Live: Big Sean Tears Down (And Tears Up At) Irving Plaza
Tuesday, June 21
Better than: Being trampled at the Adidas store.
Two weeks ago, Kanye West hopped onstage at the listening party for Big Sean's Finally Famous and told an industry crowd that "what Beyoncé is to R&B, Big Sean can be to hip-hop." It was a bold statement from a man who lacks an indoor voice, a headliner writing headlines.
Truth be told, Big Sean is no Beyoncé, and probably never will be; that comparison is like putting a ball-peen hammer next to a wrecking ball and calling them both oranges. Sean is shy, reluctant, confused by the attention; he's closer to being the Drake of hip-hop. If anything, Kanye is akin to Beyoncé.
And on top of that, it's easy to get Big Sean and Kanye confused. Everything's a bit derivative: his clothing, his album artwork, his persistence. Hell, Sean's introductory get-up last night was a big red jacket with thin gold chains, the same as Ye's "Runaway" VMA performanceit was like Sean was playing dress-up, holding up a hairbrush and dancing in the mirror.
That's not to say that Big Sean is not charming or capable of putting together great music. He definitely is! He's his own artist, though his art may be shaped in Kanye's mold, baked in Kanye's kiln, and awaiting Kanye's critique. His current song/trending topic, "Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay," is the most intriguing and addictive club banger in a long time, a rumbling number with bed-squeaks in the left ear, an unromantic call to romance. (Then again, Kanye produced and is featured on the song.)
And thanks to a series of his mixtapes that act as the soundtrack to many teens' lives, Big Sean has built up a huge network of his own fans, many of whom stood in two lines that stretched both ways around the block before last night's free show. It kind of felt like we were the squishy dolls of Toy Story's Pizza Planet, awaiting the claw. "I've been here since 9 a.m.!" a girl screamed. The gates didn't budge for her, nor for the scores of kids in Big Sean tees. VIPs clamored and jostled, complaining that they were being made to wait like "normal" people. (The cynical might say that the crowd came less for the name on the marquee and more for the price at the box office, but that's not the case. Everyone around me knew every word to his every song, underground tracks all. He could've given away a microphone with any of the tickets.)
Last night was Big Sean's greatest opportunity to differentiate himself from Kanye, to show that his voice is more than just Kanye's ringtone set on vibrate. For much of it he succeeded. His musicupbeat, unrelentinglacks the range of Mr. West, but he did get emotional during "Memories," choking up and turning his back to the UStream camera just inches away. And Big Sean may dress like Kanye, but they don't move the same way. Whereas the bossman will occasionally spin and ostrich-dive his head downward, Sean is more rapid-fire, juking his shoulders and ratcheting his elbows and dipping his hips back. He's got legs like Flintstone car-pedals and arms like nunchucks. Most hilariously, his neck snaps up and down; he's a Pez dispenser in a snakeskin cap.