Unless you happen to catch LeBron James displaying his piece before a pre-game shoot around, there aren’t too many diamond-encrusted Roc-A-Fella chains to be seen these days. Add in the barbs from former CEO Damon Dash and Kanye West‘s emergence as a bona fide superstar, and it becomes clear that the house ‘Hov built is far from the dynasty it once was. Although he lacked the crossover appeal of West and Cam’ron [click to read], Freeway used two Def Jam albums to prove himself a surprisingly talented artist on a roster filled with platinum-selling peers. With likely a fraction of his former budget, “Freezer” returns on Real Talk Records. Lacking both the big name features and producers of his first two albums, Philadelphia Freeway 2 is a sequel in name only.
Much like the previous profession he so often rhymes about, Freeway knows both his limitations and how to stretch a buck. On tracks like “Heads Up,” he displays a more versatile flow and sounds like he’s having plenty of fun. And as far as uptempo material goes, the Ice Cube [click to read] inspired, “It’s A Good Day” is clearly one of the album’s highlights. Clocking in at around 45 minutes, Free keeps it short, which is good since he’s got a high-pitched voice and his subject matter is primarily limited to the drug game and its associated spoils and pitfalls. Of course, if you’re a fan of Freeway, this is not a problem, as he rhymes about the trappings of trapping virtually better than anyone not named Malice or Pusha T.
The mix of futuristic synth and traditional East Coast kick, snare, hi-hat combos of Just Blaze and Needlz are gone. Producers Hollis and Vince V. do their best to recapture this, and they do a superior job at times. One of Free‘s staples has always been balancing these type of tracks with the occasional club offering (“Flipside,” “Roc-A-Fella Billionaires”) and slower songs which both pay homage to Philadelphia Soul staples like Gamble and Huff while showcasing a rare vulnerability. Unfortunately, Free‘s new boardsmen lack the versatility to give him a backdrop such as “Victim of the Ghetto” or even last album’s “Baby Don’t Do It.”
Despite this flaw, Freeway still offers the type of detail that is arguably too raw and self-deprecating to be fiction. Much like his mentor Jay-Z, he has consistently shown an ability to highlight the drawbacks associated with hustling. An exchange with an strung-out uncle on “Crack Rap” produces one of those moments that is shocking, cringe-inducing and funny all at once, as Free rhymes, “He like I’m not trying to lecture you / but we family I need the hookup / I’m like man you messin’ your life up / he like I can’t help it I’m addicted to the cookup / it’s fucked up / if I don’t get it from you / then I’ma get it from the next motherfucker with the hook up.” The verse hardly rhymes, but who cares? This is the kind of brutal honesty that your average Bentley-renting rapper posing as a former drug dealer wouldn’t dare go near.
As long as emcees can turn a profit by rapping about turning five into eight, Freeway‘s raw emotion and underrated delivery will make him a favorite of (t)rap fans from every region. With what one can assume was a shoestring budget, Freeway wills his album to above average status but not much more. Newcomers would be better served dropping $12 on Philadelphia Freeway or Free At Last [click to read] for a proper introduction to the last member of the original Roc-A-Fella camp.