Kanye West has been building a dynasty as of late with his G.O.O.D. Music label. Besides the man himself, he has recruited the likes of Common, Mos Def, Pusha T, John Legend and No I.D. but now it’s time for the new blood to get some time in the spotlight as Big Sean releases his debut album, Finally Famous. After several delays and unplanned leaks, how does his debut fare?
To be honest, the first few times I listened to this album, I was very disappointed but not entirely surprised. The construction of the album is very formulaic to today’s major label releases. The beats are melodic and hip-pop sounding, many of the lyrics are half-rapped, half-sung, there are some good songs, many okay but forgettable songs, a couple of terrible songs, and just looking at the tracklist, you have the obligatory songs with big names singing the hooks to try to push some sales (John Legend, The Dream, Pharrell, Chris Brown).
However, after a few more listens, the songs began to grow on me and I realized that while it’s nothing spectacular or mind-blowing, this is actually a pretty decent album when compared to Big Sean‘s contemporaries. This is largely due to the production, of which eight of the twelve songs is handled by veteran producer No I.D. He’s been crafting amazing soundscapes for rappers to rhyme on for years and unlike many of his peers who have fallen off in the past decade, he continues to improve and develop his sound. Just listen to the stop and go drum pattern on “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and the soulful samples on the album’s closer “So Much More” compared to his work on Common‘s first three albums 15-20 years ago. It’s almost hard to believe it’s the same producer and even harder to believe that he’s not only still relevant so many years later but still making amazing beats.
I say the production is a large part of why this album is as good as it is because Big Sean is unfortunately a fairly generic rapper with little personality. He comes with witty lines now and then but he lacks focus and needs some quality control in his writing (which is rather surprising considering the talent he’s in the studio with). When a song has a particular topic such as trying to leave a girl on “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me”, reminiscing on his past on “Memories (Pt. 2)”, and reflecting on where he is now on “So Much More”, Big Sean really shines and delivers some nice reflective lyrics that shows who he is as a person.
However, when he is given free rein to rap about whatever he wants, he is too unfocused and not quite clever enough to make interesting songs. Take for example one of his lines on “I Do It” where he raps “she put that thong on my groin groin and then it go boing“. Yes he actually said that.
The album starts and ends very well but the middle of the album sags tremendously. The only Kanye West assisted song “Marvin and Chardonnay” features extremely boring lyrics from both rappers and includes a droning vocal noise (I can’t tell if it’s a warbled scratch or just an indiscriminate sound looped over) that is really annoying. It reminds me of when your baby cousin is playing with a squeaky toy while you’re trying to watch TV. It’s so constant and annoying that it really distracts you from enjoying the show/song but you can’t do anything about it.
The next song is “Dance (Ass)” and is easily the worst song on the album which features a sample of MC Hammer‘s “U Can’t Touch This”. The fact that apparently neither Big Sean nor the producers Da Internz thought that sampling the corniest hip hop song ever made would make an even cornier song astounds me.
While not necessarily bad, there are also a couple of collaborations that I was really looking forward to but didn’t really live up to my expectations. The first is “Wait For Me”, which features Lupe Fiasco and is co-produced by No I.D. and Exile. Now let me repeat that for those who are more into underground hip hop than commercial music. Lupe Fiasco over an Exile and No I.D. beat. That should be a nerdgasm collaboration for any hip hop fan and yet we get another relatively generic song with Lupe spitting an uninspired verse that sounds like a reject from Lasers. Again, it’s not necessarily a bad song but on paper, this should have been a classic collaboration. Still though, props to Exile for getting some mainstream shine that he so dearly deserves.
The other collaboration is the Neptunes produced “Get It (DT)”. Again, it’s not a terrible song but the problem with many Neptunes produced songs (especially with lesser known, up and coming artists) is that it becomes a Pharrell song featuring Big Sean instead of vice versa. That typical Neptunes sound and Pharrell‘s crooning always tends to overpower the star of the song and this song is no different.
The other collaborations are actually exactly as I expected. Wiz Khalifa and Chiddy Bang are featured on the smoked out “High” with Wiz delivering a better verse than anything he did on his own debut Rolling Papers. It’s a shame how rappers feel like they need to dumb down their lyrics on their own albums but then go and kill guest features, loosies and mixtapes but I digress.
All in all though, Finally Famous is a solid pop rap album that I think is actually better than most of Big Sean‘s contemporary peers’ debut albums. While he doesn’t have the wittiness or the lyrical ability of a top-tier rapper, the soulful production, catchy hooks and guest features all come together to make an enjoyable listen despite some rough patches in both lyrics and beats. As far as major label releases in 2011 go, this is actually a fairly impressive debut although it’s not a must-buy if you’re not already a fan of Big Sean. Hopefully, he continues to improve and focus his writing and releases an even better sophomore album.
Finally Famous was released on June 28th, 2011