The year was 2000, and I was a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; I was a huge hip hop fan. I prided myself on “keeping my ear to the ground” regarding new hip hop artists. I loved everything about the culture—the lyrics, beats, artists, fashion, stories, etc. Around this time, I began hearing stories about a new Brooklyn emcee (this was during a time when Jay-Z was in his prime). That artist’s name is Fabolous. At the time, I believe he was signed to Desert Storm, which was D.J. Clue’s record label. For my younger readers, being signed to Clue at that time was akin to being affiliated with D.J. Khaled in 2016. This period is significant because many consider it to be the “Golden Era” of hip hop. During this era, great artists and groups such as Jay-Z, Nas, DMX, Mobb Deep and the Lox were in their respective primes. I loved this period of history because only truly talented emcees were celebrated. Despite coming along during a competitive time in hip hop, Fabolous emerged as a new player. More than 10 years later, he remains—as respected and relevant as ever.
“But, Fab is a Mixtape Emcee”
I have heard this argument many times over. This statement, however, does not tell the entire story. It simply ignores the work Fab has done on studio albums, cameos, freestyles and the like. That being said, I absolutely agree that Fabolous has yetto release a certified classic studio album. For hip hop lovers, this can be very problematic. Fab’s contemporaries have at least one classic album: Jay-Z (Reasonable Doubt); Nas(Illmatic); and DMX (It’s Dark and Hell is Hot). So the argument goes something like this: How can you put Fabolous on a list of all time greats when he does not yet have a crowning masterpiece album? My response is simple (I always use basketball analogies): Was Charles Barkley not a dominant player just because he failed to win an NBA Championship? The correct answer is no. So, in Fab’s case, you have to analyze his entire body of work before disqualifying him from contention based on one category.
Fab’s Body of Work is Remarkable
Hip hop is and always has been an ever changing culture. It reminds me, in many ways, of the practice of law. Things are always changing. That said, the criteria for judging talent changes with the times. When Fab was making his entrance into the game, mixtapes were becoming fairly popular. Quick aside: For my Greensboro/Winston readers, I still remember going to buy mixtapes and white T-shirts from Mr. Smith’s on Randleman Road. Since the early 2000s, Fab has released some of the best mixtape series ever. The fact that these mixtapes were given to the public at no charge should not detract from the quality and impact of these releases. These mixtapes must be included in the overall analysis of Fab’s career, which is still ongoing. If you can identify an artist with a better mixtape run than Fab’s, please let me know. Thus far, he has released the following series: There is No Competition (1-3); The Soul Tape (1-3); Friday Night Freestyles; and Summertime Shootout. The fact that these collections are “mixtapes” does not change the fact that they are classic projects.
But, Have You Heard “I Miss My Love”?
Disclaimer: I love storytelling songs more than any other kind of song in hip hop. With that being said, I can continue. Sometimes, an artist creates a song that catapults him/her to the next stratosphere. Some songs help the artist establish his place among some of the best to ever do it. Fab has yet to release a classic album, but he released one of the best hip hop storytelling tracks ever. Most people have never heard this song. In fact, I had not heard it until a few years ago when one of my good friends told me about it. It is the last track on his [underwhelming] album,Loso’s Way.
The name of the song is “I Miss My Love.” Over the years, I have listened to the song hundreds of times. The story, beat, lyrics, and delivery are perfect. The song describes a love story with a strange twist. I think people from all walks of life—men and women alike—can appreciate this song. If you have ever heard Nas’ song titled “Undying Love,” you might be able to guess what the “strange twist” is. Either way, this song is a top-five all-time storytelling song. An artist capable of this kind of mastery, coupled with consistently releasing good music, deserves his respek (Birdman’s voice).
I could go on and on about Fab’s skills as an emcee, but I won’t belabor the point. He has been incredibly consistent, has remained relevant, and has an unrivaled mixtape catalogue. And, to boot, he wrote one of the best hip hop storytelling songs of all time. That said: it is time to give Fab the respect that he deserves.