The thing I’ve always admired about hip hop is it’s growth. It gets a bit difficult when you’re rooting for the people to win that couldn’t care less about progressing in the profession though. Some artists simply don’t care enough for where you rank them, and that can be frustrating. Many have come and go in the rap game, while others just were in it to make a quick buck. Keep it real, we accepted anyone that would make us lean and rock in the early 2000’s and that was fun. We knew it wouldn’t last for long, so we enjoyed it while it was around. The Jay Z’s and Nas’ of the world however, seemed to care more. At least that’s what their extensive catalogs will tell you. But who will come after them? Which prominent New York artists are around to keep the ball rolling, and let the legends sit comfortably?
Fabolous rose from the mixtape circuit in the early 2000’s, but he first caught my attention when he appeared on DJ Clue’s The Professional album in ’98. Yes. 1998, when hip hop hit it’s fever pitch. A year that offered us DMX, Big Pun, a Lauryn Hill album, and birthed the album that would change Shawn Carter’s career forever, with the release of Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life. Popping up on The Professional album was major for Fab, especially with his first feature alongside Mase and Foxy Brown. It didn’t take long for me to start looking forward to everything F-A-B-O could have on the horizon. His wordplay was refreshing, and when I heard this freestyle in particular, I became a fan:
Although compared to Mase for his slow pace flow, I didn’t see the similarity, but I saw the influence. Before 50 Cent reinvented the way of the mixtape hustle, Fab, Joe Budden, and the rest of DJ Clue’s Desert Storm had shit on lock. The time of oversized Tee’s, throwback jersey’s, and all things NBA apparel was underway, and Fab was there to capitalize off the hood’s fashion sense. Ultimately, I think that’s what drew me to him as a rapper. The fact that he was the hood magnified. He was doing everything you’d see in your school hallway, but on a major platform for the world to see. The consistency was there leading up to his major label debut. With the Lil Mo “Superwoman” feature, countless freestyles, and DJ Clue on his side, he was set to win.
September 11, 2001. A day forever remembered for the series of tragic events, that would shake up the world forever. Jay Z’s The Blueprint was released that day, and was still victorious in the time of tragedy, moving an impressive 420k in it’s first week. What people seem to forget is Fab’s debut Ghetto Fabolous was released that same day and was a top five debut, selling a respectable 143k. This is Fab’s career in a nutshell. He’s always been okay with second, third, or fourth place. Truthfully, he’s a veteran that so blatantly conforms to new trends, and fails to capitalize off his “OG” status in the game. Rappers that showed up years after his arrival have surpassed him in very little time. Although not a stellar piece of work, Ghetto Fabolous represented triumph in a way. Especially if you followed his career from the beginning as I did. Songs like “Keepin’ It Gangsta” and “Click & Spark” showed he was in touch with the streets, while others like “Young’n” and “Trade It All” showed his crossover appeal. There was something organic about it that showed us he wouldn’t become just another mixtape rapper that made it.
From his second album Street Dreams to what we’re seeing now, Fabolous fell off. Or maybe his time has came and went. When Jay Z stepped down with The Black Album, that was Fab’s chance to step in. Sure the Soul Tape series is entertaining, or even the LL approach he was taking was a winning formula. But what I wanted from Fab was more development; a coming of age tale if you will, and I never got it. Something that showed me why he deserved to stick around would’ve been ideal. Fabolous conforms to the sounds of today. Instead of leading the new school, he’d much rather blend in. Now he shamelessly attaches himself to social media slang, and makes songs on these bland topics of discussion, because he knows that at the very least they’ll live on as hashtags (See “Lituation,” or “Cinnamon Apple” for proof). To his credit, he’s found his niche and the ladies are eating it up. He’s found a way to remain in rap discussions, but there’s a reason his name won’t be so freely thrown around in a top 5 debate.
Rappers often struggle with their place in the rap game when they’ve lasted longer than five years from what I’ve noticed. Nas released the critically panned Nastradamus five years after illmatic, Eminem’s Encore came five years after his Slim Shady debut, Ludacris’ Red Light District was pivotal at the time, because he was uncertain if he’d resign with Def Jam, so I get it. These artists have continued to push forward and still be exciting to their audience (with the exception of Ludacris, but that’s another story). Fabolous, however is still banking on simplicity and at this point isn’t really challenging himself. Listening to his latest The Young OG Project is what prompted this rant. It got me thinking about Desert Storm and their short but commendable run. New York rap was winning all across the board. Speaking on a broader perspective, I have to respect that he has created a lane for himself that will keep him around. He easily could’ve faded into obscurity like most New York rappers from the early 2000’s but he’s still here. Now it’s just a matter of how he’d like to be remembered. For now, I’ll leave you with this classic posse cut featuring A-Team, Stack Bundles, Paul Cain, Fabolous, and Joe Buttons (only mixtape heads will get that reference).