Big Sean Brings Multi-Layered Performance to Billboard Hot 100

Big Sean came out swinging for his headlining set at the Billboard Hot 100 Festival tonight (Aug. 19) with "Moves" off his No. 1 album I Decided. And after "Paradise," he had set the tone: the Detroit MC was not going to sugar coat this set.

Sean's career has always had an ascendant arc, so it made sense for him to bring it to the main stage with his own material -- though he would save his biggest hits until the end. In a style that suited his generous reputation, he ran through a string of hits in which he took part, with a crowd-pleasing "Mercy" -- "make the ground move, that's an ass-quake" -- followed up by "Clique," two songs that ruled New York City summers half a decade ago. 

There's a certain innocence about Sean that makes him endearing, even when he's rapping his ass off, as he did often during his set; "Jump Out the Window" was delivered almost conversationally, while "My Last" was more forceful before it gave way to the more plaintive "Beware," a song which on record has nuances thanks to Jhene Aiko and Lil Wayne. Sean had no such backup here, but on a big stage he proved he didn't need it: after a near-decade of trying to establish himself, he's long since proved he belongs among the upper echelon of the current hierarchy. He's relatable in a way that endears him to many, with a rapping prowess that justifies his inclusion.

Another thing that Sean is great at: collaborations, as put forth when he performed the Calvin Harris-Katy Perry-Sean song "Feels," a radio hit that's still growing. And that was before he ran through fan favorites "All Me" and the Chief Keef cut "Don't Like," which Kanye and G.O.O.D. Music famously flipped to their own purposes after it became a hit.

But Sean, more than most of his contemporaries, is a bit of an enigma; he ventured into the plaintive, heartfelt "One Man Can Change the World" -- telling the crowd afterward that "Life is about taking risks...and taking chances" -- as well as "Blessings," one of the best songs he's ever done. But he also ended with two of his biggest hits, "IDFWU" and "Bounce Back," both of which belie a bitterness with which he's not often associated, and with good reason. 

Big Sean is an artist that contains multitudes -- whether people want to acknowledge it or not -- and he showcased many of those different sides of himself on the main stage. Whether he needs to pick a narrative or not is irrelevant to a point. The fact that he can encompass so many is much more important for now.

Billboard Hot 100 Fest 2017

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