In hip-hop, MCs seem to always be in pursuit of the Holy Grail of rap — the skills to gain acceptance in both the underground and mainstream spheres. This rare ability to impress the die-hard hip-hop masses, while at the same time owning the panache and flair to keep up with the MTV crowd, is rarely apparent in today’s eclectic music scene. Too many underground rappers fail to cross over, while a disturbing amount of those that do show up on the Billboard charts have the complex vocabulary of a kindergartener with a few strategically placed cuss words thrown in. While finding a rapper to fill this void is rare, a ray of hope comes by way of several accomplished graduates of the school of mix-tape rapping. Jadakiss and Fabolous have taken different roads to this juncture, as these true underground talents both currently have solo debuts out.
Jadakiss is already a grizzled veteran of the rap game. One-third of the trio The LOX, Jada is notorious for his wit and adeptness, a true lyrical assassin with the ability to grab hold of a listener with just a few potent verses. The group debuted with much fanfare in 1998, releasing Money, Power, Respect on Bad Boy Records. However, while sales were respectable, staying on the payroll of flashy Bad Boy head Sean “Puffy” Combs’ label conflicted with the group’s hardcore street image, the very persona that had made R&B diva and fellow Yonkers, N.Y., native Mary J. Blige discover them in the first place. After a very public, and at times ugly, battle to get off Bad Boy and regain the hardcore fans that had soured on the group, freedom was granted. The LOX moved on to record We are the Streets for the Ruff Ryders. The album wasn’t sub par, but many fans thought that the talent Jadakiss showed during his solo guest appearances and on the mix-tape freestyles being peddled around the city wasn’t given proper exposure on the group effort. So, as Busta Rhymes and Method Man did before him, Jada moved out on his own with the release Kiss Tha Game Goodbye.
Jadakiss has always been known for combining tales of crime escapades with a true penchant for comedic flavor. However, Jadakiss not only impresses with his wordplay, but also attempts to branch out with his flow — with a clear effort to raise his level of accessibility for the MTV audience. Not to worry; die-hard fans should feel fulfilled with the album, because while he does make a few minor tweaks, Jada is still the same smirking lyricist of early fame. Songs like “Jada’s Got a Gun” and “Put Ya Hands Up” satisfy any longtime fan, while “Knock Yourself Out” and “We Gonna Make It” get heads bobbing in the newer crowd.
Undeniably a rising prospect, the ultimate flaw that keeps the album from the “classic debut” echelon are the filler tracks — seemingly nonexistent on Nas’ “classic debut” Illmatic. There are songs that leave the listener feeling awkward, as the beat simply refuses to match with Jadakiss’ infectious voice — a stumbling point that leaves Kiss Tha Game Goodbye as an enjoyable listen, but not quite the classic that showcases the artist’s full potential.
Sometimes all it takes is one deadly verse on a song to make the world notice you. Before the summer of 2001, the Brooklyn-bred Fabolous was simply a young, promising lyricist who had built up a following among fans of mix-tapes by the unofficial king of the business, DJ Clue. It started with a freestyle or two, and before anyone knew it, hip-hop devotees all over were wondering about the pretty thug with the voice that left you asking for more. Then came “Superwoman Pt.2,” a track anchored by Fabolous off of Lil Mo’s Based on a True Story. “When that blue and red suit fit those hips so tight/It be like/Duda duda duda duda duda……DAMN.” With those words, the Bedford-Stuyvesant native officially kicked cut his teeth in the hip-hop game while increasing anticipation for his debut Ghetto Fabolous.
The first act signed to the aforementioned Clue’s Desert Storm label, Fabolous’ talent is in plain sight from the first track. While his wordplay is advanced for a rookie, his voice smoothly melts along with any bass line thrown at him. It is impossible not to nod your head along in wonder as the self-proclaimed “Hood-Rat Hugh Heffner” throws out killer verse after verse. Songs like “Click and Spark,” “Keepin’ It Gangsta'” and “Right Now and Later On” are true indications of the kid’s potential. Adding to the album’s strengths are Fabolous’ insistence on constructing a debut album that showcases himself, rather than dozens of guest artists. Other rappers and singers do show up on Ghetto Fabolous, yet throughout the whole album it is clear who is in control. With the possible exception of the addictive “Can’t Deny It”, the first single, which features Nate Dogg, Fabolous’ distinctive voice thoroughly dictates and commands every song.
It is true that excessive pre-release hype always entails the possibility that the artist will not live up to expectations. No worry here though, as Ghetto Fabolous is a strong and promising debut. While the album does suffer from a lack of subject diversity at times, overall it is enough to propel the young rapper from unknown commodity to a talent-rich performer with a solid album now under his belt.