The biggest part of Big Sean‘s rise over the past year has been the unwavering support of his fans. While he’s signed to a major label (Def Jam) and one of the brightest stars on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint, it was those fans mobbing him at the Adidas store in New York and superstar supporters like Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj hopping on his debut album, Finally Famous, that propelled Sean to #9 on MTV News’ Hottest MCs in the Game VII — his first appearance on the list.
Big Sean hit the scene out of Detroit’s west side as Kanye’s newest protégé with 2007′s Finally Famous: The Mixtape. For the next three years, he would release two more volumes in the Finally Famous mixtape series — UKNOWBIGSEAN and BIG — and make the coveted XXL Freshmen cover , all the while promising his debut album was coming soon.
That album, however, seemed like it would never see the light of day. Even when Def Jam gave Sean a September 14, 2010, release date, they eventually pushed it back fearing the album wouldn’t perform.
“This is an artist who kind of had to fight with his label to get this album out,” MTV News producer Steven Roberts said during our Hottest MCs roundtable debate. “I think it was a great thing that as soon as he put out this album, they saw that there was a fanbase there.”
The Detroit MC’s buzz is very real. He steadily built a huge following that transcended the average Web sensation. He also met the other Hottest criteria by clocking impressive sales numbers, having a sustainable impact on the streets, displaying unique style and spitting some pretty impressive lyrics. Then, of course, there are the intangibles. Sean was able to go into places like Atlanta (a city filled with eccentric rap talent like Travis Porter and Roscoe Dash) and the image-conscious Los Angeles and find out what works for them and make it fit him. He was also able to tag along with another famous fan of his, Wiz Khalifa , to tap into the Pittsburgh MC’s sizable Taylor Gang following.
And while Kanye West was in the midst of the creative streak of three lifetimes, Sean’s sound further evolved alongside producer No I.D. The two worked together closely on Finally Famous, with I.D.’s tried-and-true formula oddly complementing Sean’s ever-changing, still-maturing flow.
“Sean did an amazing thing being on G.O.O.D. Music. How do you shine next to Kanye West who takes all the attention?” MTV News’ senior hip-hop writer Rob Markman questioned, citing Yeezy’s reclusive nature throughout the year. “We haven’t seen Kanye West out there like that, and Sean was out there, so arguably maybe he shines brighter throughout the duration of the year than Kanye West.”
With Finally Famous, Sean was able to score four hit records with the viral “I Do It,” the Breezy-laced “My Last,” a #1 song with ‘Ye in “Marvin & Chardonnay” and the percolating ode to the Detroit house scene, the “Dance (A$$)” remix with Nicki Minaj. These tracks could easily be dismissed as products of the label machine, but all of these people — from West to Brown — are fans of Big Sean Don and what he does. They were recruited by Sean or personally reached out to him to collaborate.
It was truly a Cinderella story. “He was like the underdog that made it to the finals,” MTV News hip-hop director Rahman Dukes pointed out. “He really did his thing.”
But nothing is locked on the Hottest MCs in the Game debate — stick with MTV News all week to find out who winds up in the top 10!
Tune in to MTV2 on Sunday, February 19, at 10 p.m. ET/PT to catch “MTV2 Presents: Yo! MTV Raps Classic Cuts,” then watch “Hottest MCs in the Game VII” immediately after at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT before capping the night off with “Sucker Free Certified” at 11 p.m. ET/PT.