NPR logo Rapper Freeway a Veteran 'At Last'

Rapper Freeway a Veteran 'At Last'

Freeway's Free At Last promotes the Philadelphia rapper from promising rookie to established veteran. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

With the release of his 2003 debut, Philadelphia Freeway, rapper Freeway's distinctive style — high-pitched, energetic vocals that convey a sense of urgency — established him as a rising star in the hip-hop world. In the four years it took to release his follow-up, the gripping Free at Last, Freeway has gone from promising rookie to established veteran.

Freeway still sounds vibrant and energized on Free at Last. After the flute-laden, autobiographical meditation "This Can't Be Real," the rapper barrels his way through the strident banger "It's Over." Quoting his lyrics doesn't really do his art justice: "It's God's plan if them shots land and do not kill 'im / I got him runnin', his car peelin', the block scramblin'" doesn't convey the drama inherent in his gritty snarl. His emotional investment in every line, telegraphed with bursts of unexpected emphasis, keeps his personality magnetic from beginning to end.

A key to the record's success is the production, which exemplifies how playing it safe can pay creative dividends. Despite the absence of Philadelphia Freeway superproducers Just Blaze and Kanye West, the record sticks to a similar blueprint. Heavy organic drums, soul samples bursting with horns, and pitched-shifted vocals tend to convey one of two moods: anthemic triumph or bittersweet melancholy.

Though conventional, these tracks sound extremely tight and well-crafted. It sounds as if it could have been released at any point in the last seven years, but the sturdy reliability of Free at Last is comforting. Perhaps because of Freeway's singular talents, the album's lack of surprises also functions as one of its greatest strengths.

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