(Note: This review also appears on the national online hip-hop site Above Ground Magazine.)
For better or worse, Freeway possess one of the most recognizable and unique voices in hip-hop. As a result, he’s a bit of an acquired taste. Jake One the producer, on the other hand, is a 21st century version of DJ Premier. He uses appropriately melodic soul samples, dusty beats, and well-placed scratches to create a reliable and familiar dose of straight-forward hip-hop.
So while it’s possible the listener might have a more rewarding experience if Jake’s beats were blessed by a more, how-would-you-say, “accessible” emcee than Philly Freezer, it doesn’t change the fact that with their combined powers the two have crafted the best hip-hop album of 2010, thus far.
On one hand, it’s not out of bounds to say Freeway is generally under-appreciated as a rapper. On the other, you can say he’s gotten his just due. Point of reference is important here, too. From a philosophical standpoint, he’s one of those dudes that sort-of bridges the gap between backpackers and radio. Generally known and respected by true heads, Freeway is still only peripherally known by Clear Channel-ers, which is fine. Being a made hip-hop man (of which he is one), does not depend on your ability to please fans of both Brother Ali and Gucci Mane.
It does, however, depend on being reliable and consistent and Freeway has played his hand in the hip-hop game well. Decidedly street, his ability to be both an ambivalent and empathetic witness to the ethical dilemmas faced by fellow hustlers is one of his greatest strengths. On “The Product”, he paints a bleak picture of the role narcotics play in many aspects of American life, neither celebrating the drug lifestyle nor outright dismissing it as something altogether heinous. After all, if it’s a means to put food on the table when all else has failed, what can you ultimately say? Freeway admittedly keeps “One Foot In” the rap game and one foot in the street. This delicate balancing act allows him to maintain a level of authenticity that other rappers have lost.
Jake One, the other half of The Stimulus Package, has become a figurehead in Seattle hip-hop. He probably has the most national influence of any member of the local rap community but his voice is never actually heard. Jake speaks clearly and authoritatively through his beats. He’s an expert at taking a delicate soul sample and layering it over a well-crafted drum pattern such that the essence of the original music partially dissolves and reforms into something entirely new and exciting. His production is rarely flashy or ground-breaking — it’s just solid and consistent.
Jake is in high industry demand these days, and one of the reasons might be because his sound doesn’t seem to belong to any particular coast or region. You can hear obvious Dr. Dre-style Cali influences in the flourishes on tracks like “The Product” and “One Thing”, yet he also shows he can do Dirty South capably too on “Follow My Moves” and “Sho’ Nuff”. Jake One is a true student of hip-hop production; any rapper would be lucky to have him bless an entire album with his beats.
It’s refreshing to see a prominent hip-hop release with the ability to pay equal tribute to rapper and producer as Rhymesayers has done with The Stimulus Package. One DJ and one emcee was once the established symbiosis in hip-hop, but that has gone by the wayside for the most part. The schizophrenia caused by multiple rapper-producer collaborations has much to do with the inconsistent level of quality that plagues most albums. If more well-known rappers like Freeway would stick to the one DJ/one emcee ethic (the way our humble Town so frequently does), we’d see more LPs match the level of quality of The Stimulus Package.