I only received a few hundred words in the Times to review Free at Last, mainly because I couldn’t tell my editor in good faith that the record deserved more. I get why people have been buzzing on it. The first two leaked singles (“It’s Over”) and the Jay-Z collabo were nice. And sure, the Roc’s back and that deserves some ink, even though Beans-excluded, Jay’s track record at exposing new talent to to the world is piss-poor (or have you forgotten Sauce Money and A-Mil?). Not to mention the fact that both Curtis and S. Dot are on-board as Executive Producer’s. But honestly, after listening to Free at Last, I’m convinced that he only got the back cover of the Fader because the hipster nation admired the sheer lustrousness of his beard.
I’ve been reading Check the Technique lately and more than anything it re-affirmed the stark differences between the hip-hop of yesteryear versus that of today. Specifically, the importance that rappers previously placed on originality. Whether it was De La’s black hippies gimmick, M.O.P’s rap as Premo-produced scream metal, or Digital Underground’s hip-hop Funkadelic, it was damn near impossible to make a name for oneself without a fresh identity. Sometime in the last decade that idea was lost (and yes, I imagine it has something to do with Puffy).
In a rap world where Young Jeezy isn’t laughed out of the building and “journalists” don’t bat an eyelash at calling Lil Wayne the greatest rapper alive, Freeway is certainly far from bad. But he’s even further from being good. Strip him of big name guest appearances and his Just Blaze-lite beats and the guy is nothing more than another humorless “hustler/rapper” (and not the other way around.) I called Free “JV Jay-Z” in the Times review, but that might be a bit too charitable. He’s more like a poor man’s AZ. The type of MC that can spit a solid 16, but one summarily incapable of projecting himself as anything more than a) a hustler b) a cocaine aficionado c) someone who reps the streets (and yes, Free at Last actually has a song called “Reppin’ the Streets.”). Don’t get me wrong, Free at Last certainly has its moments. But truthfully, you’re better off playing Reasonable Doubt for the 532nd time, or even digging up that old copy of Do or Die, or hell, trying to grow your very own billy goat beard.