In an era where most ‘mixtape rappers’ were seen as one dimensional, one rose to erase the stigma. Fabolous made the leap from punchline specialist to a true artist with his debut album “Ghetto Fabolous”. To those of us familiar with Fab from his legendary Hot97 freestyle alongside Nore, and incredible work on DJ Clue mixtapes, it was a moment. The rest of the world got familiar with Fabolous by way of Lil Mo’s “Superwoman“. Everyone kept asking “yo is that a paper towel bandana?” before using half the roll in their house attempting to duplicate it. From that to the throwback jerseys (OJ Simpson, Jamal Anderson, & Eddie George) to spelling his name out; he was instantly a star.
“Y’all walk through my Ps in karats, wind up hooked to machines; living like peas and carrots.“
Next came “Can’t Deny It” featuring the late great Nate Dogg. It was the perfect marriage between west coast sound and east coast lyricism without either having to sacrifice their sound to appease the respective crowds. “Young’n” (Holla Back) showed that Fab had the versatility to incorporate a more 80’s flow into his style over amazing Neptunes production without sounding dated. To this day I’ll almost tear a pectoral muscle Harlem shaking to this joint. The album also features one of Fab’s earliest personal records, “One Day” where he reflects on the days as just John Jackson before the world saw Fabolous. One knock on Fab throughout his career has been that he doesn’t tell his ‘story’ enough, yet on his debut album he gave us the total package; I never understood the criticism.
“The Bad Guy” is in contention for his best song, content and lyric wise in my opinion. It features legendary Roc-A-Fella intro/skit man Pain In Da Ass as Tony Montana to give it another layer. An incredibly smooth beat that sounded like it was handcrafted for Fab specifically makes this a great listen.
“case dismissed, the D.A. even like the new song. right back to the Ps, latest pair of Michael shoes on. when y’all holla in a club it’s cool, but don’t change the subject fool. and start asking do I remember you from public school. You know I done heard dozens of these birds buzzin, talkin bout I use to fuck with they third cousin.”
If there was ever any case to be made for Fabolous having a classic album it would come down to this and “Real Talk” for me. “Ghetto Fabolous” has every element. The great intro that us Desert Storm fans appreciate with DJ Clue being the first voice we hear. The street records such as “Keepin It Gangsta” and “Ride For This” with Ja Rule on the hook. Imagine how dope you have to be to hit Irv Gotti and say “let me just get Ja to do this hook”. Legendary. One of the best ‘girl records’ with “Trade It All” featuring Jagged Edge. This would come to be his signature throughout his career and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who did it better consistently.
“Now I lose V money in cee lo. and the cops thinks me and Muggs is G-Money and Nino.”
“Gotta Be Thug” not only displayed one of his best bar for bar performances; it birthed a few lines that would go on to be slightly remixed and used in what’s heralded as his greatest song “Breathe”.
“Yo I’m ready to address the haters and underestimators. hop in the truck, ride up on y’all like escalators. hit y’all chest up, leave y’all hooked to respirators. bedridden talking to investigator.”
Keep in mind that this album had to compete with Jay-Z dropping one of the greatest Hip Hop albums of all time; “The Blueprint” on the same day. When the biggest conversation was “Takeover” and the impending Jay-Z vs Nas battle, Fab kept his name in the spotlight delivering quality music and flourishing in his moment. That moment quickly turned into a day we’ll never forget, as the World Trade Center was destroyed. Having to share a debut album anniversary with one of the most tragic events in U.S. History is like having your child being born the same day you lost a relative. Bittersweet, to say the least, but the silver lining is this ‘new life’ so to speak.
16 years later I still love this album, and consider it not only one of Fab’s most underrated projects: but one of the most slept on of the entire 2000s. Underrated has been a constant theme throughout his career, though. People hear a Fabolous feature in 2017 and act as if they just realized “he’s still got it”, when in reality he never lost it or sounded close. He reigned supreme in the era of oversized jeans, fitteds, and throwback jerseys and has always been able to transition smoothly when the fashion changed. Remaining relevant throughout multiple decades, especially in Hip Hop is far from an easy task but Fab makes it look like a layup. He’s the equivalent of an NBA player averaging 20 points per game, in the sense of making a tall task seem so elementary that you might not receive proper credit. To those who know better, we champion Fabolous and today we celebrate “Ghetto Fabolous”.