On Tuesday, Freeway invited HipHopDX to his Philadelphia studio. In a secluded, third floor mixing suite, Free and his artist Hollywood were preparing to head to New York, moments after speaking with DX. The conversation took place a week before Freeway releases what he considers to be his third album, and his first independent project.
The Stimulus Package pairs the Philadelphia raspy voiced emcee with veteran Seattle producer Jake One. The duo has been working together for nearly three years, and split the geographic difference by finding a label home in Minneapolis’ Rhymesayers Entertainment. After his two prior releases came in burgundy Def Jam jackets, Freeway reflected to DX about the benefits of working with the label owned by Slug, Ant and Brent “Siddiq” Sayers.
“Over at Def Jam, you know they had a lot of artists. I wasn’t a main focus,” Philly Freezer admitted. “I definitely had a good fan-base and everything – I’m a gold [selling] artist and everything, but I never went platinum, and there’s a lot of [Def Jam artists] that go platinum. [The label] tends to cater to them.” Joining a team responsible for releases from Atmosphere, Brother Ali and MF DOOM, Free notes contrast that suits him. “Over at [Rhymesayers Entertainment], it’s different. I’m hands-on with the project and they’re hands on with me. As you see, my phone keeps ringing, we’re working, it just feels better. It feels like we’re earning the right to put the album out and do good.”
The decade-deep veteran was also asked about his proudest verse from a catalog that includes hundreds of songs. With a chuckle and a beard scratch, Freeway pointed to his 2003 hit single “What We Do.” Elaborating, Free said, “It’s so real. Everybody loves that record. I can’t do a performance without doing that record. People go nuts, like ‘Yo, you can’t leave without doing [that]'”
After a quarter that exposed turmoils within the Roc-A-Fella Records fallout, Freeway took it a step further to share his proudest moment with the two Rap icons he’s most often associated with. “Plus, how it came together was [unforgettable]. I was in Baseline Studios, we was workin’,” Free continued. “When we used to be workin’ up there, Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel, everybody would be in different rooms doing different things. Jay was in the front room playing pool. When I was naming my verse, I was like ‘Damn, it’d be a good idea if I could get Jay to say the “keep goin'”,’ ’cause at first I was gonna say it. I went and got him. He did it in the booth, and then just sat there listening to [my] verse.”
According to Freeway, after hearing the angst-ridden verse from the State Property underboss, Jay-Z was unable to leave the Just Blaze session. “Ten minutes later, Jay’s like, ‘Yo, I got you, for real.’ He went in the booth and did the verse.” The final vocal component came together 48 hours later. “Beans heard about it. Two days later, he came up and put his verse on there. It was crazy. The chemistry was there.”
With Just Blaze producing 10 of Philadelphia Freeway‘s 16 songs, Freeway drew parallels to his recent work with Jake One. “I miss working with Just. I never have had a chemistry with a producer, since Just, that [is like] the chemistry that I have right now with Jake One. Me and Bink! have a nice chemistry, but I haven’t had a chemistry with a producer since Just.”
That discussion led to Freeway being asked about last week’s closing of the famed studio where Freeway and Just made hits together. “To tell you the truth, I just found out about [Baseline Studios closing]. I’m about to do an interview, and that wanted me to do it at a place that was memorable to me in New York. I thought of Baseline. I was just on the phone with the label, and they told me that Baseline’s shut down.” “I got a lot of good memories from Baseline. That’s where I recorded the whole [Philadelphia Freeway]. That’s where we did Juelz Santana’s first album [From Me To U]. Jay-Z would be in one room, Dipset would be in another room. State Property in another room, but we’d all be doing something together. The vibe was there.”
Wearing a black Philadelphia 76ers flat-brimmed cap, Freeway’s sports opinion was requested, regarding Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Donovan McNabb’s future in the green uniform. With a hearty laugh, Free deduced, “I don’t know, man. Part of me wants to say yeah. Part of me wants to say, ‘It’s time for change,’ like Obama. Donovan’s cool, but he gotta get on his shit. Know what I’m sayin’? He’s gotta play that role that he’s supposed to play.”