Freeway & Jake One
The Stimulus Package
By Colin McGowan | 22 February 2010
Freeway’s been working hard to craft something of a narrative surrounding his career (rising star on Rocafella —-> shelved on G-Unit —-> career resurgence by way of Rhymesayers/the Internet), but he’s not exactly grown by many discernible increments. He’s harnessed his once-spastic growl, flipping it into something more malleable, but, like his partner Beanie Sigel, he’s an unrepentantly static street rapper: brash, disillusioned, detached. This isn’t a hindrance, nor is it an ostensibly compelling persona for label heads who single-mindedly seek geeky charisma and middle school dance tracks. To succeed, Freeway must own his steeze, must accept that he has garnered whatever fans he’s capable of garnering with Month of Madness (2008) and come to terms with that. Perhaps (momentarily) running with 50 or the relative success of his debut album lent him delusions of landing a Summer Jam gig that led him astray? Regardless, for the first time, Freeway sounds comfortable, ornery as he is; here he realizes the differences between The Stimulus Package and Philadelphia Freeway (2003) aren’t vast, even if the discrepancies in their curation are.
This is fortunate in that the purists who will consume this reasonably great effort could give a fuck about perception and careerist aspirations; determinedly inelegant shit-talking and street tales suffice in a pinch. Of course, Free’s streetwise persona sometimes comes across in a contrived manner: “The Product” heavy-handedly compares Freezer to a drug; “One Foot In” overemphasizes that he’s still slanging on the side. All this insistence strives too insistently to articulate what Freeway asserts without added emphasis, which is that he’s an immensely hardened talent. We know, Free: you and your cronies are the place to turn for well-honed street rap. Mind, most of us have been following you since the ever-inspiring “What We Do”; we find the way you rep the Roc in futility endearing.
Jake One is surely the Dr. Dre of independent hip-hop; his compositions possess a capable knock and little else. As the backbone of this record, he falters occasionally. “The Product” and “Sho Nuff” glimmer purposelessly, like some ornate sketch of a 99-cent can opener; “Freekin’ the Beat” feels like a senseless, regrettable attempt at G-funk (who thought that sound needed reviving?). Since his drums and bass lines are consistently correct, his best beats revolve around simply effective samples: check the strings on “Money,” the sultry doo-wop on “One Thing,” and the aerated buoyancy of “She Makes Me Feel Alright.” Jake is a producer who, in contrast to many, gets in trouble by taking too few chances, seeming like he occasionally could use a reminder that straightforward rap, despite 9th Wonder’s strongest objections, doesn’t need to come off an assembly line.
A part of me laments this record. I hailed Month of Madness as an ascension—but I didn’t take into account the lack of a market for an adamantly pissy street rapper. Freeway understands this better than I, settling comfortably into a solid, Jake One-produced collection on hip-hop’s biggest indie label. I admit without snark that MoM was probably an apex rather than a hint of something to come: Freeway will never release a cataclysmic album nor will he ever phone in a verse. As long as boom bap persists, Free will wring himself of his irritation, self-affirmation, and affections over hard snares and soul samples. Another hip-hop comfort blanket, The Stimulus Package reminds us a dope loop and a capable MC justify their own existence.