On Jay-Z’s mediocre 2000 release Dynasty: Roc La Familia 2000, the most memorable song was “1-900-Hustler,” and any attention paid to that track was stolen by a then-unknown, highly energetic MC named Freeway. Free followed that brief-though-promising appearance with solid work on the soundtrack album State Property, highlighted by his collaboration with Beanie Sigel on the bangin’ “Roc the Mic,” a song which raised hopes that Free would be the Roc’s next quality artist. Over this past summer, “Line ‘Em Up” furthered piqued interest in the Philadelphia MC and now, following several delays (October was supposed to become “Roctober”), Freeway’s solo debut, Philadelphia Freeway, has arrived.
The album will be tepidly received by the fans endeared to Free by his previous efforts. His beats, most produced by Roc-a-fella standby Just Blaze, are solid though not fantastic and his delivery is, if nothing else, consistent with his earlier sound. The MC’s nasal voice makes his flow – a high-pitched, sing-song style – an acquired taste, and one that will always be wholly rejected by some. However fans of Free’s mic persona will enjoy hearing the man rhyme over melodies ranging from the hard (“Flipside”) to the soft (“Victim of the Ghetto”) with ample of middle ground in between (“What We Do”).
That diversity of sound is this record’s greatest strength: The wide array of beats is reminiscent of other music, yet Free’s voice serves as a distinguishing characteristic. The guitar-riff infused “On My Own” (which Tribe fans will recognize) is a prime example of this distinction. The song’s hook features guest work from Nelly, who himself is prone to a sung delivery, yet his sound is quite different from Freeway’s, and placing those styles adjacent to one another on the track helps prove that no one else sounds like Philly’s latest musical delegate.
The embodiment of several styles is also this album’s greatest weakness: The beats too often sound derivative. While Free is certainly a unique individual, the beats over which he rhymes do not work individually or collectively to find new ground and ultimately, Philadelphia Freeway sounds too much like other music and not enough like Free’s. Lead single “What We Do” is an exception to this unfortunate situation, as is “Line ‘Em Up” and a few others, however, those songs serve to almost taunt listeners, making them aware that Freeway could have done more.
In music, as in life, people can only make a first impression once, and Freeway’s will leave his expectant audience disappointed and his skeptical audience validated.
2 1/2 Stars