Big Sean, Big Sean – what comes to mind when you think of Big Sean? For plenty across the country, quite frankly, the answer is nothing at all. His debut on G.O.O.D. Music, Finally Famous, is dropping with little to no fanfare, quietly releasing to stores. To be fair, the record has its fair share of potential sleeper hits and a club banger, but compared to Drake and labelmate Kid Cudi, Sean doesn’t seem to be getting much of a shot. The possible reasons for this are numerous.
If you ask the MC himself, you’ve got Aubrey Graham to thank. He’s relaxed recently, but Sean used to heave around quite a bit of hostility towards the Young Money star: the way he sees it, Drake stoles his style and ran with it, simply hitting the charts first. There’s no way of truly “knowing” who took what from whom, if Drake listened to Sean early enough to jack his swag, and so on. That said, it doesn’t seem unreasonable, considering Sean’s earlier display of it, that Drake could have made a meal from his cookbook.
Whatever way you look at it, this doesn’t say much for Big Sean. Claiming you birthed Drake’s style in 2011 is about as cool as claiming you cultivated the West Nile virus, and as hopeless as trying to point out Lady GaGa as Madonna reincarnate. Drake’s followers, both fans and detractors, have already set themselves to loving and hating, and Big Sean is only an afterthought. Is that unfair? Quite possibly, and yet, here we are.
Detroit’s the type of city that’s known for the harsh, insightful rhymes of Royce da 5’9”, Guilty Simpson and Elzhi (and, yes, Eminem, we know), making Big Sean a strange offshoot. Whether he’s an evolution or abomination, the city still seems unsure, and its presence on this album is noticeably reduced, compared to his series of mixtapes. Alright, alright, so Big Sean’s a polarizing figure, what about the actual music?
So far as debuts go, ironically enough, Finally Famous is Thank Me Later’s natural cousin. Hip hop heads are never going to be overly comfortable with the likes of Drake and Sean, but they both showed, at the least, some measure of self on their mixtape material, both sacrificing it out of concern for the mainstream. All signs of growth are forfeit in an attempt to mimic the simple appeal of the material that got him here, right down to the title of the album; another installment in the Famous series, simply with The Album tacked on.
Like margarine, it’s not terrible; it’s just the bland, bastard child of better material. Single “I Do It” has a catchy enough beat – in fact, this album’s No I.D. executive producer credit is by far its strongest asset – and Sean pulls his typical smarmily obnoxious flow, more chit chat than rapping. It’s just not particularly memorable. One has to wonder if label boss Mr. West considered Sean’s buzz past, as he only drops in for a sleepy guest verse on “Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay,” which is probably the album’s best chance for a chart topper. There’s something to be said for the trend of pop-rap records: there’s nothing wrong with a good time. However, purists seem to be turning, with increasing intensity, against the party anthem. What many seem to fail to remember is the prominence of the summer-time song throughout hip hop’s history. Did we forget that it all started because kids wanted to dance and didn’t want to pay for the disco?
The problem is, rappers seem afraid to do one simple thing: have a bit of fun themselves. With alarming frequency, hollowed-out shells are being released, without an ounce of joy behind them; simply calculated sales efforts on the part of a label executive manipulating some poor performer just wanting their debut to see the light of day. The one time Sean stops to enjoy the process a bit himself, on the Chiddy Bang-helmed “High,” he succeeds with flying colors. The jam is catchy, danceable, and generally blissful, instantly lightening the mood of any listener; a tongue-in-cheek Sean shooting off lines like, “I’m in the buildin’ like two planes, bitch.” The New Yorkers it’ll enrage aside, for a moment, Big Sean makes it look easy. It’s too bad he seems to have had such a hard time with everything else.