in suits" and dissing President Obama: "Ain't enough change to change my mind." His solution? More "whiskey, women and wine," plus moonshine and cocaine.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday