Over the last decade, Mistah F.A.B.’s name has become synonymous with the Hyphy movement, and rightfully so. Carrying the torch lit by predecessors Mac Dre, Keak da Sneak and E-40, F.A.B. kept the fast-paced style of music going despite a decline in interest from people outside of the Bay Area. With his latest release I Found My Backpack, it looks as though that association, at least for the time being, will be put on hold.

Right from the outset, Mistah F.A.B. makes it clear on “Eulogy 2 Hyphy” that his decision is not out of lost love or backlash, but rather a new musical direction that will still feature the Bay’s best qualities. Feeling compelled to defend his actions, he explains, “I took losses, I never ran away / I’m still reppin’ hard till this very day / Hyphy poster boy, what you afraid to be / You afraid to be you, that’s why you afraid of me.” This same message can be heard on “Hip Hop,” where F.A.B. rapidly spits rhymes to prove that he’s a student of the art form first;

“My words are lyrical, analytical, unequivocal, never typical, kind of spiritual you hear em’ bro? / Sort of biblical, painting visuals, scientifical, cold and critical so here we go (here we go) / I bring miracles when people hear me flow and in a year or so, the whole world ‘fin to hear me blow / I open doors for the Oakland poor, gave a little hope for more.”

Mistah F.A.B. enlists close producers Poker Beats and Rob-E to handle nearly half of the album’s tracks, and they do a commendable job of allowing F.A.B. to channel his inner-rap star over fresh Hip Hop beats such as “My Environment” and “Get The Picture.” However, it’s his collaborations with crate-digging savants !llmind and Jake One that become the highlights. On the former record “Looking For Fame,” !llmind combines blistering drums with menacing keys as F.A.B. holds his ground in the streets. Then on “The Theme,” Mistah F.A.B. narrates a brutal set-up over swindled money and a woman while Jake One lays down solid drums and an eerie melodic line to guide the storyline. Without giving away the ending, let’s just say F.A.B. has his cake and eats it too.

Not all of the album’s cuts are as successful. Describing his hasty judgments on “I Don’t Give A Fuck,” Mistah F.A.B.’s rhymes also in turn become reckless (“You better be like them Jamaicans, and run pretty fast”). Rapping alongside Atlanta emcee Pill, Tha Bizness-produced “Go Harder” has a decent feel supported by throbbing drums. However, the duo’s decision to blend Showbiz & A.G.’s “Soul Clap” and Busta Rhymes’ “Pass the Courvoisier, Part II” into the hook is less than appealing.
As sad as it is to say, listeners may never have received this reinvigorated version of F.A.B. had he stuck to his Hyphy roots. I Found My Backpack sounds like nothing commonly expected from a mainstream Bay Area rapper, and yet Mistah F.A.B. wears the new look so well you’d think he had built his career on this kind of music. Whether or not he continues on this path with his much-delayed fourth studio album, Liberty Forever is uncertain. However, we can look to the old adage conceived by KRS-One and agree that no matter the artist’s location, popularity or style, a dope emcee is a dope emcee.