When Fabolous’ debut album Ghetto Fabolous dropped on Sept. 11, 2001, much more was offered than a simple introduction to Brooklyn’s next lyrical phenom. The eventual platinum LP foreshadowed a hip-hop longevity that many of Fab’s fans and peers today didn’t originally see for him. The 23-year-old entered rap’s major leagues ahead of his class, yet still a junior among the big boys. He already secured a BA in his city, having spent the previous years building a prison collection of tough bars on DJ Clue’s historic mixtapes. When the rookie’s time arrived, his initial opus provided a first glimpse at a special versatility that would sunblock his green complexion. By stepping out the gate 3,000 miles away on his first single (“Can’t Deny It” featuring Nate Dogg), F-A-B-O showcased that his flexibility allowed him to make magic with any artist from any genre or era, whether lending B2K some street cred (2004’s “Badaboom”) or refurbishing an LL Cool J classic with Nicki Minaj and Trey Songz (2015’s “Doin’ It Well”).
A vital lesson John Jackson learned on his debut was the power of an identity. As advanced as Fab’s pen proved on Ghetto Fabolous, much of his delivery and mainstream approach, understandably, reflected Jay Z (“We Don’t Give a F—“) and Mase (“Right Now & Later On”). When the young gunner began trusting his blend of curb-certified emceeing also in-tune with its R&B side, signs of a future rap nova began to appear. This led to the catalyst of Fab’s ascension to cultural household name status: his natural ability to make hit records. Not your typical top 40 climbers, but catchy, radio-perfect hip-hop soul that went ‘hood-platinum then pop — loved by the girl, respected by the man. Fact is, “Holla Back Young’n” remains an anthem of the 106 & Park generation.
Chart triumphs continued — from Loso’s also platinum sophomore album Street Dreams (“Can’t Let You Go” featuring Lil Mo and Mike Shorey) to his finest collab (“Make U Better” feat. Ne-Yo) to causing after-hours trouble with Tory Lanez in 2016 (“4AM Flex”). Today, the influence of Loso’s wordplay is realized every time inebriated fun is hashtagged #Lituation or well-endowed petite women reference themselves as “slim thick” or in a “Situationship.” Even Fab’s hitmaking demands deeper analysis. He’s reigned via collaborations for a decade and a half because he’s rarely been eclipsed by another artist since his debut. It doesn’t matter how bright the star’s wattage — from his first superstar collab with Diddy on the remix for his “Trade It All” single to his most recent with trap rap’s current king Future on “Check on Me” — Fab shines.
Holding his own since the days of oversized throwback jerseys taught Mr. Jackson that his music didn’t require budget-busting superstar producers. His Desert Storm brass ensured that his debut featured tracks from the cream of 2001’s production crop (Neptunes, Timbaland, Just Blaze, etc.). The latter half of Fab’s career saw him keep hot with a quality circle of lesser-known maestros like Sonaro (“Cuffin Season”) or unsuspecting composers like Ryan Leslie (“You Be Killin Em”). Pulling back from his hip-hop soul go-to and aiming his music at the streets has put Fab in great favor with the digital generation, fueling the second leg of his career (and arguably some of his best work). Those who were awakened by Loso’s classic Soul Tape series need just rewind Ghetto Fabolous’ Omen-produced “One Day” to hear the premonition.
Essentially, Fabolous has consistently sparkled in an unforgiving music game because he’s normally the better rapper. Consistency makes brands. So while you’re still entertained by lines like “She gotta donkey with her/ Juan Valdez” or still in awe of “I don’t care what her man says/ He better come airin’ (Aaron) like Her-nan-dez,” just remember he wrote “I remember taking 3, 4 trains to re cocaine/ Standing in the lobby during sleet, snow, rain/ Waiting for fiends with a pint of beef lo mein” in 2000. Yes, Jay Z dropped his best album The Blueprint the same day as Fab’s first and secured the title of “King of NY.” But that same day, the Big Apple found its prince. Fifteen years later, the chip-toothed kid who spelled his name into our consciousness has leveled up enough to still fit that crown.
Revisit Fabolous’ Ghetto Fabolous via Spotify below: