hip hop music

May 10, 2003

Fabolous and Freeway Do Their Little Turn on the Catwalk

When I started on Christian Hoard's review of Fabolous and Freeway, I was afraid I might get a headache from struggling to parse his hipster gibberish, as often occurs when I read the Village Voice. But this one turned out to be kinda funny, and perceptive at times:

New Thugs on the Block

Next-Big-Thing Rappers Arrive With Wheeze, Breeze, and Cheese

Even though 8 Mile turned it into a heroic, Rocky-style archetype of urban odds-beating, battle rhyming (and the raw talent it assumes) is an oft overvalued part of rap-game success, especially among heads. Despite the attractiveness of summing up skillz so succinctly, it's easy to forget that most next-big-thing rappers arrive in your stereo with equal measures good luck and assistance from well-established backers, and also that first-rate rhymes often make for third-rate records. And whatever the case, most new thugs on the block will at least get a second shot, if only to ensure their label gets a return on its investment.

All of which is fairly obvious, I suppose, but which is thrown into sharp relief by Freeway and Fabolous, two comparably blessed rhymers whose newish records (Free's first, Fab's second) nonetheless end up miles apart. Freeway, an Amish-bearded Sunni Muslim with the obligatory dope-slinging background, signed with Roc-a-Fella after his old Philly buddy Beanie Sigel introduced him to a soon besmitten Jay-Z. (Hova was so confident in the upstart MC's flow that he wagered cold cash on Hot 97 that no one could match Freeway in battle. To date, no one's taken up the challenge.) Fabolous, who debuted two years ago with a terrific, loose-tongued single (the Nate Dogg-assisted "I Can't Deny It"), is a 23-year-old Brooklynite with fashion model good looks and a honeyed, Mase-slow flow. On both of their cameo-stuffed records, their distinct voices are subsumed in production as bouncy and r&b as it is pricey. But where Free's album works its way up to a lively, beat-wise sleekness, Fab's jiggles like week-old Jell-O while the platinum kid gets drunk on his own hype. (Speaking of production, really the deciding factor with both albums, I find the recent r&b-electro-synthy turn among big-name—especially East Coast—beatmakers a little disturbing. Realized most vividly on current albums by Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, and Snoop Dog, this boombapless music is sleekness for its own sake: a bling-bling equivalent of '80s studio slickness and unfeeling art-rock. Never mind that undie producers like El-P treat fun[k] like a big pile of anthrax; that's a trend that has yet to bubble up aboveground. But from the big boys, I do ask for a little meat and potatoes to go with all the caviar and Cristal. Maybe even some new James Brown samples...)

Wait a minute. Did he just say Fabolous has "fashion model good looks"?? I retract my earlier statement about the headache.

Posted by jsmooth995 at May 10, 2003 12:48 AM

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