The Beat Made Me Do It

Beats: XL
Lyrics: XL
Originality: L

Two years ago, Freeway was at a dead end. After his successful 2003 debut, Philadelphia Freeway, he disappeared before reemerging in 2007 with his overlooked sophomore project, Free At Last, during the final days of the Roc-A-Fella dynasty.

Fortunately, the raspy-voiced Philly rapper spent much of 2008 and 2009 building his buzz on the Internet to make sure his days weren’t numbered, as well. On his latest mixtape, The Beat Made Me Do It, hosted by DJ Don Cannon, Free recruits former G-Unit beatsmith Jake One to produce a prequel to their upcoming collaborative album, The Stimulus Package. And while TBMMDI doesn’t give away everything they have in the vault (all but four of the 19 songs come in at well under three minutes), it’s easy to hear that Jake One’s soulful selections provide the perfect backdrop for Freeway’s gritty delivery.

On “Feet On The Ground,” Jake flips the same Womack & Womack sample used on 8Ball & MJG’s 1993 classic “Pimps” as Free explains how he’s balanced hustling and rap to be successful. Likewise, Jake’s production on the sample-laden “Someone Knocking” is slow and harrowing—a splendid contrast to Free’s aggressive robbery tales. And “All By Myself” defines the working relationship that the producer and MC have: “We don’t need nobody help and we don’t need nobody else/To move this package, good business, Jake send it and I kill it,” Free raps.

The mixtape isn’t without its flaws, though. A lack of choruses leaves Freeway left to plod through the backend of the tape. It also finds him rapping his way through tired topics a little too often. “If I,” for instance, features Free asking women if they’d still be down if he had a different occupation. Still, after all the work he’s put in, TBMMDI is cohesive enough to make The Stimulus Package sound like a very lucrative idea. —Chris Yuscavage