CD Reviews

Finally Famous, Random Axe and 4

Indie-Gone-Major-Label Hip-Hop

Big Sean Finally Famous Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music

It’s been a long time coming for Detroit MC Big Sean. Since signing to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint in 2007, Sean has built a following with his Finally Famous mixtape series. But now Sean has a chance to become legitimately famous with his major-label debut of the same name. He has always been known as an excellent mixtape rapper, but a full album of material is an entirely different challenge. Fortunately, Sean proves ready with radio-friendly songs such as “My Last” and “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.” He also appeases his backpacker crowd with the punchy “My House” and alongside fellow rhyme slinger Lupe Fiasco on the No I.D.-produced “Wait For Me.” Filler moments, such as extremely poppy “Live This Life” and the lazy Neptunes-produced “Get It,” weigh the album down. But ultimately Sean impresses and can remove the “finally” from the album’s title. ★★★☆☆

Detroit-Meets-New York Gutter-Rap

Random Axe Random Axe Duck Down

For those who like their hip-hop straight with no pop overtures or radio chasers, Black Milk, Guilty Simpson and Sean Price were thinking of you when they united to become Random Axe. The trio, which formed in 2009 after Detroit’s Milk and Simpson collaborated with Brooklyn’s Price for the song “Run,” has the perfect prescription for hardcore hip-hop heads seeking a tasty morsel in today’s disposable-music era. With Black Milk holding down the production duties, Random Axe runs rampant with head-snapping beats and potent rhymes. The sparse cymbal-and-drum arrangement of “Understand This” allows you to hear Price and Simpson loud and clear as they bless the beat with shit-talking. “Monster Babies” sounds fit for a hip-hop version of the OK Corral as the trio unloads their verbal six-shooters on the track. Ultimately, Random Axe delivers no-frills hip-hop, and its self-titled debut will have you hoping for more. ★★★☆☆

Ultra Pop R&B

Beyoncé 4 Columbia

Geez, it seems like Beyoncé is never out of the spotlight, doesn’t it? Hard to believe that it’s been three years since “Single Ladies” gyrated across radio airwaves. But Jay-Z’s wife returns with 4 and is determined to solidify her place among the most elite singers of all time. Dominated by ballads and mid-tempo grooves, 4 won’t win her new fans but certainly won’t lose any, either. She launches the album with the power ballad “1+1,” where she wrings every last drop out of The Dream’s latest concoction. However, her up-tempo pop sensibilities are uneven: The Andre 3000 and Kanye West-assisted “Party” excels, but the force-fed single “Run the World (Girls)” fails as the Major Lazer sample falls flat despite radio’s seemingly endless spins of the song. Nonetheless, Beyoncé is keenly aware of her audience and what its musical needs are, and manages to distance herself from her peers. 4 is nothing groundbreaking, but it serves her core audience, which will ride with her until the wheels fall off her career.  ★★☆☆☆

Suggested Next Read

Go Pub Yourself


Go Pub Yourself

Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan write the celebrity-skewering website Go Fug Yourself, which regularly makes me snort aloud, especially when they transcribe imaginary conversations with Karl Lagerfeld (to Claudia Schiffer, while holding an oblong statuette: “You look like a frail wedding cake sneezed on by an eagle, and this dildo bores me. TANGO.”). So when I heard they had written a young adult novel (Spoiled, Poppy, $18), even though I’m almost two decades beyond the target age range, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.