Release Date: Nov 30, 2011
Record label: Switchblade
There’s a poignant moment at the beginning of “Greatness,” the second song on Freeway’s fourth studio album, Diamond In The Ruff. Before the beat drops and Vivian Green’s triumphant vocals float through the speakers like renewing incense, an audio clip of Muhammad Ali giving an interview ahead of his 1974 bout with George Foreman drops. “I’m better now than I was when you saw that 22 year old undeveloped kid running from Sonny Liston,” says the former boxing heavyweight champion.
Leslie Pridgen, the Philadelphia rapper better known as Freeway, cannot suck. It is categorically impossible. The man with the broken-glass screech will always have a spot in our ears, if only for his inextinguishable white-hot ferocity. Life-or-death urgency is Freeway's stock in trade: he hurls every word at you like a man who's just arrived on foot from a murder scene.
If you rewound back to the mid-2000s when Roc-A-Fella Records was king, you’d probably be surprised if someone surveyed the label’s landscape and concluded that, of all the talent under Jay-Z and Dame Dash’s wings, Freeway would wind up carving out the most consistent solo career. But against the odds that’s exactly what happened, with the Jake One collaboration Stimulus Package sitting atop the whole package as certification that Freeway could craft one of a year’s great releases. But it’s one thing to capture that muse when you’re collaborating with one dude on an incredibly focused label like Rhymesayers and quite another to try and rewind the clock to 2005 on Babygrande.
“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.