For years now, mainstream hip hop has been getting by (sometimes just barely) on the questionable business model of flooding the market with free songs on mixtapes, in order to gain the loyalty of fans who will then supposedly pay for a 'real' album that is ostensibly supposed to be more polished or consistent or expensively produced than the mixtape. Of course, this does work to some extent, if the mixtapes create a Lil Wayne-sized buzz, and the album sells regardless of how the music is compared to the mixtape stuff. But sometimes this method creates an incredibly backward approach to releasing music, and there's perhaps nobody who's done it more backwards lately than Freeway, as exemplified by his new album, Philadelphia Freeway 2.
Freeway, whose first two albums were impressively consistent but who never released much in the way of mixtapes or underground music in the four years between them, got on the internet free music bandwagon pretty late, with last December's "month of madness" campaign, wherein he released a song a day for the whole month. The scheme didn't really grab as much attention as he probably expected it to, since there are all sorts of new jack blog rappers releasing a mixtape a week these days and you basically have to record 24/7 to impress anyone with your 'work ethic' in rap anymore. But the resulting Month Of Madness mixtape was actually really sick, 31 songs with all original production, and is easily one of my favorite rap releases of the year so far. And throwing out a ton of dope music for free is never a bad idea, but it really starts to feel like one if less than 6 months later, you ask people to pay for an album that's nowhere near as good as the free stuff.
You don't get a sense of just how wrongheaded Free was with these two projects until you look at the production credits -- Month Of Madness featured new beats from Don Cannon, Alchemist and Erick Sermon, while PF 2's beats are all handled by guys you've never heard of like Cozmo, Vince V and Hollis. Names don't always equate quality, but in this case the mixtape tracks murder the album beats, and in general PF 2 sounds low budget in a bad way, like even the vocals weren't mastered to really sink into the track like they should, and while Free's never had an ear for hooks, practically every song here has a weak chorus. The album's released on Fontana, a fake indie subsidiary of Universal, so it's not like he's been completely ousted from the major label world since Roc-A-Fella folded, but I guess he's gotta be stingy just to make a profit off this project. This summer, Free's releasing a collab album with Jake One, and as corny and out of date as the title The Stimulus Package will be by the time it finally drops, odds are having one good, established producer on the project will mean that Freeway will have two releases out this year that kill his 'official' third album.