Sporadically fun, but this set doesn’t paint its maker as a long-term talent.
Mike Diver 2011-12-05
Detroit-raised rapper Big Sean – a whopping 5’8", physically – has followed a path well travelled to this debut studio collection proper. Potential exhibited on previous mixtapes, encapsulated by the track Getcha Some, has been refined at the expense of some bite. This smoothing of aspects unpalatable to mainstream tastes is an action frequently taken in translating blog buzz into radio hits – and, taking Drake as an example, it can lead to significant successes. Sure, a few early adopters get dropped; but a few million fill, and swell, the spaces.
But Sean’s soft touches are so slight that they leave zero impression. Wait for Me, featuring Lupe Fiasco, is sugar-sweet fluff easily forgotten before it has really started. The same can be said of My Last, which finds Chris Brown carrying an understated rap from Sean into the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 – it’s the worst kind of crossover writing by numbers, a blandly hummable hit. When a little attitude does surface, it’s not always convincing: "Motherf*** your friends / All them h**s hating" he spits with a thimble of venom on Don’t Tell Me You Love Me, but the narrative’s bruised-heart/hung-over-head intersect is a Drake motif that missed the Thank Me Later cut. And the bouncy braggadocio of I Do It is more amusing than intimidating: never is the line "My dick is hard as titanium" not going to have the listener ROFL-ing.
It’s when Sean embraces an inner ridiculousness that he shines. He delivers a sublime slice of nonsense with Dance (A$$). It repeats the word "ass" about a thousand times; its rhythm is pure Cool Kids – slow, steady, clarity paramount over showy flow; and it samples MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This. What’s not to like? That it sounds like a leftover from the Turquoise Jeep LP just adds to its appeal. With depressing inevitability a remix features the bountiful backside of gob-for-hire Nicki Minaj; but in original form it’s a cut that should sit beside Pharaohe Monch’s similarly silly Simon Says in the pantheon of impossibly dumb/irresistibly brilliant pop-rap moments. Elsewhere, executive producer Kanye West drops one of the set’s finer guest rhymes on Marvin & Chardonnay – and makes a little extra on the side with the track sampling his own song, Amazing. Yeezy vibes abound on further efforts: the Ellie Goulding-sampling High, for example, feels a little like Flashing Lights.
Finally Famous is sporadically fun but adds nothing to the ongoing evolution of hip hop, in the mainstream down. Its maker will have to display greater individuality on his next LP, or be branded as ironically small fry in rap’s grand scheme.