expectations. His 2003 debut Philadelphia
Freeway, anchored by memorable records like the Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel-featured
What We Do, garnered critic and fan love
for its spellbinding production and Free's
energetic, screechy rhymes. Years later, even though his storied Roc-A-Fella label has lost the thunder
it had in its heyday, debatable classics from franchise players Jay and Kanye West have raised the bar for subsequent releases. Forging a
new relationship with 50 Cent, Free At Last features executive
production from both 50 and Jay, two moguls with established track
records. Freeway, a Muslim, has also visited the Mecca
since his last disc, and has been quoted as saying that his decision to rap
directly conflicts with his religious beliefs. And with the leaked selection It's Over raising buzz with Free's admittance of zilch beats from Just Blaze and Kanye (who, together, produced 12 of Philadelphia Freeway's 16 tracks), he better know what he's doing. Fortunately, Freeway's sophomore effort answers everything in spades.
Four years after his debut, fans will be pleased to hear
that Freeway hasn't left his Roc roots. While Just and Kanye are
notably absent, their replacements shoulder the load surprisingly well.
Long-time Roc contributors Bink and Chad "Wes" Hamilton keep the dynasty's trademark sound intact, lacing
Freeway with harmonious,
sample-driven soundscapes. When They
Remember features Bink utilizing
a stellar drum set, consistent wails and sparse horns, while the slept-on Hamilton blesses Free
and a reinvigorated Scarface with
the musically-rich Baby Don't Do It.
The incredible opener This Can't Be Real
features Marsha Ambrosius crooning
the refrain and a soulful backdrop that employs melodic keys and flutes from
no-name Karma Productions. All that Jay and Free's side-by-side flossing on Roc-A-Fella
Billionaires is missing is the Dame
Dash Disco Dance (© Shake).
Though someone needs to explain to me why Free
keeps saying "Roc-A-Fella millionaires" in the chorus. Check the title homie.
More interesting Free
At Last is the clear influence from its other executive producer. Though
the 50-featured Take It To The Top disappoints with an overly-light J.R. Rotem beat that clashes with Free's voice, the rest of the seemingly
obvious 50 contributions work well. Spit That Shit features pounding keys
from Dangerous LLC (Disco Inferno) that sound straight from G-Unit's Beg For Mercy, and Freeway
adjusts his gangsta accordingly. Nuttin
On Me does similarly, with frenetic clanks by frequent Unit beatsmith Needlez.
A highlight is Walk With Me, on which
Don Cannon drops venomous pianos to
back tough bars from Free, Busta Rhymes and new Roc-A-Fella signee Jadakiss. 50's ear for
"aggressive content" serves Free At Last
well, contributing harder material that not only stands well on its own, but
works as an operative contrast to the soulful sound that fills the rest of the
Though the exceptional outside contributions make it easy
to do so, overlooking Freeway's own
performance would be criminal. His freewheeling, high-octane flow continues to
contribute as much musicality as his producers' beats, but on tracks like Walk With Me, he displays the ability to
tighten or toughen it when necessary. Free's
ability to effortlessly transition between the wide range of his producers'
beats is commendable, and his hardcore and introspective bars are equally
Armed with sharpened lyricism, precise technique and a
capable army around him, Freeway
makes Free At Last one of the better
albums you'll hear this year, particularly on the major level. Furthermore, he
joins Roc-A-Fella big homies Jay and Kanye with standout albums in '07. What is that they say? The Roc is in the building...