Big Sean is in a different zone. Just a few years ago, Sean was working his way up to becoming the ambassador for his city with a number of mixtapes that caught fire, namely 2010’s Finally Famous Vol 3: Big and 2012′s Detroit. In a successful attempt at finding a larger audience, Sean’s delivered plenty of potential crossover tracks such as “High Rise,” “Memories” and “Mula.” While those became huge records for his Internet fanbase, the confident MC stepped it up on his debut Finally Famous, which included some of his strongest songs and biggest hits like “Marvin & Chardonnay” (featuring Kanye West and Roscoe Dash) and “Dance (A$$)”. Fast-forward to his second LP and the former XXL Freshman is at a space where he’s not only famous but comfortable in his own skin. Despite the numerous false starts for a release date, Hall Of Fame has finally arrived and it’s well worth the wait.
Most would say the Def Jam signee dug himself a hole by letting go of “Control,” which was a cut that didn’t make the final version of the album. Kendrick’s verse got such a big reaction that Sean’s then buzzing single “Beware” was overshadowed and the hype for the album simmered down a bit. In spite of that, Sean took everything in stride, apparently confident that the album would speak for itself. This time around, he’s ventured into writing more conceptual songs, each tackling an issue or personal topic bolstered by moments of honesty and a sharp eye for detail.
The album’s intro “Nothing Is Stopping You,” produced by Key Wane, tells Sean’s familiar story of how his dreams came into fruition: “What’s up, Finally Famous/I had it on my jacket way back in high school.” On other areas of the album, his ability to detail his work ethic with vigor is both entertaining and inspiring, especially on the thumping “10 2 10.” Later on “First Chain” he reflects on his own place in the lineage of hip-hop with some assistance from Nas and Kid Cudi, sharing memories of his climb to the top and explaining why it’s essential to rock the gold to prove you made it. “I be stuntin’/ Stuntin’ like I got my first chain,” Sean raps. “B.I.G. was the first one that had it/ Then I saw Nas’ chain, man, that was ‘Illmatic’/ Then, I saw Kanye’s hanging from his gold necklace/ Then ‘Ye gave me mine, I’ll show you my work ethic.”
Like many of his heroes, Big Sean isn’t afraid to aim for mass appeal. His quest to offer a balanced and eclectic album works here because of his consistently strong choices for collaborators. There are nods to EDM and R&B, but his guests don’t sound out of place. Ellie Goulding assists on “You Don’t Know,” which crafts a story about a rapper chasing a girl of his desires. Sean also rekindles his chemistry with the ratchet team of Nicki Minaj and Juicy J, who both appear on “M.I.L.F.,” and he cooks up a heartfelt number with James Fauntleroy on “World Ablaze.” Then Key Wane once again provides a triumphant and energetic backdrop for his ode to the D on “It’s Time.” Specifically, this track stands out because of Young Jeezy—who is known to have a huge amount of respect in Sean’s hometown—and newcomer Payroll, who both come correct with straight bars.
Hall Of Fame moves along at a steady pace for the most part, but there are instances where Sean can’t quite find the proper footing. There’s no question that Sean’s style works well on solo tracks, utilizing his elastic flow and quotable rhymes to his advantage, but at certain points it gets tough to digest on tracks like “Mona Lisa” or the smoked-out “Toyota Music.” Even these minor shortcomings don’t supersede the fact that the album is filled with radio-friendly cuts (“Fire”) and compelling storytelling (“Ashley”). Ultimately, Big Sean is a charismatic rapper who is more than ready to carry the G.O.O.D. Music torch full-speed ahead. “Coming from a city where bullets turns bro’s into souls/Who knew from that concrete that a rose had arose,” he proclaims on “First Chain.” Finally famous over everything.—Eric Diep (@E_Diep)