Big Sean: Fall Of Fame

There are many things to value within Sean's second official full-length, but when considering the expectation that found him after such a promising debut, Hall of Fame might be the most successful sophomore slump ever.

Big Sean
Title: Hall of Fame
Label: Def Jam
US Release Date: 2013-08-27
UK Release Date: 2013-08-27

As far as Big Sean should be concerned, Kendrick Lamar picked a hell of a time to get pissed off. It wasn't too long ago that "Control" dropped like a nuclear bomb and imploded each end of the Internet's social media universe. Nobody could even comprehend the balls it took to go after Every Important Rapper the genre has seen, sure, but the minute Lamar name-dropped his collaborator among his list of casualties...whoa, there.

The song doesn't appear on Big Sean's latest official full-length effort, Hall of Fame, but there's something about the sentiment of both Lamar's verse and the LP in question that says it should. Floating in a world over-saturated with hip-hop cliches, it's not that the Detroit rapper doesn't set himself apart from the rest of the genre's newest, youngest and best MCs with these 15 tracks (18 for you deluxe edition fans), it's just that he doesn't set himself apart enough. For a guy who once sounded so hungry to rhyme his way out of the Motor City, essentially stalking Kanye West in order to land his spot among the industry's in-crowd, he may have been best served had he taken down a note or two from Lamar's School of Conflict and opted for a more bombastic approach toward crafting his second record.

It's odd, too, considering how adamant Sean was to steer clear of label boundaries and stay true to himself as an artist while compiling this set (or, at least so he said in walk-up interviews). Granted, there's a lot here to be celebrated -- the tracks as a whole are decidedly less hook-y than one may expect and there are moments the rapper offers that are on par with some of his best appearances in recent memory -- but there's still something inherently lacking from the whole thing's aftertaste. 

The collaborations, for one, are hit and miss. "First Chain", with Nas and Kid Cudi -- along with the Miguel duet "Ashley" -- are standouts, the former working best because of Nas's increasingly aggressive flow and Cudi's never-failing seamlessness that makes him as intriguing an artist as any the young crew features today. "Ashley", in addition to being another can't-miss appearance on Miguel's laughingly impressive resume, allows the rapper to spread out his tender tropes in a good way -- there's no denying that Sean is at his best whenever he doesn't fall into the lazy stereotypes on which so many hip-hop artists tend to lean these days, and here, not only is his flow substantial, but it's also lasting.

But those don't make up for the should-be bullseyes that end up barely sticking to the board. The Nicki Minaj and Juicy J collab "Milf" is a waste of a golden opportunity if only for how show-stopping the female MC has proven she can be in guest stints (you still can't find a better 2010 verse in all of rap than her breathtaking appearance on West's "Monster"). Here, however, the same magic is not to be, considering how the minimalist beat is barely enough to carry a memorable hook, let alone the addition of a fairly pedestrian effort from Sean himself. Ditto for the deluxe-only "Mula Remix", where the nearly-six minute track shouts its way to the finish line about two-and-a-half minutes too late.

Still -- and even with the missteps fully in mind -- you can't deny the raw talent that 'Ye clearly saw in the Detroit native. Album-opener "Nothing Is Stopping You" is ripe with honesty and a biography begging to be made into a movie. Recalling that fateful day he made his way down to the radio station at which West was appearing, Sean splices in audio of the G.O.O.D. Music head singing his praises all the while tipping his hat to karma, allowing a would-be star to spit a verse or two to him. The tale might feel a little too obnoxious in a lesser rapper's hands, though Sean instantly wins any listener over with his proposed humility. "All Figured Out" then reaches for introspection and while it may come up just a tiny bit short, it earns the rapper points for levity.

Yet it's that precise potential that makes other parts of the set so frustrating. "You Don't Know" and "Mona Lisa" lean on the type of predictable rants that can't help themselves from always finding their way into hip-hop's lexicon: women and weed. That's OK, of course -- such is to be expected from most everybody these days now that even someone as straight-laced as Common broaches the subjects every now and then -- but the turn makes each track boring and somewhat of a let down when placed next to most of the others. 

"I woke up working like I'm Mexican/That mean I work from 10 to 10/Then 10 to 10, then 10 again/Nightmares of losing everything boost my adrenaline," Big Sean relays on "10 2 10", a decidedly dark track aided by No I.D.'s clear-cut ominous touch. In a way, that hook can sum up the entire collection. Why? Because the best parts of Hall of Fame come when that adage is indicative of how hungry the guy still is all these months after breaking through with 2011's Finally Famous, yet the worst parts appear when that adage is indicative of how tired such an ethic might inevitably make him feel. 

If anything, this set proves that not even the biggest of rappers are immune to some of the tinniest discrepancies from which hip-hop culture can sometimes suffer. Two official studio-albums into his career and Sean hasn't made himself a lock to be enshrined anywhere. But Hall of Fame, in addition to its many virtues and limited flaws, makes the case for the possibility that he may someday at least be on the ballot. 


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.