Rappers have been rhyming about hustling, living in the ghetto and the perils of street life since the dawn of hip-hop. But what distinguishes Freeway, the newest star to rise from Roc-A-Fella’s rhyme family, which also includes ghetto superstars Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek, is his unique approach to tackling these subjects on his highly anticipated debut album, Philadelphia Freeway. Freeway neither boastfully brags about his days hustling on the crime-ridden street corners of his native North Philly, nor does he dogmatically preach at his listeners while lecturing them to live righteously. Instead, his lyrics are laced with ghetto-weary “been there, done that” sentiment that implies there is life beyond the block. Call it educated thuggery, if you will.
“I got a song on my album called ‘What We Do’ talkin’ about all the things that we do in the streets is wrong but, of course, there are reasons why we’re doing the wrong things that we do”, explains 23 year old Freeway. “That’s an example of the stuff on my album”, he continues. “It’s soulful and real-like, you can feel everything. I’m not just rhyming over beats like, I’ll shoot you and we can dance all night. It’s not like that, everything got a meaning.”
Packed with high octane beats produced by such in-demand track masters as Just Blaze, Bink, and Kanye West, along with Philly newcomers Black Keys & Miles Ruggedness Freeway crafted Philadelphia Freeway as if he were throwing out a lifeline to anyone who could relate to his tales from the gutter. One of the album’s many highlights is “Life”, which Freeway penned as an open letter to a childhood friend named Book who is serving life in prison. “We grew up in the same neighborhood, same age and everything”, he explains. “Now I’m making moves doing this music thing and he’s locked up. We used to communicate, now I write him and he doesn’t write me back. I guess he’s salty because he’s not out.” So, at the end of one of his verses, Freeway raps, “…my man Book ain’t writing me back/ So I figure trying to reach him with rhymes”. And without ruining the ending of the cleverly deceptive track “Goodbye”, which unfolds like the classic mystery crime thriller, The Usual Suspects, the song serves as a vehicle for Freeway to bid farewell not only to street life, but also a certain way of thinking and the mentality that goes along with a criminal lifestyle.
Another ingredient that enhances Freeway’s flavor is his unique vocal delivery. “He finds flow patterns inside the beat that just ain’t there somehow”, raves Young Guru, Roc-A-Fella’s in-house studio engineer. “Everybody else would do the same old simple flow, but Free flips it and he’s really saying something”, he continues. “It’s wordplay but it’s genius.”
Considering how Freeway came of age, its no wonder why he feels a sense of responsibility to lace his lyrics with a sense of right and wrong and a degree of morality. Unlike most MCs who falsely brag about living the life they rap about, Freeway truly did live the stories that he tells in his rhymes-and he suffered the consequences for his actions. “North Philly is low class,” he says, describing the setting of his adolescence. “Don’t nobody go to work in North Philly, everybody is on Section Eight, kids don’t go to school, and its easy to hustle down there because there’s a bunch of abandoned houses and lots, so its easy to get away form the cops, as long as you know the routes.”
In 1997, Freeway, who began his career as an MC by battling at the lunch tables in his high school cafeteria, met fellow Philly native Beanie Sigel while rapping onstage at a hometown nightclub. “We ain’t never exchange numbers or anything, but he told me I was hot and I told him he was hot,” says Freeway. The two struggling MCs also made a pact that whoever got signed first would help get the other a record deal. True to his word, not long after Beanie Sigel was recruited into the ranks of Roc-a-Fella, Freeway says “he came back and got me.”
But in 2000, shortly after Freeway made his recording debut on “1-900-Hustler” from Jay-Z’s multi-platinum The Dynasty: Roc La Famillia CD, he paid the price for his bad behavior when he was arrested for dealing drugs while his Roc-A-Fella brethren filmed the gritty urban drama State Property, which was released by Lion’s Gate Films in early 2002. “I think about it a lot sometimes, when I’m by myself,” says Freeway, reflecting on that dark period in his life. “I was on house arrest when I came home, so it was just obvious then - I was either going to do the rap thing or go back to what I was doing.” Thankfully, he chose rap and with the release of Philadelphia Freeway, his future has never looked brighter. “Everything is progressing”, he says. “This is a lot of hard work and I don’t get to see my family and my two kids as much, but its worth it. On top of feeding my family and paying my bills, its worth it just to go in the studio and tell my story and lay it down on music for people to appreciate- that feels good to me.”
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