Detroit’s own Big Sean was once Kanye West’s protégé and one of the hottest MC’s on the so-called freshman list. He was a guy who could take superficial rhymes and turn them into hits, a creative rapper who could do lowbrow and highbrow equally well. With the backing of G.O.O.D. Music, he was going to bring good hip hop back to the airwaves.
Well now, Sean’s debut, Finally Famous, is in stores and, lo and behold, it’s far from the classic many were expecting. Instead of arrogant, witty lyrics set over revolutionary, envelope-pushing beats à la last year’s collaboration, G.O.O.D. Fridays, most of the album is formulaically geared towards chart success, or recycled material from past mixtapes. None of it is exciting. Even less of it is original.
From the album’s intro track, we can tell we’re off to a bad start, as Sean spits a few bars about being, well, finally famous, over a repackaged version of an old mixtape beat. It’s something we’ll hear over and over again as the album grinds on, whether he’s “that Detroit player on top of the world” on the Dream-assisted “Live This Life” or “ended up on everybody guest list” on the Chris Brown-assisted first single, “My Last.” He’s incredibly famous and gets a lot of perks, just like all the other rappers who make it onto the charts. Commercialization, not originality, is what sells records and let’s face it, we can’t all be Kanye.
Still, Sean doesn’t seem to know what kind of pre-packaged label commodity he wants to be. On tracks like “My Last,” he’s a mediocre, if serviceable, ubiquitous pop artist. If he didn’t shout out the west side so much, nobody would know he wasn’t from, say, New York, or Chicago. On other tracks, such as the Roscoe Dash-assisted “Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay” and the bizarre, MC Hammer-sampling strip club anthem, “Dance (A$$),” Sean sounds more like he belongs on Brick Squad. On “Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay,” a hollow-sounding snare and cloying synth strings evoke memories of Waka Flocka Flame’s “No Hands.” Honestly, Roscoe Dash, who sounds exactly the same here as he did there, doesn’t help.
Sean is at his best when he’s introspective. He tells the story of his rise on “Wait for Me,” produced by No I.D., which emulates vintage, soul-sampling College Dropout-era Kanye. Here, Sean spits from the heart, about the long road to success, a girlfriend who left him behind and a friend serving 10 years in prison. Similarly, on “Memories (Part II)” Sean deals with themes of tragedy and loss, rapping about a friend’s pill addiction and how he’s “not trying to rock no shirts that say ‘in memory.’ ” But even here, Sean can’t avoid that feeling of been there, done that. Part twos in hip-hop, such as Mobb Deep’s famous “Shook Ones (Part II),” usually include new verses and a reworked beat. And though the beat is different and the song features labelmate John Legend on the hook, Sean recycles his verses verbatim.
Glimpses of wit shine through the album’s overly poppy veneer. Parts of promotional single “I Do It” are creatively lowbrow, including references to Family Guy and Captain Planet. Album closer “So Much More” is an entertaining nod to Kanye’s “Last Call” from College Dropout, as Sean sends a two-minute shoutout to his city, his past and his family. Still, judging by Finally Famous’s lack of creativity and general absence of vision, it seems that Sean’s best days are far behind him.