Odds are if you've been whipping down the commercial roads of the East for a while now, you've travelled down Philadelphia's Freeway. His name is as synonymous with Roc-A-Fella Records as Beanie Sigel, Jay-Z and Memphis Bleek - and that's saying something when the rest are all established hip-hop veterans. He's been making a name for himself ever since appearing on Jigga's "1-900-Hustler":
"First things first, watch what you say out your mouth
when you talkin on the phone to hus-tlers
Never play the house, think drought, keep heat in the couch
when you sittin in the presence of cus-tomers
Never hold out, pull out, throw heat and be out
if a nigga ever think that he touchin-ya
Lay low, get cake, whip all over the state
Stash dough, whip yay with, right amount of bake (hoe!)
Nigga too close went right around his place (yo!)
You stoppin dough when we clutchin the gats?
I know you heard 'Friend or Foe,' this ain't different from that"
More recently, the single "What We Do" with Hova and Sig' has been making noise:
"We gotta raise our kids while we livin'
Make a million off-a record bail my niggaz outta prison
Fuck a Bentley or a Lexus just my boys in the squadder
Nigga talk reckless then I hit 'em with the Smif 'n...
But I'm never snitchin' I'm a rider
If my kids hungry snatch the dishes out ya kitchen
I'll be wylin' til they pick me outta line-up...
We keep the nines tucked, chopped dimes up, rap about it
Wyle out, fuck niggaz up, laugh about it"
On these and any other songs Freeway performs on, he's immediately got two things going for him: a distinctively high voice (Jay-Z sounds bass by comparison) and a flow that enables him to switch from rapping to a sing-song musical delivery smoothly. It's easy to see why the Roc scouted Freeway to come up from the rookie leagues to hang with the pros. Not one to take chances though, the Roc has shored up "Philadelphia Freeway" with an impressive lineup of guests. Nate Dogg appears on "All My Life," Nelly drops by for "On My Own," S-N-double-oh-P pimps his way through "We Get Around" and Faith Evans croons the hook for "Don't Cross the Line." Even Mariah Carey gets down on the bonus track "You Got Me."
Production has always been one of the Roc's strengths, and the music on here is as solid as you would expect. In fact, Just Blaze's beats on 10 out of the 16 tracks here would be reason enough to own the album. The aptly named Ruggedness fills in with a rock beat on "Life" (guitar played by E-Bass) while Kanye West handles "Turn Out the Lights" and "Hear the Song." Black Key only gets one time to shine, but his "You Don't Know (in the Ghetto)" is easily among the album's best - we need to hear more tracks from this cat.
If there's one flaw with this album, it's that the topic matter is slightly repetitive. The reason Shawn Carter has always been the biggest star in his posse is because of his versatility in writing rhymes. A Jay-Z album gives you bouncy pop, philosophical musings, gritty street tales and smooth grinding songs for chicks to get in the mix. Freeway on the other hand has basically one theme: I'm on the grind, stuck in the hood, gotta make a living and I'm up to no good. No one is questioning the authenticity of his lyrics in illustrating parts of his life, but "Victim of the Ghetto" sums up most of the album in a nutshell:
"I was, born in West but migrated to North
Remember cold nights grindin, AK in the toss
Four door for the stickup boys if they want war
Fiends comin all night, all I heard was four more
Rocks in the cap, when it was jumpin me and Rell hit dances
You could pick me out the crowd rockin the cap
But things changed - cause my man Rell fightin a body
On state row where it's so cold, rockin his blues"
It's all a hustle for Freeway either in the past or (ostensibly) in the present tense. You can't call it whack, but you can call it monotonous. "Philadelphia Freeway" has all the right elements - a young rapper with a hot voice, a stellar production crew, and a list of big name guests most rappers can't fuck with. Still, you're left with the feeling listening to his album that it was supposed to set the industry on fire; instead it will warm things up a little but ultimately won't make it that hot.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: February 27, 2003