The debate regarding the plight of NYC rap is tired. Yeah, I said it. It’s tired and sad and reeking of self-pity. The spirit of native New Yorkers has always been — ‘Never say die.’ Five boroughs full of arrogant, hard-headed fast talkers who’d rather fight to the death than admit vulnerability.
Brooklyn MC Fabolous is with it and he should be, after all, he’s persevered through pretty much every significant phase of NY hip-hop.
Here’s some background: When he was still Fabolous Sport and DJ Clue was dropping mixtapes incessantly, the rap community was trying to see who would be their new go-to guy. In 1998, Tupac’s murder was still fresh, Biggie’s murder was fresher still and Jay Z was respected but only to a certain extent, that is, until Volume 2 dropped. For everyone outside of the city — with this being Jay’s breakout LP — they had, with that one album, given him the rap crown.
Five years later, after having plugged away on any mixtape he could get on, dropping sharp one-liners and witty punchlines, Fab dropped his first studio album Ghetto Fabolous. That was back in 2001 — somehow between then and now, the BK rapper has managed to stay in the loop.
But, anyone in hip-hop journalism worth their weight, knows that although he’s great on tapes, poor Fab can’t make a consistently thorough album to save his life. A few bangin’ ass joints? Yes. But not through and through, track after track. Nah. Not Fab.
He struck out on a new path in 2011, releasing the first installment of his Soul Tape series — proving to be a step in the right direction for NY rap which had become increasingly monotonous and frustrating for the fans as well as the artists trying to catch that Southern wave.
A few weeks ago, Fab dropped his third Soul Tape and not only has it proven to be one of his best projects to date but, dare I say, it’s one of the best projects out of NYC in quite some time. Which isn’t to say that it’s a “classic” hands down, but Fabolous had the right idea with this one.
ST3 ought to encourage inspiration for New York rap to move forward rather than continue remixing the formula that’s made other regions successful.
Here’s the thing, ahem, bad ass rappers patterning their music after what’s worked in the past isn’t necessarily the worst idea. But dreamy nostalgia certainly doesn’t push progression or growth.
On ST3, the man known for his “chick tracks,” collaborates with a couple lesser-known producers and borrows from the past. “Playa” pulls a loop from Big’s comedic turn on 1997’s “Playa Hater,” weaving the age-old tale of what happens when you start feeling yourself too much, inviting the drama. That’s always a good fallback story.
Then on “The Getback” Fab shows off a bit, flaunting the opening lines of Jay’s classic “Dead Presidents” as if they’ve always been his own. The track features Fab in his best light, strapping all five boroughs to his back as he responds (finally!) to Kendrick Lamar and Trinidad James in regard to their recent “slights” directed at the scene in New York City.
The production is solid and Fabolous talks real-life instances on ST3 from “Situationships” to “Sacrifices” and of course, everyone’s first-listen favorite “Cuffin’ Season.” He may not be as sharp as his younger self on every line [“Straight up I ain’t never been a slouch, nigga/And your wifey just hit me/Ouch nigga…” (c) “You Know”], but Soul Tape 3 still shows a hell of a lot more effort than what the youngins are coming up with. But then, maybe that’s it. Hip-hop is in its second generation, just now learning how to grow up.
About Nadine Graham:
Graham is an accomplished freelance writer with credits in XXL, Upscale, Billboard and HiphopDX. Her own venture, Madfreshdaily.com is a new blog on the rise that focuses on everything new and fresh in the world of hip-hop. Next up for her, The Fresh Connect. Connect with her online @madfreshdaily