In the past couple years, Fiend has reemerged in hip-hop as the wise elder statesman of Curren$y’s Jet Life imprint. While Curren$y’s career is a long, storied one like his labelmate’s, Spitta has been able to peak during the Internet era, whereas it’s probably safe to assume International Jones won’t again reach the commercial success he found in 1998 with the damn-near classic There’s One In Every Family. But Fiend’s fared pretty well in today’s mixtape circuit, and his latest effort, Lil Ghetto Boy, is further proof that there’s a space in contemporary hip hop for this former No Limit foot soldier to age gracefully.
Lil Ghetto Boy tells the tale of two Fiends. At times, he’s aggressive and energized, the “Whomp!”-shouting rapper that’s so distinctly New Orleans he conjures up images of a second line brass band marching through Mardi Gras. This approach, which reminds of No Limit’s golden era, rears it’s head on the contagiously bouncy “Lil Sumptin’” alongside fellower third coaster Mouse On The Track.
On the flip side, there’s International Jones, a smoother, more patient, smoked out, jazzy brand of rapper. This is the transition Fiend began to make in his sound after linking up with Curren$y, and it’s a welcome change of pace. The production on these songs (“The Coolest”, Know What It’s Like”, and “Blue, White, Red”) is refreshingly rustic and feels like the project was cut alongside a brass band in some smoke-filled Bourbon Street barroom. Fiend’s deep, mahogany-pitched tone navigates this kind of production fluidly, switching between a commanding flow and something that at times is closer to spoken word poetry.
Career wise, Fiend’s in an interesting position. There aren’t too many artists who have “been there, done that”, yet remain so intent on making the same type of thoughtful and appealing music he did 15 years ago. Let alone giving it out for free. There’s a stable of notable features here, both young and old-from Young Dolph and Trouble to Devin The Dude and Styles P, But Fiend’s the anchor here, and the project is very much his own. So while he’s kind of reinvented himself, he also kind of hasn’t. Sometimes he’s growling and sometimes he sounds like Barry White, but the consistent narrative of his music remains intelligent, well-executed, down-home Southern hip hop. That’s what makes Lil Ghetto Boy such a compelling listen. — @WavyDaveWilliam