The late 1990s and early 2000s were an interesting time for hip-hop. Labels like Bad Boy, G-Unit and Ruff Ryders had essentially come to define the New York sound, which had become far more melodic and polished.
The city’s distinct style was far from gone, but the years of Mobb Deep’s piano-driven hellscapes or early RZA’s foreboding kung-fu fantasy worlds had passed.
The themes of the lyrics, though, mostly stayed the same. Hardcore hip-hop had not gotten any softer with the addition of bells, whistles and R&B hooks. Animosity between artists still involved guns, and disses were still sent via the radio.
In this context, rappers such as Jadakiss and Fabolous rose to fame, coming up through the golden age and segueing seamlessly into the new sound. Now these two New York titans have come together on their new album, Friday on Elm Street.
I was so ready to make a Def Jam: Icon joke, but apparently neither of them are characters in the game so *shrugs*.
Jadakiss got his start as one third of the Yonkers-based trio, the LOX. Alongside LOX members Styles P and Sheek Louch, Jada rose to fame after signing first to Bad Boy and then to Ruff Ryders.
After producing two albums with the LOX — Money, Power & Respect and We Are the Streets — Jada released his solo debut, Kiss Tha Game Goodbye, in 2001 through Ruff Ryders and Interscope. Since then, he has released three additional solo albums and an insane number of features.
Fabolous was lifted to fame after freestyling on DJ Clue’s Hot 97 radio show. Clue eventually signed Fabolous to his label Desert Storm Records. He released his first studio album, Ghetto Fabolous, through Desert Storm in 2001.
Not so fun fact: The actual day that his debut was released was Sept. 11, or, as it is now known, 9/11. Despite this, Fab’s first album was a commercial success, and he went on to make five more studio albums, as well as several mixtapes and EPs.
In their own individual right, each rapper became known for their lyrical expertise — Jada for rugged criminal anecdotes and Fab for fanciful tales of wealth and power.
It was really only a matter of time until they collaborated and, on Nov. 24, the stars finally aligned. After a two year wait, the pair released their near-mythic and long awaited album.
Originally supposed to be called “Freddy vs. Jason” (like the incredibly shitty horror movie) the project was released as Friday on Elm Street, like the portmanteau of the two non-shitty horror movies.
This is a big deal for anyone who likes New York rap; arguably the city’s two most talented rappers, both of whom kept the sound alive through the changing times, were finally fighting tag-team on the same album.
This is an extremely New York album. There’s a French Montana hook, a Styles P verse and two Swizz Beatz tracks; each song privileges flow over beats, although the latter are occasionally a perfect synthesis of grit and gaudiness.
Somehow Jadakiss is even still rapping about crack. There’s also a five-percenter reference, which is sure to irritate some of my fellow white devils.
Both Fabolous and Jadakiss have a talent for adapting to an evolving genre. While some older rappers tend to talk shit from the sidelines, Fab and Jada consciously update their references.
Such evolution has proved difficult in hip-hop, which (perhaps more than any genre) is full of people obsessed with “the old school.”
But it’s 2017; Jadakiss no longer wears a bubble jacket all year long; Fabolous isn’t using a paper towel as a bandana. The times have changed, and these two New York icons have changed with them.
With songs like “Talk About It,” the duo show that they’re not uncomfortable in the present. “Stand Up,” the album’s lead single, even has a Future chorus, so this shit is official.
However, this is not a purely contemporary album. The sound is consciously pegged in the late ‘90s, early ‘00s era of New York hip-hop. I mean, there’s two songs worth of Swizz Beatz saying “God dammit,” which is the sonic equivalent of… something New York-y. Yellow cabs? Timbs? Giuliani? I don’t know.
One of the best songs on the album is the Swizz-produced and featured “Theme Music.” Like I said, the Swizz feature and production defines the track as a conscious reference to the past. This is hardly a bad thing, as a meeting of icons rarely is. The somewhat antiquated sound still works; it feels fresh, but Lonzo Ball would hate it.
Friday does, in my opinion, have a decidedly southern tint in its production, which is exasperated by features from Jeezy and Yo Gotti on the “Stand Up” remix.
Personally, I think that the album would have been better if it had stayed regional; the Ruff Ryders produced tracks are easily the best, especially when compared to the relatively formulaic beat of “Stand Up.”
I mean, just think about it; an album full of Ruff Ryders production would have been catnip for older men in Yankee fitteds — or 21-year-old newspaper editors with speculative nostalgia. Side note: Fuck the Yankees. You got lucky beating Cleveland.
But part of evolving is following trends, and that means looking to producers like the Reazy Renegade, who has worked with artists like DJ Khaled and French Montana.
Renegade only produced one track (”Stand Up”), but most of the beats adhere to that sort of unexciting but crowd-pleasing style which DJs like Renegade create.
Friday on Elm Street is, in essence, a good album. Despite some less than exciting beats, Jada and Fab shine both individually and as a team and really, that’s all that matters.
This album is all about lyricism and on that front, it delivers. These two are still some of the most talented rappers in New York, and on Friday they prove that.
Honestly though, this should be a one-and-done kind of thing. Essential to this project was the hype that preceded it; people wanted these two to collaborate and the maybe, maybe-not question made the release all the more exciting.
If they were to do it again, it seems unlikely that a second album would be received the same way. So let’s all just content ourselves with this. Unless these two make an album with DMX. That would be awesome.