Two years after the release of studio debut Finally Famous, Big Sean has unleashed his long-awaited sophomore full-length, Hall of Fame.
His first project since December 2012’s Detroit, the 15-track set comes on the heels of featured singles “Beware” and “Fire.” Throughout the album, Sean collaborates with a wide variety of guests, among them Jhené Aiko, Juicy J, Kid CuDi, Lil Wayne, Nas, Nicki Minaj and Young Jeezy. Production comes courtesy of DJ Camper, DJ Mano, Key Wane, Mike Dean, No I.D., Rob Kilenski, Young Chop and many more notable beatsmiths....Read the full album review
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Debut albums don’t really mean much. All it takes is one hit single, a perfect storm of marketing, and boom, you’ve blown up. Quick, what do Black Rob, Mike Jones (who?) and Vanilla Ice all have in common? They all went platinum with their debut efforts. The real test is the sophomore album, that’s where the artists are separated from the hitmakers, where rappers go from being hot to having careers. Don’t forget, most people thought Eminem was still just a gimmick after Slim Shady; it was Marshall Mathers that showed he was going to be a superstar for years. And while Jay’s Reasonable Doubt may be considered an undisputed classic now, that’s largely in hindsight; at the time of its release it couldn’t even crack the Top 20. It was really In My Lifetime Vol. 1 that established him as a star and launched the Hova dynasty.
The first album is the introduction, the second album is the proving ground. So what does Big Sean’s Hall of Fame prove? When Finally Famous dropped it cemented Big Sean’s place in the game; he was no longer the rookie waiting on the sidelines for a shot, he was in the game for the foreseeable future. The only question was how high he could ascend. In addition to Finally Famous, a string of guest features, most notably the lead on Clique, and a mixtape, Detroit, that ten years ago would have been an album have only heightened his status. (Dare I mention Control?) And no one names their album Hall of Fame unless they’re seriously thinking about how hip-hop history will remember them. Big Sean knows this album will help determine whether he’s truly considered part of hip-hop’s elite; but he doesn’t quite make it.
Let’s backtrack a bit. First and foremost, Hall of Fame is a better album than Finally Famous. Overall, Sean is just a better emcee on Hall of Fame, and perhaps more importantly he’s a better songwriter. As easy as it would have been to do 14 different versions of Ass and My Last, instead Sean has plunged deeper into the idea of the album as a unified whole, starting with Nothing Is Stopping You, an earnest, narrative-driven but sometimes clichéd attempt at inspiration. Still, the message is clear; Big Sean’s a man of the people. If he did it, so can you, and just in case you didn’t get the message, his mom closes out the track. (Shades of Lonnie “Pops” Lynn on Common’s albums.) And that’s far from the lone “deep” track on Hall of Fame. First Chain finds Sean holding his own next to Nas, and a prancing Kid Cudi, while All Figured Out tackles the darkside of fame. Oh god, could the man’s raps really have some substance? They could.
I have to give Sean credit for putting in the work to be considered a serious emcee, but here’s the thing; that’s just not his strength. It’s partially his voice – on some level it’s just hard to take Big Sean too seriously, he’s got that anti-DMX nasaly delivery – and partially just his innate sense of humor. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities to 10 2 10, but from the first “I woke up working like I’m Mexican” I was in. And then there’s the stretch that starts with the threesome obsessed Mona Lisa, transitions into an almost frighteningly hilarious Freaky, and then closes with the purely entertaining MILF, also featuring a verse from Nicki Minaj that’s both kind of gross and, in context, one of the best guest verses she’s done in a minute. Throw in the album’s closers, Guap, Mula (Remix) and Switch Up, and you’ve got fifteen straight minutes of the kind of punchline-centric rap that first earned Sean attention.
So yes, in theory I like that Sean’s rapping about a relationship that goes deeper than twerking like on Ashley and World Ablaze, and that he’s addressing Detroit’s collapse on First Chain, those are certainly the tracks his fans will point to as proof of his excellence. But honestly, I’d rather just hear him do what he does best on Switch Up. Big Sean’s acting career is like Will Ferrell’s acting career; as anyone who’s seen Stranger Than Fiction knows the man can seriously act. But come on, we all just want to watch Ferrell do Anchorman, right? And what’s wrong with that? Making people laugh, helping people have fun, can be as valuable as making them ponder the world’s troubles. Two studio albums (and multiple mixtapes) into his career, Big Sean is a known commodity: a charismatic, agile rapper good enough to have a long and successful career, but right now a place in rap’s Hall of Fame is still a stretch. That sophomore album can show us so much.
Listen to More: Big Sean Written by Nathan S.
G.O.O.D./Island Def Jam
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