After the 2004 break-up of Roc-A-Fella records, artists involved have had difficulty getting a project up and running. With the exception of Kanye West and Jay-Z (who both had commercial successes regardless of label politics), no artist has released an official album for the public until now.
Free At Last (released Nov. 20th) is that album, the sophomore effort from Philly’s beard-pushin’ rapper Freeway. This comes over 4 years after his debut album Philadelphia Freeway. A hiatus to some yes, but this tenure gave Freeway a chance to rework his plan, grabbing 50 Cent and Jay-Z as co-executive producers.
The opening track called “This Can’t Be Real” puts Freeway in a position of reminiscent turmoil, the way he saw events play out during the Roc-A-Fella break-up. Featuring Marsha Ambrosius on the hook, it sounds like a record that Just Blaze (who produced 10 of 16 on Philadelphia Freeway) could have produced, or maybe even Kanye. Yet neither of them garners a production credit on this album.
Freeway makes note of this last fact with the track “It’s Over.” He states “I’m back without a Just track / tried to reach out and work but he ain’t chirp back” and later “I’m back without a track from Kanye it’s all good.” Though it’s not necessarily a shot at either of these producers, these lyrics show his animosity toward the situation that unraveled between them.
With that said, two prominent artists came back from Freeway’s debut album. One of them is producer Bink, known for his production on Jay-Z’s Blueprint album. His solid hand on “Still Got Love” fits right with Freeway’s flow. It’s a soul-clapper that’ll keep the streets singing along.
The other returner is President Carter. He joins Freeway on the paper-boasting anthem “Roc-A-Fella Billionaires.” In a back and forth delivery, the Roc brothers seamlessly exert their money expenditures to the envious listeners. Lyrically, neither of them shows off their best lines, so this record is more of playful testament to their worth rather than proof of their rapping abilities.
Another collaboration that works in Freeway’s advantage is the hard and heavy banger “Walk Wit Me,” featuring Busta Rhymes and new label mate Jadakiss. Having a New York feel, Freeway comes correct on the track rapping “I am Noah I will kick you from the damn Arc / Feed you to the fishes like spare parts don’t you dare start / Blow up your scripted flow, get stripped in your airlines / Knock you out in space without no oxygen, tell your man halt!”
There are a couple tracks that falter on Free At Last. One of them is “When They Remember.” The clutter-filled sample brings the energy down immensely, and Freeway has a hard time following the scattered drum kicks and symbol crashes, only saving the track in the last verse.
The other record that hits a slightly wrong chord is “Take It To The Top.” J.R. Rotem produced, it definitely caters to a more R&B synch-sound, even grabbing 50 Cent for a sensual hook. With a line-up like that though, you would think the track would be more rap oriented.
So yeah, Freeway had to switch it up this time around, and he explained that at times it was difficult. But you can clearly see his growth as an artist, and he still was able to put out some good work to finish off the year. It looks like The Roc is 3 for 3 in 2007.
Track-by-Track Rating: 8/10