Babygrande Records, Inc.
Babygrande Records, Inc.

At the end of the intro to Freeway's newest album Free Will, he tells listeners to "respect your fuckin' elders. I been doing this shit. Legend." To the uninitiated, this might seem like an overconfident boast. Sure, Freeway is a veteran who has been in the game for over 15 years, but calling himself a legend might seem a bit much for the trap rap fans. Those that have followed Freeway know better. For years, Freeway has been one of the most consistently underrated MCs on the planet (not to mention a Philadelphia legend) and he further proves this status on the new album.

Freeway got his start as a member of the Philly-based group State Property, who were signed to Jay Z's Roc-A-Fella label in the early 2000s. His solo debut, Philadelphia Freeway, remains one of the best rap albums from Philly as well as one of the best released on Roc-A-Fella. The effort showcased Freeway and the rest of the talent Jay and Damon Dash gathered together, as well as killer production from Just Blaze, Bink! and a young Kanye West. He followed that up with great records like 2007's Free at Last and his 2010 Jake One-produced The Stimulus Package. Yet despite fantastic critical reception he's still never been a huge star.

Free Will is Freeway's first full-length solo album in four years. In that time he's released a few EPs, a collaborative album with the late Bay Area rapper The Jacka and his Fear of a Free Planet mixtape in January, but it's seemed like ages since the last time there was a full studio record from him. Luckily, Freeway comes back triumphantly on Free Will.

The rapper has always boasted a gruff, aggressive flow and on this opus he sounds just as hungry as ever. On the single "Hot as Ice," he raps, "I've been waiting all my life/The sound got me levitating off the ground/Feeling like a poltergeist/Soon to be a mogul, right?/Shit don't happen overnight," and he's just attacking the epic chimes and choir incorporated into S. Frank and Scholito's beat. He also talks about how even though he's no longer on a big label anymore, he's still killing it on his own.

The aggression and hunger in Freeway comes from his desire to prove that he still has it. He declares that he's returned to the top of his game on "Hot as Ice" and "I'm Back." With "Legendary," he details why he's a legend after ruling the underground for so long and "First Things First" finds him bragging about being number one in the rap game.

When it comes to the production, the effort doesn't boast tons of big names. Frequent Nas collaborator L.E.S. does work on "Kane & Abel," and Girl Talk, who produced Freeway's excellent 2014 Broken Ankles, works on highlights "Addiction," "Always Love You" and "First Things First." Girl Talk's experience with mashups and DJing for huge crowds makes him a pro at building samples around Freeway's verses. Philly's S. Frank and Scholito, who provide most of the album's instrumentals, more than hold their own as well.

Since much of the album showcases that Freeway still has it, there aren't many guest features. The major exception is G-Unit's Young Buck, who shines on "We Thuggin." Even when the occasional guest does show up, it never takes too much focus away from Freeway. This is his return and he's not letting anybody get in his way.

While the project has a few speed bumps, particularly the tracks with sung hooks that don't seem to mesh much with the tense, dynamic raps Freeway delivers, Free Will is another solid entry into the consistent catalog of one of Philadelphia's finest.

See 50 Great Albums From Rappers With Poetic Flows