When I finally fell fatally in love with Rap music I was living in Southeastern, Pennsylvania, halfway between Philadelphia and Reading, and lacking a rap scene of any consequence in our own town, those of us devoted to the form had to rely upon whatever was hot nationally and in Philly.
Homeroom buzzed with talk about Peedi Crakk and Beanie Sigel, Gillie Da Kid and Freeway; there was a sense that we knew something others did not, that we were diving into uncharted waters, strangers in a dangerous land, there to enjoy the art and finding ourselves in a culture a world away from our neighborhoods. I was an angry young man in high school, stealing and going hand to hand with the captain of the cheer squad in the hallway, and listening to Free tear beats limb from limb proved extremely cathartic. One can see the fury on his face when he raps, his habit of shaking his head side to side like a bull shark an oft imitated trademark. Everything about Freeway screamed Philadelphia; the beard, the boots, the red fitted caps with the ornate ivory P, and the Beautiful Violence with which he attacked any track set before him. As we nodded to “What We Do” and “Flipside,” we watched the homicide rates all around us–in Philly and Reading and Camden–climb, and it was difficult not to feel somewhat under siege and left out of the action at the same time.
That excitingly vicious air is lost in Free’s “Back Room Freestyle.” Perhaps it is the beat–Freeway is versatile enough, but truly shines on minimalistic tracks with hard, driving rhythms–but the fire seems to be missing here. Granted, BET outside of the cypher, which is now more influential than the network and award show that spawned it, is not necessarily the proving ground it once was, but to fans like myself, to whom Freeway’s passion had become our own, it is a disappointing showing. There are some points of interest in the piece, however, including the use of hooks, which are rare in freestyles, and some call backs to “What We Do.” In the end, however, it is the timbre of “What We Do” that is wanting, not the lyrics.
Freeway’s Back Room Freestyle receives a PA
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