Almost five years after releasing a near-classic rap debut, Freeway finally gets his second shot, and there’s some unsurprisingly frank talk about his surroundings not being identical. Since Philadelphia Freeway’s early 2003 release, there was the Damon Dash/Jay-Z Roc-A-Fella rift, so Free addresses that, despite it being old news. He was, after all, caught in the middle and did not switch labels. The issue is brought up in “It’s Over,” which could be the first track to mention the producer not responsible for its beat; in fact, both Just Blaze (who produced ten Philadelphia Freeway tracks) and Kanye West (who chipped in with two) are saltily put on blast for either not getting back or being too busy. Throw in a deepened relationship with 50 “Somewhat Responsible for Mobb Deep’s Blood Money” Cent, who replaces Dash’s role as co-executive producer, as well as what could be perceived as an enthusiasm shortage on the part of the Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam family, and Free at Last has all the makings of a disappointment — a release destined to slide off everyone’s radar within a couple weeks of release. “Oh, yeah, Freeway eventually put out that second album… uh, Free Again, or something?”
The album is not the least bit deserving of that fate. Even with the amount of expectation-lowering context heavy on the mind, Free at Last sounds like a very strong follow-up. Apart from the 50 feature “Take It to the Top,” with a light and frilly production that is absolutely the worst fit for Free’s gruff and pop-unfriendly voice, there are no obvious points of weakness — unless, of course, Free’s lack of vocal versatility is something to gripe about. His “boa constrictor flow” (his words) can still be taxing (or even immediately off-putting to some ears) across the course of an album, almost always requiring a forceful/bombastic production to be effective, and it is apparent that Nice & Smooth would consider him an automatic lost cause for their MC’ing class. But his intelligible grunts and rasps are just as commanding and riveting as any other MC’s best mode. With a pilgrimage to Mecca also in his recent past, the dichotomy between his threat/boast-based rhymes and more introspective side is greater than it was on Philadelphia Freeway, and it isn’t at the expense of toughness — take, for instance, “I will squeeze and leave your spleen on the outside.” He is a sharper, more vivid lyricist, and it can also be sensed that he has done everything in his power to make up for all that lost time. And it must be said that his as-common-as-ever exultations of “Early!” — practically a tic at this point — are more perplexing and amusing than ever.
Go & Get It!!!
01 03:44 This Can't Be Real (featuring Marsha Ambrosius)
02 03:40 It's Over
03 03:45 Still Got Love
04 03:41 Roc-A-Fella Billionaires (featuring Jay-Z)
05 03:43 When They Remember
06 03:42 Take It To The Top (featuring 50 Cent)
07 03:43 Spit That Shit
08 03:59 Reppin' The Streets
09 03:38 Free At Last
10 03:27 Baby Don't Do It (featuring Scarface)
11 02:55 Nuttin' On Me
12 04:06 Walk Wit Me (featuring Busta Rhymes & Jadakiss)
13 03:43 Lights Get Low (featuring Rick Ross)14 03:11 I Cry
You heard him Go & Get It!
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