In a rather impressive moment of self-awareness, rapper Big Sean rhymes on the track “So Much More”, “Standing next to Common Sense and Yeezy.” Here, the Detroit upstart firmly highlights his self-perceived place in the rap world as between the decadence of his mentor/G.O.O.D. Music boss Kanye West and the socially relevant rhyme styles of, say, a Lupe Fiasco. What ends up happening over the course of his debut album Finally Famous, though, is just that and, as the song goes, so much more.
At his most decadent, Big Sean comes off as a sort of lovable caricature of a lot of the tendencies and habits of modern mainstream rappers. There’s something inherently hokey about “I Do It”, especially with lines like, “I’m Quagmire, I fuck hoes/My cashflow I giggity-giggity it/Boy, I’m cock-a-mania/The most zaniest, insaniant.” Yet the delivery by Big Sean, manic, almost cartoon-ish in nature, and the beat, this bizarro bump that feels like the best-worst parts of old horror movie soundtracks cut together, work to make it vibrant and appealing, even if it feels overdone.
Turning it down a couple notches, “Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay”, is probably going to be the biggest track of the LP. And rightfully so: it’s just as animated sonically, but the chorus in particular, which hits a vein between West’s production style and that of Dirty South MCs like Waka Flocka Flame, add a new sheen to the chaos. Plus, having Yeezy to take some of the heat off how batshit Big Sean’s rhymes are always helps (West should be happily ashamed of “This the fucking anthem. Get it? This is the FUCKING anthem. HA.”) Still, Big Sean finds a moment of clarity amidst the madness with “Celebrity”. Once more demonstrating a level of self-awareness, the old soul sample that’s been blissfully mutilated (yet another trademark of West) is a great backdrop for Big Sean’s thoughts on his rise to fame and the finicky nature of the music-listening public. That understanding only further informs and adds context to his decision to cut tracks like “I Do It” and “Marvin and Chardonnay”: Get ‘em while you’re hot, any way possible.
Even with the bangin’ examples offered above, no West mentee would have a complete career with at least the most minimal experimentation with depth and being socially conscious. Of all West’s protégées, though, Big Sean may be the most interesting and sincere with his emotional displays. Utilizing rap and R&B’s go-to-guy for sappy sentimental odes, John Legend’s soulful vocals and ivory tickling facilitate Big Sean’s flow about lost friends and future fears on “Memories”. The lamentation fest continues in the slightly stronger “Wait For Me”. Stressing the dangers of the road and calling for his girl to wait on him, Big Sean emerges as honest as ever, seeing the impact being gone can have on his love life and yet refusing to give up the excesses of life as a rap star.
But through all the serious sentiments, the record finds another kind of balance in “100 Keys”. Here, the sensibility gets a healthy dose of decadence heaped on. In the thick, bass-heavy track, Pusha T and Rick Ross play a kind of devil’s advocate, provoking Big Sean’s more thuggish qualities as a sort of morality play for what’s wrong in the game, but what’s still oh so right. With these last few tracks being some of the better efforts on the record, one still has to wonder if they were Big Sean’s doing or if he was just the proud recipient of the talent of others.
Calling your first album Finally Famous, regardless of how many previous mixtapes and current stars you collaborate with, does come off a little on the cocky side. However, that’s just Sean being Sean. With an album that highlights the lowlights and vice-versa of being an MC, Big Sean has crafted an effort that makes room for himself on the rap spectrum. Whether that’s temporary or the start of an established star has yet to be seen. Finally famous? Well, famous enough.