The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Big Sean
Hall Of Fame Mof Gimmers , September 12th, 2013 12:40

There's always been something off-kilter about hip hop stemming from Detroit. As weird and wonderful as the city that birthed them, acts have built up independent crews, separate from the rest of America. Esham started an empire, opening a door for Insane Clown Posse's own peculiar path, along with Royce Da 5'9", Obie Trice, Slum Village and more, neither East nor West. Rising to the top, saw some of hip hop's most fascinating and enduring stars. In Eminem, a self-confessional style, with bravado and sarcasm creaking under the weight of pain and personal issues. With J Dilla, The D gave the world the ultimate crate digger genius, taken away in his prime through an illness that unfairly crippled his family, leaving Dilla devotees evangelical in their support.

While Marshal Mathers is still screeching his way around the circuit, Detroit's other prominent sons are the brilliantly oddball Danny Brown (for the uninitiated, imagine Ol' Dirty and Kat Williams' illegitimate child) and trap's first pop-star, Big Sean.

After a promising debut LP and stealing the show on Kanye's 'G.O.O.D. Music', 2013 was all set to be a huge year for Sean. With hip hop being in the healthiest state it's been in since the mid-90s, Big Sean faced serious and stiff competition. Kendrick Lamar became the first trap artist to get wooed by the rock press, while A$AP Rocky provided the muscle with A$AP Ferg, providing two masterpieces of the genre. The OFWGKTA reached new audiences while Drake further carved his niche of oddly emotional hip hop.

Sean had a lot to prove.

Most importantly, the thing hanging over Big Sean's LP was something he helped into the world himself. In the 'leaked' track, 'Control', Sean and Jay Electronica found themselves completely overshadowed by Kendrick, who threw the gauntlet down to the rest of hip hop, including Big Sean himself.

Kendrick, respectfully and with eye-surgery precision, buried the rest of hip hop and told them to bring their A-Game. You had to admire Big Sean for being big enough to release the track without rewriting his bars and allowing Lamar to shake everything up. Sure, it was great PR for the new LP – Hall Of Fame – but it would surely bring more scrutiny to his work? Would he be able to match the challenge he helped into the world?

From the off, the album isn't the firing-on-all-cylinders record that, say, Trap Lord is, but judging from Sean's debut LP, it was never going to be. Here we find more of the same, with Sean's vocals switching from likeable to thoughtful with a hooky, synthy musical backdrop – it's catchy as hell.

With his hometown of Detroit in such disarray, it is natural that this would colour the LP. There's a very positive message of 'making it', squarely aimed at his community. Sean's crew is used extensively as a symbol of hope for the city and, of course, Sean wants to drag everyone with him whether that's likely or not (hip hop has always played the aspirational card, while making very few, very rich).

Alongside that, it goes without saying that Sean is also in competition with his peers to see who can self-aggrandise the most. With Nas, Kanye and Kendrick around, it is a tricky job to crow hardest. Sadly, for the most part, Sean doesn't fuse self-aggrandisement with soul-searching like Yeezy does, which is something he's clearly aiming for.

Lyrically, we find a record that starts off saying 'Nothing Is Stopping You' before taking various trips through affirmation and hope… however, it ends up "all about the moolah" and getting "guap." When Sean isn't wringing his hands about the state of America, he's basically just trying to get his dick sucked.

That's most explicit in the 'Freaky'/'MILF' twofer, which kicks off with a sample that rivals the Beastie's "…dick in the mashed potato" in terms of fall down funny crassness, before charging headlong into a bawdy track about having sex with your mum, starring Juicy J and Nicki Minaj. Basically, between the three of them, they make a rap equivalent of a Carry On film.

And through "trying to get a threesome" and talking about girlfriends who "by now she woulda sent a text in all CAPS, then another one tryna take it all back", Sean is clearly mindful, nostalgic of what it's like to be a young buck trying to make sense of a life where they sit around dreaming about having money and sex, while juggling the mundane. If Brian Wilson spoke for loners in 'In My Room', then Big Sean often finds himself talking directly to ordinary kids who feel trapped by their teens, this close to being legal enough for drink and getting busy. It might seem like a strange comparison, but Sean is too mindful to be likened to someone like Ludacris who near made a career out of getting high and chasing women.

Like Wilson, Big Sean is clearly obsessive with sound; instead of pocket symphonies, HOF sees a an equally rich and woozy tapestry through the backbeat, but instead, synthesised, still with that edge of comedown. In 'Fire', we find the natural successor to Yeezy's panoramic 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy', while 'You Don't Know', 'Sierra Leone' and 'First Chain' are rich, layered pieces that are miles away from the stark minimalism of much of Sean's contemporaries. Fact is, while this artist is at pains to tell you he's a 'real G', he's in fact a proper pop star.

With that, a few purists will find this album too melodic and maybe a little soft and critics will invariably mark it badly against what they deem more credible albums, but rest assured, 'Hall Of Fame's charisma is unquestionably going to send Big Sean into the stratosphere.

The supporting cast is stellar too – the aforementioned Juicy J and Minaj, alongside Nas, Kid Cudi, Miguel, Jhene Aiko, Young Jeezy, Common, 2Chainz, Meek Mill and Lil Wayne. Sadly, there was no room for Detroit's other hot property and Sean's 'Finally Famous' cohort Sayitaintone, but if Sean is serious about repping Detroit, there's time yet.

Sure, there's inevitably some dodgy guest spots on the horizon for this bright young rapper, but he's setting himself up for the long game and, like other Detroit rappers, he'll no doubt have an eye on setting up a stable, pushing others into his spotlight. This might just be the birth of rap's newest superstar.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.