The Stimulus Package: A DIY grind featuring a top-notch producer

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Artist: Freeway & Jake One
Album: The Stimulus Package

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA & Seattle, WA
Label: Rhymesayers

Philly rapper Freeway was one of those curious cases of late-90s/early-00s “bout to blow” Roc-a-Fella rappers (see also: Beanie Sigel, Peedi Crakk, Young Gunz, Oschino & Sparks, etc. etc.). They were all frequently featured on Jay-Z tracks in the Vol. 3/Dynasty/Blueprint 2 era, released one or two (or zero in some cases) albums on the label, and were subsequently done dirty by Jay and screwed out of lord-knows-how-much in royalties. With no label and no money these cats seemed destined to fade into obscurity and become case studies in how fucked up the music industry can be to young rappers.

Freeway has since stayed on the grind, taking a purely DIY approach to his music and collaborating with other independent artists. For his latest release The Stimulus Package(released on independent label Rhymesayers), he teams up with Seattle producer Jake One as well as a strong supporting cast of respected rap vets and even a few fellow Roc-a-Fella dropouts. The result is an incredibly solid array of tracks that feature Freeway’s signature streetwise flows over Jake One’s polished, sample-heavy beats.

The Stimulus Package starts off with a pimp-struttin’ Jake beat laced with soulful string and funk guitar samples that takes its time until none other than Beanie Sigel spits a quick four bars, prepping the listener for what’s about to go down – “Head for the e-way(?)/put it on replay/with no further delay/Philadelphia Freeway.” Free then takes over with a relaxed-yet-boastful, hard-but-clever (“I’m George Foreman with the burner cuz I heat grills”) intro that ends with the emphatic declaration “The Stimulus Package is here!”

From there on out all bets are off, as the triumphant horns of “Throw Your Hands Up” blast in and make you want to do just that. “One Foot In” features perhaps the most anthemic and catchy chorus on the album, a testament to his artistic integrity and ability to stay real through his experience with the music industry (“I got one foot in the music, other foot in the street”). “Never Gonna Change” is a hood narrative led by a rattling snare that slows down and speeds back up, with Freeway echoing the drum hits perfectly with a choppy, syncopated flow pulled off in an expert fashion.

The guest spots on the album are equally impressive without stealing the show from Freeway himself. Nearly all of them are surprising, but for completely different reasons. Birdman (yes, the Cash Money Birdman) offers up his nonchalant baller drawl over a beat that would make Mannie Fresh jealous in “Follow My Moves,” while Bun B brings some southern swagger to the Cadillac-pimpin, jazz guitar-laden “Sho’ Nuff.” These two flossy rappers appearing on a Rhymesayers record? Completely unheard of. Young Chris (of Young Gunz) and Omilio Sparks even leave their posts from deep left field to drop some bars on the chest-poundingly arrogant “Microphone Killa” and on-the-grind recession rap “Money.”

As mentioned earlier, even with the album’s strong guest spots most of the strongest tracks feature Freeway handling the verbal workload all by himself. In today’s hip-hop world where nine rappers out of 10  have hit singles featuring Lil Wayne or T-Pain, this is a rarity. No longer an up-and-coming rookie, the Philly Freezer has experienced his share of ups and downs in both life and the music biz and brings that wisdom to his lyrics. Jake One’s production is nearly flawless, with tasteful utilization of samples and varying feels and moods. This one-two punch easily make The Stimulus Package one of the best hip-hop releases of the year so far, and cements both Jake One’s status as one of the game’s elite producers and Freeway as a self-made rap heavyweight.

Mike Ramos

About Mike Ramos

Mike Ramos is an awful person who was born in ancient Hong Kong. He is over 3,000 years old and remembers the names of all the forgotten gods. He is 90 stories tall, and his adventures are legendary.