“DeMarcus Cousins flow / I’m a underrated King”
John “Fabolous” Jackson has been one of my favorite emcees since I heard Ghetto Fabolous my first semester at UMASS Dartmouth. The album was scheduled to drop on 9/11 - the very same day as Jay Z's The Blueprint. That factoid is somewhat of a microcosmic look at Fabolous’ career - overlooked for projects by other emcee’s, unappreciated for his own releases.
While Fab is undeniably underrated and often overlooked, he has no one to blame but himself. An exceptionally talented, witty, hard-working and well-respected emcee with longevity and a consistent body of work, Fabolous nevertheless has strangely avoided most hip-hop fans’ best-of lists despite a track record of heat.
There is no classic album, no classic verse and too many mixtapes with recycled beats and B-side artists.
The newly-released Summertime Shootout 2: The Level Up is another example of hinted at greatness; at an emcee who rhymes words effortlessly and better than nearly all of his contemporaries. It’s also another Fabolous mixtape with several remixes and recycled beats, ten months following the release of his initial Summertime Shootout.
The second installment of Summertime Shootout opens with “To The Sky,” a solo blazer with guest vocals from Shake and a beat from frequent Fab producer Christopher “Sonaro” Cook. It’s a perfect album intro and definitely leaves the listener wanting to hear the remaining twelve tracks, most of which don’t disappoint.
Fab is nearly a five-tool emcee. He has the ability to craft the wittiest punchlines, his flow is typically sewn tight, he has a near-impeccable ear for beats and collaborates with some of the hottest artists of any given year. His shortcomings are few but obvious: his full-length studio release resume is stacked, yet underwhelming, and he has yet to craft a heartfelt record which translates to the masses like the pioneers before him. “Keep Ya Head Up” by 2Pac, “Sky’s The Limit” by The Notorious B.I.G. and “Song Cry” by Jay-Z are prime examples of slick emcee’s crossing over with poignant art from the heart. Perhaps an unfair bar to be held to, but I believe in the greatness in Fab - I just don’t see it.
Additionally, Fab can make a hit R&B crossover record with the best of them - usually better than the rest of them. He’s had a gang of radio jams, two GRAMMY nominations, two Gold-certified and two Platinum-certified albums, as well as dozens of memorable guest appearances, where he typically will completely steal the show. He can essentially make pop tracks while maintaining his New York rhymer aesthetic - not an easy feat and one which many before him have embarrassed themselves attempting.
Respect is another hallmark of Fab's career. No one goes at Fab in hip-hop. Fab is deservedly revered and - as he approaches 40-years-old - gets the respect he has earned as a veteran with longevity. I remember when Joe Budden tried to test him in 2009, and as most beefs which involve Budden, it didn’t end well for the Mood Muzik rapper.
Fabolous displays the work ethic of a hustler, not an artist. This is certainly not a bad characteristic, as he’s parlayed a street corner mentality into regular ESPN guest spots and Hollywood film and television appearances. I’m amazed how a guy who dropped his debut in 2001, has had numerous hit singles and even more jaw-dropping guest appearances can be considered underwhelming.
I suppose when Fab first dropped, gracing various DJ Clue? projects, I thought of him as the next to get on. When he broke out as a successful solo artist, I thought he’d take the next step, ascend to the next level of solo artistry. And while he’s achieved phenomenal financial and credible success, there’s something missing. The one project, the one track; fifteen years later and I still don't know Fab the person. I know who the artist is, but I’ve never connected with the person.
It’s more a compliment to Fab and his career: fifteen years of heat and fans still see the potential; still waiting for a classic.
Fab's fans are artists, deep hip-hop fans, wordsmiths, grinders - people who appreciate true emceeing and rhyming. And all of us are waiting for Fab to show the world what he’s truly capable of as an artist. These mixtapes are flavorful as holdovers, but we’re salivating for his Illmatic. His Reasonable Doubt. His Ready to Die. His Supreme Clientele.
The tracks on Summertime Shootout 2: The Level Up follow the same tried-and-true recipe: a handful of originals mixed with a handful of retreads, with Fab killing everything he touches. The same can’t be said for his cohorts: a rerun of Biggie’s “Warning” on the Jazzy-assisted “I’m Goin’ Down” and a remix of the disturbing “Sex Wit Me” originally by Rihanna. Mixtape standout “Ashanti” features Fab raining razors on traitors:
“To hustlers who flip hustles, that's what we toastin' to / This the flow that got my baby mama Ghostin’ through / You niggas far from the niggas that I'm closest to / Y’all too emotional / Sensitive-ass niggas / You might but you might not / Tentative-ass niggas / I said it then I meant it / Definitive-ass nigga / This ain't your house / You old rent-to-live-ass nigga”
Fab is smart to feature some of the game’s current trendsetters alongside him on the mic - from Lil Uzi Vert on “Goyard Bag” to Dave East and Don Q on posse-cut standout “For The Family,” along with remixing A Boogie's buzzing "My Shit" single. He also deserves credit for releasing Summertime Shootout 2 for free; he’s well-paid and realizes the best way to keep fans checking on him is to release accessible, familiar material. He’s marked Summertime Shootout 2: The Level Up as the perfect holdover until he and Jadakiss finally release their long-awaited Freddy vs. Jason project:
He’s the Wu-Tang acronym personified: "witty unpredictable talent all-natural game." He’s effortless in showing his talent, but lacks cohesion and doesn’t take enough risks sonically or with his subject matter to ascend to the greatness of which he’s clearly capable.
Back in 2001, my homegirl Sarah got me two tickets to see Fab in Worcester, Massachusetts. I was blown away by his energy and command of the crowd: he was a rookie performer but a veteran emcee. He had complete control over the crowd and his own artistry.
I knew he was a great one then. I’m still waiting for the definitive proof.
By Matteo Urella, a Boston-based writer. Read more of his work at Medium.
Photo Credit: Instagram