I didn’t get it. Once “1-900-Hustler” dropped, everybody was talking about this guy Freeway. I listened to “1-900-Hustler” just like the rest of ya’ll. I didn’t get it. I’m someone who if I don’t like the sound of a rapper’s voice, it takes a great deal for me to get past it. I didn’t like Freeway’s voice. So I didn’t see what all the hype was about.
That was in 2000. By the time Free’s debut album Philadelphia Freeway came around three years later, I had enough of an opinion of him that I was willing to give it a listen. And truth be told, it’s one of my favorite hip-hop albums ever. I got to tell Free that in person a few years ago.
How did I get to the point where I was willing to give Free a chance? Look no further than “Roc The Mic”. Released in January of 2002, Freeway was featured along with the always reliable Beanie Sigel on the surprise club banger of the year. Call it growth on my part or on Free’s but I started checking for the Philly born MC more after that. What caught my ear even before then was that he and Sigel went after Nas and Jadakiss during the Jay/Nas/State Property/Lox feud. Any rapper who goes after an all-time great without a debut album in those days had my respect for sure.
Which bring us to “What We Do”. Released on September 4, 2002, this song epitomizes what Roc-A-Fella was all about from 2000-2005. Just Blaze made a hell of an instrumental, creating a sound bed that is worthy of being listened to without vocals. Then Freeway gives you everything you need to know about him as an artist as he unleashes 30+ bars of volcano level heat. I’m hard pressed to think of a rapper who spit the way Free did on their debut single. That was the moment I knew I couldn’t miss Phildaelphia Freeway when it came out the following February.
So, Freeway had already laid waste to the track. If you were near a major hip-hop/R&B radio station, you had heard this track shortly after it hit the streets. If you’re like me and only got exposure to new music via music videos first (the internet was just getting to the point where new music was attainable the moment it dropped), the first time you heard this song was when the visuals hit BET and MTV. Not only did the video feature damn near every major character from The Wire but it looked like the track sounded: grimy and real.
Back to the topic, Free spits his verse, then here comes Jay, a little over two months away from releasing The Blueprint²: The Gift & The Curse. Not to be outdone by the rook, but not wanting to outshine him, Hov throws 12 bars of flames over top the damage Free already did. You could also say he was a tad burned out from recording a double album but this is prime Jay-Z; you were gonna get something dope.
As the song continues sans hook, Sigel comes in batting cleanup and makes sure there’s nothing living by the time the track ends. Beans’ verse is so memorable that you have to rewind the track to remember what Freeway and Hov said on it. This is mistake free hip-hop, ladies and gentlemen.
The greatest thing about the Roc is that they had so many pieces when it came to collaborations. Jay, Bleek, Sigel, Freeway, Cam, Juelz, Chris, Neef, Peedi, Oschino, Sparks, young Kanye, a rapidly improving Jimmy, etc. If these guys could have gotten along, we could have had at least another 5 to 6 years of the music like they made in a 4 year period. *Sigh*
If this was a post on social media, it would just be fire emojis followed by a dead emoji.
Bonus – An interview I was apart of with Freeway the week I got back from WrestleMania in Miami: