“This the thirst, call me Thirstin’ Howl/It don’t matter if we rich, stranded in this bitch/My throat dry, I’m parched just like I am working out/Feel like we are backpedalin’, scramblin’ again.”
When Freeway announced Diamond in the Ruff back in 2010, he was mindful of returning to the early days of his rhyme galore, high-octane delivery. And he clearly does so in his fourth solo output. By now, 10-plus years deep in the game, the former Roc-a-Fella soldier rounded up his longtime collaborators Bink!, Jake One, and Just Blaze. Along with sparse guest appearances by Marsha Ambrosius, Musiq Soulchild, Wale, Neef Buck, and more, the collective hands offering support to Free, harmoniously provide a nice mix of slow-burning cuts, and raw, thumping music for the streets.
The spirit of pushing forth an independent release—with full creative control and ownership—shines on Diamond in the Ruff, in which Free raps with ferocity. He growls over the production by Incredible Stro for “Jungle,” and documents his grind on the album intro, “Right Back.” As part of Jay-Z’s school of thought, he delivers an array of hustler’s anthems, each providing insight on his former lifestyle. He settles into the role of a narrator from the corner on tracks like “Wonder Tape” and “Ghetto Streets,” framing a painting of Philly’s streets that’s illustrated with his gritty lyricism.
There are times where Free relies on repetitious hooks that fall flat. On “Allthehoods,” Free raps over a glitzy Bink! production shouting out his ‘hood affiliations—a would-be strong song lacking any punchiness. There are others such as “Money Is My Medicine,” a record featuring blaring horns and DJ scratches by producer Mike Jerz, which also suffers with a lackluster, chopped-and-screwed hook. While the song itself is made-ready for the club, Free’s verses can’t save it from being lost in the moment.
But Philly Freezer knows when to provide his fans with their needs. “Early” is classic Free spitting bars over Just’s signature, sample-heavy production. “Hottest Akhi” is homage to Philly slang, comparing himself as the best from his city with poignant storytelling. And despite an underwhelming verse from Wale on “True,” Free detailing his ideal woman is quite endearing.
Through Diamond in the Ruff, Freeway shows how much he has progressed as an artist thus far. It’s packed with the right ingredients for yet another solid appraisal from both fans and critics. For dedicated troupers of Philadelphia Freeway, there’s enough here to satisfy. —Eric Diep (@E_Diep)