No Sophomore Slump for Big Sean
Big Sean⎪ Hall of Fame ⎪ Def Jam⎪⎪ US Release Date: August 27, 2013
Big Sean has one of the better rap voices in the game. That isn’t saying his lyrics necessarily rank among the top (he go stupid y’all), but if there were an ideal voice, Sean Anderson definitely possesses it. As a fan of his first album, Finally Famous (2011), I was interested to see if the sophomore effect would undo Sean, who has been one of the hotter collaborative artists in recent times. The answer is a resounding no, as it is arguable that at least portions of Hall of Fame are even more intriguing that the rapper’s debut, which was stacked with hits like “I Do It”, “My Last”, “Dance (A$$)”, and personal favorite “Marvin and Chardonnay”. Sure some of the more sexually-driven material lacks depth, but more often than not, Hall of Fame is quite alluring.
On opener “Nothing Is Stopping”, Sean reflects on the growth of his career, whether it was rapping for Kanye West or just the scope of his come-up financially (“Just to think, last night I was in Venice hugging b*****s / thanking God almighty, condoms was invented…”) Yeah better stop there, but basically, Sean has became ‘something’ from ‘nothing’. After the hookless, though brilliant opener, Sean keeps on truckin’ with “Fire” which sho’ nuff is fiery. Big Sean isn’t always the most prolific MC, but he delivers the goods here, particularly clever lyrics “Coming from Detroit where everybody say ‘whaddup though’? Horror movie sh*t, cause everybody there cut throat / watch who you hustle with you might not get a cut though / even though you deserved a commission plus mo’” Can you say fire? Furthermore the production work – amazingness!
“10 2 10” doesn’t let up, even if Sean infuses some dumbness, even if he is being serious. “I woke up working like I’m Mexican / that mean I work from 10 to 10 / then 10 to 10, then 10 again / Nightmares of losing everything boost my adrenaline…” There it is. Filled with better than expected punch lines, Sean ‘rocks out’ over NO I.D.’s superb production. Then comes “Toyota Music”, where Sean is clever, simple, and sort of oddball-ish. “I got money coming through / drugs and women coming too / got my family living comfortable / got me thinking I’m doing what I’m supposed to do…”, he offers on the second verse. At times spacey, “Toyota Music” matches the numerous drugs/references to drugs which Sean speaks of. On “You Don’t Know”, an uncredited Ellie Goulding provides vocals, serving as an interesting collaborative pairing. Sean continues to do his thing, though “You Don’t Know” isn’t necessary the ‘elite’ of Hall of Fame.
“Beware” continues to shine, being a promo single for the set. The main rub with “Beware” is it lacks the commercial punch that Sean’s previous hits have had. That doesn’t make it a dud as it is the opposite; it’s a good song overall. “When you said it was over, you shot right through my heart / why you let these hoes tear what we had right apart / ooh I was so mad, I should’ve seen this coming right from the start / you should beware, beware, beware of a woman with a broken heart.” Real talk on the hook right? Jhené Aiko assists on the hook while Lil Wayne brings some ‘Weeziness’ onto the third verse.
“First Chain” may be a bit indulgent as the trend of rapping about Jesus pieces and excessive jewelry has been overdone, but with some of the effort’s strongest production and generally solid rhymes from Sean, Nas, and Kid Cudi (who also provides his signature humming), “First Chain” is a personal favorite. Yeah maybe the hook is nothing innovative, but you can’t deny the memorability of Sean’s third verse: “I don’t remember my first love or my first time prayin’ / but remember my first a$$ and the first time she…it almost felt as good as when I got my first chain…”
Then there’s “Mona Lisa”, which leads the ‘freak show’ portion of Hall of Fame. Among the most absurd yet notable lyrics? “I believe in God and rubbers / even if we sex / you are not my lover / hit you on the couch and not the covers / if you bring your friend then we got to f**k her…” Well, at least Sean makes it clear he’s into hooking up, not a real relationship. “Freaky” is an interlude, and definitely not for the more conservative crowd. Then again, neither is the electrifying “MILF”, which is what it is. As raw as Big Sean goes, factor in Nicki Minaj who leaves little to the imagination and of course the trippy Juicy J (“Yo mama a great head doctor, with no PhD…”). Again, it is what it is and with a title like “MILF”, you know what you are getting yourself into.
“Sierra Leone” sports lush production work and some more erotic lines from Sean, which I’ll leave to your imagination. It’s enjoyable, not the best. “It’s Time” (featuring Jeezy and Payroll) and “World Ablaze” (featuring James Fauntleroy) are similarly consistent and enjoyable, without being ‘first round draft picks’ per se. Penultimate gem “Ashley” is awesome, featuring a soulful vocal hook courtesy of lover man extraordinaire Miguel, and honest rhymes from the MC about his mistakes towards his ex (“Sorry when you put your faith in me I was unfaithful, disgraceful, distasteful / yeah I know you’re not supposed to have cake and eat too…”). Ultimately, Sean conveys that he truly screwed up a great thing. He closes with “All Figured Out”, but compared to “Ashley”, Sean’s just going through the motions.
All-in-all, Hall of Fame is easily one of 2013’s better rap efforts. It’s not perfect, and some of the end cuts lack the same punch as the elite earlier cuts, but for the most part, Sean does his thang. Sure he could tone down his inner freak (like a lot), but Big Sean suffers no drop off from album one.