Like his so-called "New School" cohorts—B.o.B, Kid Cudi, and so on—Big Sean is part envelope-pusher, part throwback to an early-90s golden era when rap sub-genres were less compartmentalized. The 23-year-old Detroit MC may be the most old-school of his peers, with a quick flow, nasal voice, and penchant for sharp wordplay and pun-laden boasts. He's released several strong mixtapes since 2007, when he signed with Kanye West, whose mentor, NO ID, produced half the tracks on this debut, a sonically unified, occasionally impressive, but generally mediocre album.
There's only one terrible song on Finally Famous, the cookie-cutter Neptunes track "Get It," but very few memorable ones. The party jam "Dance (A$$)," with its schizophrenic, MC Hammer-sampling production, stands out immediately, but it's not Sean at his best. "Marvin & Chardonnay" is another highlight thanks to Swizz Beatz-style squeaks and a well-used trumpet sample. Lead single "My Last" would kill if not for the Chris Brown chorus—that people continue to pay him for hooks is baffling. A more successful cameo comes from John Legend over dramatic strings on "Memories (Part II)," where Sean raps to double-time handclaps: "Everywhere I go I get a group of hugs/that's what happens when they need connections and you the plug." Late boosts from soul-tinged anthem "So Much More" and bleak drug narrative "100 Keys" can't keep the album from sounding over-produced and haphazardly rapped. Sean's Finally Famous, and suddenly it's unclear why he deserved to be in the first place.