When Big Sean came out as the new guy on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label releasing his studio debut, Finally Famous, he was welcomed with the natural fanfare that comes almost automatically after gaining the significant endorsement of one of hip hop’s greatest heavyweights. More than that, the debut had enough substance to create itching anticipation for the sophomore album. Like Finally Famous, Hall Of Fame is heavily produced by Chicago producer No I.D. providing for fresh, state of the art beats, but cliches have their day here pulling things down a little. When Sean is festive, he parties very heartily, but when he is reflective and inspirational, he takes paths already heavily traveled providing motivational anecdotes used many times before and triggering traditional knee jerk emotional reactions in ways that have been commonly used by artists in the past.
The skill and proficiency of rapping are all here, but Big Sean is more interested in telling the listener what he means to say. His laid back flow with clever, line ending rhymes are simply a vehicle he uses to bring us to his party, or to his lecture (when he tells a story or details his approach to life). In fact nothing says “lecture” or “approach to life” like the title of the album’s first track, “Nothing Is Stopping You,” a song of Sean rapping about his life story and how it brought him to his present success featuring a very clever few lines of raps from an aspiring rapper spitting for Sean during a run-in on the street. The following track “Fire” could pass as a sequel to the first song but with a more friendly, feel good beat. Sean is obviously speaking on his success and wealth, but more importantly he is speaking on it in relation to his past as a poor young man in Detroit, Michigan. On many tracks he reminisces about his old life without money as if he’s having a hard time adjusting to fame.
Supposedly Sean uses the high life as a medication for (or a maker of) his inner quarrels. Sometimes he raps about the fancy meals and whatever else comes with riches, but most of the time he covers the confusing, mixed up, new world result, especially regarding his relationships with women. On “First Chain,” featuring Nas, he raps about his first gold chain necklace. “Milf” is a particularly naughty jam about Sean’s controversial fascination with the mature mothers whom he likes. The album lacks some direction with regard to categorized subject matter. He switches back and forth between sad nostalgia, women, money, the confused life, and lessons learned so often that any given song on the album discusses several topics never seeming to pin down any one as the most important. Everything culminates in the close of the last track “All Figured Out” where Sean gives a didactic speech about more lessons learned.
No I.D. and the other producers for the album lend sounds equal to or greater than the strength of Sean’s wordplay. Listeners will be reminded of Common’s The Dreamer/The Believer album listening to the beats on Hall Of Fame, especially since No I.D. had such a pivotal role on both LPs. The backdrop to the lyrics is thus magical and new age like with thumping drums stamping hip hop’s mark of authenticity on the project. Despite the album’s shortcomings, Big Sean is still a witty emcee, and Hall Of Fame has beats and lyrics that will intrigue through the coming years.