FEATURE: Fabolous, Go-To Guy

Photography Phil Knott

Photography Phil Knott

Melle Mel and Chaka Khan felt it coming. Ron G was a pioneer. P. Diddy claims to have invented it. Jay-Z and R. Kelly took it to blockbuster status. But when it comes to blending hardcore hip-hop with catchy R&B melodies, no one does it better than the soft-spoken MC from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, known as Fabolous.
On this brisk spring evening in New York, the 31-year-old rapper is situated in the lounge of Times Square’s KMA Studios, taking a break from putting the finishing touches on his fifth album (his second with hip-hop powerhouse Def Jam), Loso’s Way. Sunk into a, yes, plush black leather couch (must be some kind of contractual studio obligation), watching the fifth game of the NBA Western Conference finals, between the L.A. Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, Fab leans forward and addresses Kobe Bryant as if the Lakers guard can hear him through the high-definition television set. “It’s dagger time,” he says as the fourth quarter is beginning.

Kobe, of course, is L.A.’s go-to guy at crunch time. But Fab knows something about pressure situations and rising to the occasion himself. Reminiscing on his early days in the rap game, the baby-faced MC leans back and tells a story. “When I came in, I came in rapping on the mixtapes, and people just talked about my talent,” he begins.

To say that he came in on “the mixtapes” is something of an understatement. More accurately, in the late 1990s, Fabolous came in on the only mixtapes that mattered—the ones crafted by the legendary DJ Clue. Fab—then better known as John Jackson—was still attending high school in 1998, when he met Clue at New York’s famed Hot 97 radio station, thanks to the persistence of his managers, Web and Cheo. Immediately upon meeting the rookie, Clue threw Fab to the wolves, urging him to participate in a friendly on-air back-and-forth with C-N-N’s Noreaga, who, at the time, was riding high on the success of the highly revered The War Report (with partner Capone) and his own self-titled solo album. “Now I’m sitting there, and I’m just trying to gather thoughts, like, What the fuck am I gonna spit?” says Fab. “I didn’t even think I was going there to rap. I thought I was going there to meet Clue.” Suddenly Clue dropped the beat to The Lox’s single “Money, Power & Respect,” and the rest is hip-hop history. To this day, Fabolous remembers his verse word for word and counts those particular bars as his personal favorites. Today, after some urging, he jumps to his feet and gives a throwback performance, pacing back and forth, kicking each line emphatically: “Just in case y’all was lost/I’m the face in The Source, long Cuban, white ice placed in the cross.”
Clue took him under his wing, and soon Fab found fame on the burgeoning mixtape circuit, which led to a deal with Elektra Records. Early 2001, he got a chance to test his street chops in more of a pop setting, when his Elektra label mate, Baltimore R&B singer Lil’ Mo, chose him to lay a verse on her “Superwoman (Pt. II).”

“I remember coming in the game and having nothing but my mixtape material to go off of,” says Fab. “Mo stepped in and was like, ‘I wanna use that kid Fab on my “Superwoman” joint.’ Her record label was like, ‘You just did a joint with Jay-Z, Ja Rule, Missy Elliot. Why are you getting some mixtape kid?’” He smiles at the memory. “She was pretty much like, ‘This nigga is dope, and this nigga is gonna be the next nigga.’”
Mo was right. Smooth-flowing Fab proved himself capable of fitting the same witty lyricism he employed on his mixtape freestyles into a more song-oriented, radio-friendly format. Next up was a low-key remix for Brooklyn crooner Jimmy Cozier’s single “She’s All I Got.” When he spit “If you heard what the eff I did/You would’ve left my house on fire like Left Eye did,” Fab again struck a perfect balance, catching the ears of both hardcore hip-hop dudes and R&B-loving honeys.

According to Fab’s guestimation, he has appeared on close to 200 R&B remixes to date, both official and unofficial releases. “I jump on certain shit, and then they call me like, ‘Yo, we wanna make it official,’” he says. “I really lost count a long time ago, because certain shit just come to me… At one point, niggas was coming to me with two songs a day.” Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Brandy, Jennifer Lopez, B2K, Amerie—the list goes on. Words Rob Markman

For more of the Go-To Guy interview, make sure to pick up XXL‘s August issue on newsstands now.

