Once, rappers were rappers and singers were singers, but Auto-Tune changed all that, and the fallout goes far beyond aesthetics. On his long-awaited debut, Finally Famous—the outcome of three mix-tapes and nearly a year of delays—Kanye West protégé Big Sean seems caught between two worlds. On “Live This Life,” he’s that “Detroit player on top of the world” and “on top of your girls,” giggling about fame while R&B star The-Dream coos “multimillionaire” in the background. But on “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” Sean’s doing the singing, begging a girl not to use the L-word for fear it’ll reduce him to a spineless wimp, unable to show her the door.
His waffling throughout Finally Famous is even evident in the guest appearances: bad boy Chris Brown for the booze-and-booty ode “My Last,” and nice guy John Legend for the sober, major-chord-swathed “Memories (Part II).” Complexity is a hallmark of any good artist, but Sean seems distracted by clichéd ideas of identity. That point is driven home by the album’s best moments, which invariably find the talented emcee getting positively weird over loopy, off-kilter beats. On the burbling No I.D. production “I Do It” and the bizarre MC Hammer-sampling “Dance (A$$),” he’s freewheeling, fast-footed, and full of swagger. Which is to say, if Big Sean keeps it up, when he finally is famous, it could be as a next-generation Big Boi instead of yet another iteration of Drake.