Label: GOOD Music, Def Jam

After Big Sean's work on the G.O.O.D. Music album Cruel Summer, his second solo release, Hall of Fame, came as a total surprise. Sean's verses on "Mercy" and "Clique" were boastful, braggadocios, and full of cocksure swagger, like a high school athlete in the locker room talking shit with all the other jocks.

But Hall of Fame sounds like it could have been done by another rapper. Instead of cute ad-libs like "Oh God" and "Swerve," he tells us stories about his girlfriend's mother whose cancer spreads from her breast to her spine, and about finding a way to tell her everything is going to be all right. He rhymes about riding around Detroit in a Toyota with six other dudes, looking for trouble or fun or just a way out of town. He rhymes about his first chain, and brings Nas and Cudi along for the ride.

Yes, there are songs about threesomes and about being a rap star, but mostly there is honesty and even fleeting moments of vulnerability if not humility. It's fitting that he and Kendrick had that moment on "Control," because Hall of Fame clearly owes some sort of debt to good kid, m.A.A.d. city. K-Dot opened up a space for rap to do that, or at least reminded folks of the sorts of things Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth used to do with the art form. Before hearing Hall of Fame, the title sounded pretentious. After hearing it, it's clear that Sean is ready to earn his place. —Rob Kenner