  • Dstarr

    but wen ja does it **eye roll**

  • FLOSS

    Fab is that nigga my dude has been coming wit for a minute since Resevoir Dogs Pt2 on the Professional 2 homes. Im putting him in my top 5 right now. Listen up haters i mean of the 5 artist i like to listen to the most he is one of them end of story dont try to argue wit me about my ear.

    Shout out to The Commission ,

    Floss Daily!

    • $ykotic

      Brevoort PJ’s! Bklyn!

      Floss that should be you’re new mixtape. Doctor gear and all.

      Bet the American Dental Association would drop some coin on it. Free $! Think about it.

  • Miami Nigga

    I actually remeber that verse from Clue “just in case y’all was lost/ I’m the face in the Source. I must admit i never knew it was Fab until now, i just remember saying dam they killed that freestyle. fab is one of my favorites out right now b/c he has balance.

    But just one thing, the article says he’s 31 years old. Then you say he was in high scool in ’98. i guess he was a 20 year old senior

    • Reemycks!`

      I thought I was the only one who caught that.

  • CHAY MONEY

    FAB MY FAVORITE RAPPER JULY 28 CANT WAIT

  • Real Talk

    XXL is officially Universals bitch. Probably made a killin on that Ad Space… I mean the cover. Yo, if you Time or Newsweek right now, you coverin the biggest stories of the day am I right? Iran election, recession, etc. If you a hip hop magazine, you should be coverin the big stories and blastin them on your cover. The most talked about stories of the day are Drake, Hov’s DOA track, and Slaughterhouse,

    and they give the cover to Fab? Give me a break.

    No disrespect to Fab, congrats, hes one of the dopest out, but still seems blatantly obvious that XXL is officially the Auto Trader of hiphop music.

  • SOUTHSIDE A-TOWN

    Fab do go in on some R&B joints. but coming in a strong second is T.I.

  • Real Reality

    @ Real Talk

    Is Slaughterhouse really one of the most talked about stories in the bizness or is it just da internet stans wet dream… i mean no disrespect becuz i’m anticipating the album as well but lets really be real about it… You were on point with Drake and Jay then you washed out ya whole argument.

    • Real Talk

      ” Is Slaughterhouse really one of the most talked about stories in the bizness or is it just da internet stans wet dream?

      Both. Obviously not more buzz than Drake or DOA, at least third at this point you have to admit the buzz is there. Ya theres geeks that like SH, but geeks is everywhere, geeks was probably into NWA and 2Pac. If anybody is geekin in hiphop its those motha fuckaz that sit in there house all day practicin their SuperMan, Stanky Leg dance in the mirror, lol. I walked in on my boys little brother, jumped on the couch like we caught him beatin his meat or somethin, lol.

      I’m bumpin that Royce Revival EP that just came out, best 4 bucks I ever spent, besides that one time I took this one girl on a Dollar Menu date.

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  • cease

    ima co-sign w/ real reality….verbatim actually

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  • stoneyisland

    Instead of promoting these dipshit rappers as the next great thing NYC should embrace FAB as the next great thing. Fabs wordplay is sick, you cant front on a real MC. I messes with Fab

  • BeerGangsta

    You right Fab they need a go to guy! I am the one Heffers. I will make money off your azz. You Buster I paid the way for ya’ll. I have been to ya’ll city. And took over under cover. You Welcome!!!!!!!

  • http://www.yahoo.com Dra$t-iQ Alkoholik

    nigga aight but he fell of after “street dreams” the nigga aint brought that fire eversince he been dropping hot sinlges but em albums been filled with nothing but fillers

  • http://WWW.MYSPACE.COM/RONG1 DJ RON G

    THANKS FAB THATS WHAT UP THANKS TO THOMAS & XXL MAGAZINE FOR THE LOVE -DJ RON G

  • http://www.aol.com dirtysouthballer

    mc ren