Big Sean is an unlikely success story. Before “My Last” became a hit and signature slang such as “swerve” stormed the mainstream, Sean Anderson was just another nameless rapper trying to get in where he could fit in. Not exactly an imposing specimen, but equipped with a Detroit ego and pride instilled by players, artists and hustlers before him, Sean impressed Kanye West in a fateful impromptu performance outside a Detroit radio station. With a spot on the G.O.O.D Music roster secured, Def Jam, the label that signed him to a deal, wisely contracted former Nas A&R to develop the young rapper. The resulting product was Finally Famous, the solid, if not spectacular, 2011 debut that spawned a fair share of hit singles (“Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay,” “Dance”). To date, 10 million Big Sean tracks have been sold, making him a veritable superstar.
But Hall of Fame, his new album, doesn’t live up to the billing. The fame went to Sean’s head a bit too much, and the LP is rife with lackluster production and lyrics.
In a nutshell, Hall of Fame is an uneven effort from an emerging star. Among the few gems found here is “First Chain,” an ode to first piece of jewelry, an obligatory rapper accessory. Veteran producer and Def Jam A&R executive No I.D. provides the floating piano instrumental as Nas and Kid Cudi offer their take on virgin bling. The retrospective theme fits Sean and his cohort well; so does the Young Jeezy feature on the anthemic “It’s Time.” The album starts to falter with filler tracks such as the crass “MILF” and muted “Ashley,” despite appearances from usually animated Nicki Minaj and Juicy J on the former and Miguel on the latter.
Although the Key Wane-produced “Beware” with Jhene Aiko and Lil Wayne is actually a decent song, Sean’s cadence and the instrumental itself are too relaxed to leave a lasting impression. The Detroit native’s voice and delivery, while deliberate and on pace, don’t excite. The album does close out on a strong note with “All Figured Out,” a heartfelt No I.D.-produced ditty that prompts Sean to painstakingly detail the struggles and triumphs of various family members, friends and associates – as well as his own.
Despite several bright moments, Hall of Fame falls well short of greatness. Sean would have been better off releasing the Detroit freebie mixtape to retail. Instead, after showing moments of brilliance on such standouts as the posse cut “Clique” from G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer, he falls victim to the proverbial sophomore slump. If B.I.G. Sean were indeed up for a vote to enter rap’s Hall of Fame, he wouldn’t muster enough – not with this body of work.