On Second Thought
Fabolous - Ghetto Fabolous






for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

Any time a particular genre of music becomes increasingly popular, record executives eventually become hip to the fact that there’s loads of money to be made so the market becomes flooded with big money attempts to cash in on hot new artists, resulting in corporate music that’s usually reviled by anyone who ever cared about the music in the first place. There’s no better example of this than the evolution of rock ’n’ roll over the past fifty years. In the fifties there was Pat Boone, and in the seventies, the Bay City Rollers. Nowadays mainstream rock radio is almost a real-time scientific study, as Clear Channel and everyone else gather endless amounts of empirical data in order to calculate what bands they should play and when they should play them so as to maximize their profits.

Hip-hop is much younger than rock music, of course, and the record industry hasn’t quite mastered the art of shoving rappers down the public’s throats, but they’re getting becoming awfully good. Just look at Nelly, Chingy, and every other artist who says “everybody” like “urrbody.” Who knew Murphy Lee and J-Kwon were capable of pumping millions of dollars into the American economy? It’s harder today than ever before to assimilate the overwhelming glut of rappers who are currently invading from every direction, to the point where you can almost forgive a man when he says “I like Paul Wall” with a straight face.

Now, before we move on, let me say that I, like everyone else, have a lengthy list of pet peeves. When it comes to music, I become irked by the song “Piano Man,” the idea that jazz is somehow superior to every other form 20th century of music, and people who discard punk bands by saying “they can’t even play their instruments.” But nothing, and I mean nothing, bothers me more than when Fabolous is carelessly written off as some sort of inferior pop rapper. Yes, “Can’t Let You Go” and “Into You” are atrocious, but there’s much more to Fabo than meets the eye.

In my world (and I know at least one other person who lives here with me) Fabolous is downright captivating, and his 2001 debut, Ghetto Fabolous, is a stunning portrait of a new kid on the block fearlessly putting his stamp on the hip-hop scene around him. But before I begin gushing about the aspects of Ghetto Fabolous that I love, I feel it’s only fair to address its considerable flaws, because I always hesitate to tout any piece of music involving Ja Rule as great.

Ghetto Fabolous is rife with filler. The overriding thing I would warn a listener about before giving Ghetto Fabolous a spin is that one must remember that while I stress that Fabolous is not a faceless pop rapper, like many other mainstream artists his principal interest is to create hit records, and Fabolous, unfortunately, isn’t afraid to rap over an unfathomably bad R&B; beat if he thinks it’ll get him significant airplay. Songs like “Trade It All” are terrible, but hey, that’s what the skip button is for, isn’t it?

What remains on Ghetto Fabolous is a series of untouchable hip-hop singles, even if all of them weren’t officially pressed and promoted. After a fairly lame opening track, Ghetto Fabolous gets rolling in a huge way with the unbelievable trifecta of “Keepin’ It Gangsta,” “Young’n,” and “Get Right.” One thing I thoroughly enjoy thinking about is which three-song stretch on any album is my all-time favorite. The list of nominees is endless, but the trio found on Ghetto Fabolous is way, way up there.

“Keepin’ It Gangsta” might be the best song of the new millennium, a dazzling display of swagger through rhyme. Fabolous’s rhymes are far and away his greatest asset; he routinely pulls phrases out of thin air that lesser rappers could never hope to find. He ends the first verse with what I assume for other rappers is a terrifying threat: “You niggas know where my heat stay at / I leave niggas MIA and I ain’t talkin’ where the Heat play at.” Watch out. What makes Fabolous’s bravado so fascinating is the fact that he looks like he couldn’t hurt a flea. His hats, throwbacks, and earrings are oversized even for hip-hop standards, somehow making him look punier than he already does. But he’s got the boasts of someone with 50 Cent’s musculature, which, frankly, is hilarious.

After that Ghetto Fabolous is track after track of lyrical wit. There are the sexually perverse (“Get Right,” “Right Now and Later On,” and “Get Smart”) and the materialistic, (“Young’n,” “We Don’t Give A” and “Gotta Be Thug”), with Fabo bragging all the while (most notably on “Can’t Deny It,” which put him on the map).

Why isn’t Fabolous more respected? Well, casual listens to his songs and brief glances at his lyric sheets reveal a rapper who’s incapable of getting over common hip-hop clichés. Maybe so, but his creativity renders that criticism moot. Hopefully the line from “Keepin’ It Gangsta” listed above was enough to dispel that misguided notion. Other weaknesses include the mediocre beats that have plagued him throughout his career. And even when he does the get the right tracks, like the Just Blaze produced “Breathe,” The Kid doesn’t live up to his usual standard.

Ghetto Fabolous—and each of Fabolous’s other two albums for that matter—is no masterpiece, but it does scale some dizzying heights. Should Fabo never craft a flawless album it should hardly matter. Someone will put together a best-of compilation (I’m being careful not to say “greatest hits”) that will be almost impossible to cram onto one CD. Fabolous may not be Rakim, but he’s miles better than the Cassidys of the world.


By: Ross McGowan
Published on: 2005-10-11
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