Tuesday, November 20, 2007



Odds are that rap artist Freeway will never enjoy a No. 1 hit or score a corporate endorsement deal. If he retired this year and made a comeback in five, it's doubtful most folks would even notice he was gone. But Freeway is possessed of formidable endowments that make him a Very Important Person in hip-hop, and those gifts suffuse his new album, "Free at Last."

First let's talk about the voice. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between, say, rappers like Mase and Fabolous. But Freeway's rasp is singular. Listening to him rhyme is to imagine every muscle and sinew in his body contracted. A few times in a line, he'll hit a syllable and lean into it, crushing the word to squeeze out as much emotion as possible.

Next, let's talk about the flow. Freeway's energy greets us like a backdraft. Often, he'll work himself into a frenzied state in which he's grabbing at every syllable as if he can't bear to see one get away. Like a great martial artist or chef, there's no wasted motion.

So "Free at Last" can be dizzying. Freeway bellows over a tight sequence of blaxploitation-era beats, upending a sample from Gladys Knight into a lyrical mosh pit on "When They Remember." It's obvious that the divorce of former Roc-A-Fella partners Jay-Z and Damon Dash was traumatic for him -- and still fresh on his mind. "Young Hov brings businesses to the table so I ride for him," he raps over Willie Hutch's "Overture of Foxy Brown" into "Baby Don't Do It." But Freeway is one of those rare cats that can very much ride solo.

-- Dan Charnas

DOWNLOAD THESE: "This Can't Be Real," "Roc-A-Fella Billionaires" (featuring Jay-Z), "When They Remember"


Six Organs of Admittance

For a mostly tranquil record, Six Organs of Admittance's "Shelter From the Ash" packs a mighty punch. Ben Chasny, the prolific mastermind behind the San Francisco doom-folk group, spices up his moody, autumnal meditations with some blistering guitar solos and an ever-present sense of impending chaos that lingers beneath the surface of these eight songs.

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