In 2008 the U.S. economy fell apart like Amy Winehoue’s career, went down quicker than a groupie, crashed harder than a couple Korean speedskaters. Faced with such a desperate situation, Congress voted to inject the lifeless economy with $31 trillion, hoping to bring America’s cash flow back to life. Already struggling, the music industry was almost crippled by the recession. Even the best artists struggled to move units, a struggle that was made even harder by the avalanche of wackiness flooding the game. Hip-hop needed help. It needed a hero. Or in this case, heroes. …
DJBooth Album Review
Here with their own brand of musical and economic invigoration are the always lyrically strapped Freeway (a.k.a. “The Beard”) and uber-producer Jake One (a.k.a. the White Van Music guy), who have combined forces to drop their aptly-titled new album The Stimulus Package. Besides its obvious historical parallels, The Stimulus Package is notable for a few more reasons: One, it’s Freeway’s first, and somewhat unexpected, release on the usually more-emotionally oriented Rhymersayers label; two, it revives the lost art of the one producer, one emcee album; three, it contains some of the most original album packaging we’ve seen in a minute (each album is designed to resemble a wallet, complete with fake bills); and, last but not least, it’s f**king dope. Like the actual stimulus bill, The Stimulus Package isn’t enough to singlehandedly transform the game, but it’s one of the best chances we have.
There’s a reason one of the album’s first releases was One Thing. If Free and Jake wanted to make a good first impression, they chose wisely with One Thing. Beginning with a smoothly paced beat that carries just a hint of menace, Freeway starts off the festivities with an extended meditation on snitches (I know my Wire heads loved the Bubbles reference), and then, as if that powerful one-two punch wasn’t enough, the flawlessly Raekwon stops by to up the ante. Other producers would have taken the theme of the song too literally, filling it with superfluous bass and gunshots, but Jake’s genius lies in his subtle touch, and One Thing is evidence of how well he and Free work together. But the stimulation don’t stop there. Know What I Mean might just be my favorite track on the album. Fueled by a vocal sample and a beat that stalks across the track, on What I Mean Jake gives Free a rhythmic template to fill in, and he responds with some typically high-caliber verses, but a somewhat atypical flowing delivery, a formula that the duo flips again on the dope (pun intended) The Product, a meditation on drugs that’s so ill Freeway’s got “Dr. Dre detoxin off me.” Yeah, it’s like that.
Going into The Stimulus Package a lot of people, including me, were curious to see if the Rhymesayers affiliation would affect Free’s steadfast style, but the truth is The Beard changes Rhymesayers more than vice-versa. Lead single She Makes Me Feel Alright is the album’s obligatory (and only moderately exciting) ladies jam, although tellingly Jake and Free don’t stoop to the usual radio play gimmicks most artists pull out at least once an album. More shocking to steadfast Rhymesayers supporters is Follow My Moves, a booming, trap-music influenced cut featuring…wait for it…are you ready for this?...Birdman. Of course Birdie’s verse is mediocre at best, but his mere presence on the album is so interesting it almost doesn’t matter. Much better but equally outside the box is Sho Nuff, a sparkling cut that brings on UGK alumnus Bun B for some smoothly rolling verses that ultimately equal an experiment that doesn’t really work, but was certainly still worth trying. That’s right. Not only does The Stimulus Package sound fresh, it begins to reinvent the definition of a Rhymsesayers album.
Of course the influence isn’t completely one way. Jake’s eclectic production work pushes Free in some new directions on the album, most notably on Free People, a deeply soulful cut that brings out the political and autobiographical side of the Philly Freezer. He even sings; poorly, but still. And Never Gonna Change puts Freeway to work of a percussively experimental beat, a job he’s not quite up to but is still fascinating to listen to. Ultimately, The Stimulus Package is truly a collaborative effort between two artists that refuse to compromise. So while I wouldn’t expect the album to rake in $31 trillion, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being exactly the stimulus hip-hop needs.
Listen to More: Freeway Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Fast Forward ft. Freeway" (2006)
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