Let’s be clear: Loso’s Way isn’t a literal retelling of 1993’s Carlito’s Way. You remember the Al Pacino flick, which spawned many rap skits, about a reformed gangster trying to resist the allure of the streets? Well, Fabolous’s fifth studio album isn’t that. Not exactly.
What fans can expect is the same content that made the Brooklyn MC a platinum-selling artist and radio mainstay, not a project channeling the warped mind of a convicted felon. Instead, Fab sticks to what works: sugary tracks that feature R&B acts, such as Ryan Leslie, Jeremih and Ne-Yo. At times these catchy, formulaic ditties do manage to touch on the film’s themes, but they do not overly commit. That said, Fab wins with the Trey Songz–assisted “Last Time.” On it, he reassures his wifey that he is done with the hood, and by the time the third verse rolls around, Loso draws direct inspiration from the movie, as he lays dying in his love’s arms, spitting, “Sorry, baby girl, I tried the best I could/If I can’t be in the streets, I guess heaven’s just as good.” The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League–helmed “Feel Like I’m Back” treads similar ground and has Fab on the victorious end of a federal case, much like the fictional Carlito Brigante.
Cinematic scenes aside, it is Fab’s masterful punch lines that remain his calling card. Lines like “your highest title, numero uno, I’m not that lil’ pregnant White girl, but Juno” spice up the muted horns and military drumroll of “Salute,” featuring Lil Wayne. And the opening line of “The Way ‘Intro’” (“Muthafuck ’em all/Y’all done turned a good guy into a Chucky doll”) sets off what is arguably the album’s most lyrical selection. When the one-liners are exhausted, F-A-B-O then ventures out of his comfort zone and reveals his other, less-celebrated lyrical abilities. On “I Miss My Love,” Fab plays the role of storyteller, for fantastic results, and whips up a seedy tale of mistrust over Sean C and LV’s haunting production.
The album’s most surprising moment comes as the usually guarded MC pours his heart out on the standout “Stay,” featuring Marsha Ambrosius. Over Syience’s angelic production, Loso stands as a proud father gushing over his newborn son, while, at the same time, chastising his absentee dad. The lyrics are powerful, as the rapper scoffs, “Now that’s stuntin’ like your daddy/’Cause it’s crazy when you want to be nothing like your daddy,” before triumphantly proclaiming, “This year I became a father, and I’ma die being one.” The soulful “Pachanga” is another gem, this one about betrayal. While the bars remain powerful (“I mean, every friendship has its differences/But these young bucks remind me of Fif and his”), it is ultimately Loso’s passionate delivery that gives the song its kick.
Sadly, Fabolous couldn’t provide more introspective moments like these while still satisfying his need for radio spins. The catchy lead single, “Throw It in the Bag,” featuring The-Dream, does little to bolster the disc’s loosely weaved storyline, and the threatening “Imma Do It” suffers from a grating hook, courtesy of newcomer Kobe. Even his effort with Keri Hilson (“Everything, Everyday, Everywhere”) falls a bit short in comparison to past duets with the likes of Lil’ Mo and Tamia. Similarly, the lyrical free-for-all “There He Go,” featuring Red Café, Paul Cain and Freck Billionaire lacks the bite of Fab’s more celebrated posse cuts like the “Keepin’ It Gangsta” (Remix) and 2007’s “This is Family.”
The truth is that the line between R&B and hip-hop is a thin one, and when it comes to walking it, there is still no one better than Fab. Much like the fictional Carlito’s battle between the drug game and the straight and narrow is the rhyme slinger’s duel with street-bred bangers and pop hits. It may not be the best of both worlds, but, unlike Carlito, at least this gangster lives to see another day. And we’re all better off for it. —Sean A. Malcolm