Freeway: Diamond In the Ruff
Post-fallout Freeway is practically nothing short of desperate to return to glory days of pre-fallout Freeway. The brash, intensely-heated fury of the words spewed by a talented emcee over gaudy, albeit certainly entertaining beats are the qualities of Free’s music that garnered his widespread acclaim and appreciation as a hardcore, street artist, and one can hear that return to his beginnings on his latest effort Diamond In the Ruff.
Amid all the classic-sounding beats and vocals by Freeway, one can’t help but to feel that the former Roc-a-Fella elite is almost trying too hard. Comparing a murder in the streets to Shaggy taking a Scooby Snack away from Scooby Doo on “Ghetto Streets” is too corny to bear. This isn’t the only instance of Freeway’s rhymes causing me to raise an eyebrow, for even more pause-worthy punch lines escape this veteran emcee’s lips more than a handful of times throughout the entirety of Diamond In the Ruff (see “Early” and “All the Hoods”).
Another instance of Freeway trying too hard is his attempt at mass appeal by a commercial audience. Look, Freeway is a respected emcee; with a cosign by Jay-Z himself in the early 2000s, all Freeway had to do was step up to a microphone and he had everyone’s attention. He is a seasoned veteran and does not need to prove himself, simply deliver quality music and his fans will be appreciative. But if you listen to “Numbers,” you find the rhymesayer unleashing garish and tawdry rhymes that really leave a bad taste in your mouth. Unfortunately, a great deal of the rhymes on a few of these songs sound dumbed down beyond measure.
To end on a good note, there are more good songs on Diamond In the Ruff than bad. In fact, the opener “Right Back” incites the realization of an exciting, anticipated return of an almost legendary 2000s emcee. Then, songs like “The Thirst” feature that authentic Freeway sound of loud, sharp-witted lyrics with crashing instrumentals to back his highly-contagious energy and hype. Other songs such as “TRUE” and “Sweet Temptations” contain some fantastic production and well-orchestrated features by Wale and Nikki Jean, respectively.
One of the finer points of the album is the choice of production, save for the overbearing, radio-friendly beat on “Numbers” and “Money Is My Medicine.” Longtime-collaborators Jake One, Just Blaze and Bink! all lended instrumentals for this album. Other producers include Mike Jerz and Incredible Stro. Besides a few of the street banger tracks that don’t really fit Freeway well, the production was handled as good as anybody could have wanted, as it sounds as if Freeway really yearned and attempted to achieve that classic sound that got him his stardom in the first place.
Diamond In the Ruff finds an experienced rapper trying to remain relevant in an industry moving at a fast a pace and it is extremely difficult for even the most skilled artist to stay on top for an extended period of time. Airwaves translate to relevancy most of the time, unfortunately. Perhaps that is why Diamond In the Ruff sounds the way it does, as Freeway was trying to please a wider audience than ever before. While I applaud his attempt at retaining his loyal fan base while spreading his brand, I wag my finger at some of his extraneous ideas and stabs at venturing into a dangerous territory he is a little unfamiliar with. This album does, however, serve as yet another solid project by this talented hip hop artist and delivers almost to the extent that anyone could have expected post-fallout with Roc-a-Fella records. Perhaps a little bit more time with new label Rhymesayers will give him a chance to get more settled in and comfortable and the next project will deliver like a Freeway classic, but for now, we have Diamond In the Ruff to entertain us.
MP3: Freeway “Right Back”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl