Fat Boy Fresh Vol. 1 has been dubbed by Rapper Big Pooh‘s reps as his “full-length debut,” but Little Brother heads know what’s up. The ironically-titled Sleepers – released in 2005 – showed that Pooh’s strong, emotive mic presence and to-the-point rhymes can ably hold up a solo album, especially when he’s utilizing soulful backdrops by Khrysis and 9th Wonder. His 2009 solo shot Delightful Bars wasn’t received as positively though. Pooh’s blunt rhyme style has been a perfect compliment to Phonte’s dexterous, multisyllabic rhymes and 9th wonder’s soulful production in their trio Little Brother, but that’s the past. Fat Boy Fresh Vol. 1 is Pooh’s first project outside of his famed Hall of Justus collective. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feature enough of what made him such a valuable contribution to his crew.

On the opening song “Zone Out,” Pooh makes his thoughts on naysayers clear. “So what I ain’t the best by your best standards, still living my life just how I planned it/still rough around the edges, fuck it why sand it,” he announces over infectious thuds. At its best, this confident, self-aware demeanor allows Pooh to bare his soul without reservations. “Let It Be” plays like a farewell to the rap game, as Pooh and Chaundon rhyme about committing time to loved ones after the industry hasn’t reciprocated their dedication. “State of the Union” shows Pooh passionately venting about capitalistic educational system, racism, and youth being lead astray by drugs and sex. “Wooden Wall Silverware” is enjoyable, with Pooh’s food references and shout-outs to respected collaborators, while “Zone Out” and “Get It In” both slide by with Pooh spitting rhymes that are just as energetic as the production he employs.

Ultimately, Rapper Big Pooh is a better role player than he is as the primary scorer with the game on his shoulders. Aside from a few instances, Pooh is most effective when spitting focused rhymes about a purpose. When he doesn’t have a specific topic, his lyrical deficiencies stand out like a sore thumb, and the comical charisma of Little Brother’s standout tracks is tough to identify. The melodic instrumental and emotive Carlitta Durand chorus of “Freebasin” are soiled by Pooh’s disjointed rhymes, as he switches topics before he gets into a groove. It’s very telling that only five of the album’s 13 songs don’t see Pooh sharing verses with other emcees, and on the various posse tracks that litter the album (“Special,” “Fortune and Fame,” “Access”), Pooh gets lost in the shuffle with the production taking the front seat and emcees like Glasses Malone and Joe Scudda clocking too much playing time. Most of the guest appearances on the album don’t add much to the songs, as their verses don’t demand repeated listens. Even the album-ending “Rapperpoohalude” showcases a great closing verse by Pooh, but features Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul rhyming afterward, despite the song being titled after his namesake.

Despite enjoyable production and a few glimpses of greatness, Fat Boy Fresh Vol. 1 disappoints with its inconsistency, and a lack of memorable verses from both Pooh and his guests. Hopefully on Vol. 2, Pooh can revisit projects like Sleepers and come with a “debut” that showcases his strengths.