Whether or not Fabolous is in your punchline top five or you think such a designation is even necessary, you can’t deny the breadth of his well. An obsessive might take highlighters to a verse from any of his recent Friday Night Freestyles and wind up with a rainbow on the page. The potpourri of his references is prolific. Though, at least with this freestyle series, there’s one subject that seems to keep bouncing back.
“Have the wolves on you again, make you a Garnett,” Fabolous raps on “Take it Easy,” released March 20. There’s “Quiet Storm,” released April 10, on which he raps, “Put the Hawk to your chest and Milsap you dudes.” And, “Been Around the World, from April 17: “So when I talk Clippers know that I could Doc Riv it.” Fab spits, “New black Spurs them B’s on the wheels/ Pull up anywhere Tim D in your grill,” on “Do It Again,” released May 1.
It’s a Tuesday night at the 40/40 club, and a late LeBron James rejection has given the Cleveland Cavaliers a 3-2 series lead over the Chicago Bulls. (Cleveland closed out the series two nights later.) Up next, a matchup between the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets. It is a typical May night, which means there is a lot of basketball to be played and watched, and Fab is in a private room at the club, surrounded by wings and things, asking for ketchup as his gaze stays affixed on the television in the side wall.
When the acclaimed punchline rapper decides to go on a freestyle run at the same time the NBA’s postseason gets cracking there’s bound to be a hearty middle to the venn diagram. During the first half of that second game (which ended in Houston’s favor) Fab took some time to discuss the NBA, the Friday Night Freestyle series, and those moments when they become one in the same.
You watching the games? Enjoying the playoffs?
I love it, man. I’m a basketball fan so this time of the year is great cause it’s really like the best teams every other night, every night really. You get to see top premier games that you would see once in a blue during the regular season, now you’re seeing them every night.
Is anything getting you super hyped? That Clips-Spurs series was pretty tense.
See, I’m such a fan, I want every series to go seven games. I just want my team that I’m rooting for to win but I want them all to go to seven so that I get to see more basketball.
Who are you rootin’ for?
Well I kind of root for the New York teams, but those guys are not in it.
The Nets showed a little life.
They did. I thought, if they could get really focused, they could’ve snuck a series out of Atlanta because they just match up well with them. All of the pieces aren’t there so that’s probably why they lost. Now I’m just really rooting for a good game. That’s what I live for.
Where do you fall on LeBron James?
LeBron’s a close friend of mine, so I always root for him. I never was the bandwagon LeBron fan. When he went to Miami…you know he’s still my boy and I want to see him be successful, but I hated that everybody just kind of like bandwagon [fanned] LeBron. But at the same time, I had a lot of love for him.
What about the awards? You got any thoughts on the MVP?
I think Steph Curry deserved it. I think he brought a team that people looked at as a pretty OK team and made them look like the top team in the league to beat and to see play. He was exciting. He made his team look better. And that’s what I think an MVP does.
When you’re not in the 40/40, how are you watching games? I know you were on the road earlier this week.
Yeah. Well those [shows] were late, so I get to see them either at home or at my studio. I like comfortable settings. Just somewhere where you can sit and chill and you got your friends and you got drinks and food.
There’s a bit of an overlap between the NBA fandom and the Friday Night Freestyles.
Yeah I try to slide them in there.
When you come up with a player punchline, what’s sort of the process of getting those references in?
Well I’m a big fan, so it’s always kind of in my vocabulary. In sports, I think it’s another relatable thing that even hip-hop fans or whoever can be in relation of. So when you speak it, they can get the punchline because they watch basketball, too. But the process of how I do it to make sure that it gets into a rap is pretty organic. It’s not like I look at it and say “alright, I’m gonna put it in.” It’s kind of like, I knew it, and if it fits in, just put it in.
When you’re coming up with a player reference, does it matter how popular or obscure the player is? Drake did the Stephen Curry line. Does that rule out Steph Curry for you?
It’s kinda hard after somebody, especially like a Drake with that big Steph Curry line. You’re better off just not using the same player. It just takes a little bit of the allure from it. You want to make your own ‘guy line.’ That was a big line from Drake.
Do players ever get back at you?
Some of them they see it and say, “that was dope, I like it.”
Specifically with these freestyles, has anyone gotten back to you?
Mostly it’s just been showing love like, “yo man, I heard you use my…” The other day, Dez Bryant [pulls out phone, scrolls through]. Oh here. The other day Dez Bryant hit me here, “yo just to let you know fam, you’re snapping on everything.” The guys, they love hearing their name and stuff like that. Victor Cruz, that’s another guy, he heard it and was like, “Yo man, that was hilarious.”
With the freestyles, is it a week to week thing or do you have a calendar?
Week. I wait til Friday. I listen to the beats all week. I listen to 90s joints, I’ve got a 90s playlist. And I listen to see which joints come in to….Towards the end of the week, I start saying, “This one sounds like a vibe I want to go to.” And then by Friday, I start really putting it together. So thats why it kinda comes out late sometimes. Because I actually sit in on it on Friday. I don’t want it to be premeditated. Started on Monday and Tuesday and then put out Friday. I want that organic Friday energy.
This last one [“Black Girl Lost”] was pretty different. Do you think thematics or is it just solely how the beat speaks to you?
How the beat speaks to me. I like it organically, just what I feel off of it. Like in those moments. I feel like you get your truest moments and your initial feelings at the time and that’s kind of what…they’re not traditional just off the top freestyles, but just being able to freestyle what you’re feeling right then.
When you set out to do them, cause they’re all super topical and you can tell they’re not canned, was there a goal, a mission statement?
One of the weeks, I was thinking about a mission statement which was the week of the Baltimore riots. So I went back and forth with myself over that, if I wanted to make it a freestyle about the riots or not. Kind of socially and consciously speaking on it. But, I kinda chose not to because I had been doing it up to that point just pretty much with organic energy. I mean I talk about current events in some of them and stuff that’s going on, but that was a different kind of current event.
You had the Pacquiao-Mayweather line in this one.
Right. Cause I had just came from Vegas.
Does a trigger go off like, “Oh, I’mma work this in”?
Yeah, ‘cause sometimes it’s still on your mind. You watch sports and it could be in your head for days, like Derrick Rose’s shot. So those things, they don’t just go away. Even though you might have not spoke on it the day of, it’s still something that people have been watching all week as well.
The NBA’s been using “Breathe” for a lot of promos. How did that come about. Did they know you were a big fan and it fits? Because they usually go with songs of the moment with playoffs like that.
They’ve used a couple different songs of mine, but the sound or the feel of it… “Breath” has a different whole energy then what’s kinda going on right now, but it’s still strong. Even ten years later.
Is there a timetable for the freestyles? Have you got a limit on them?
I’m actually about to wrap it up. I’m going to do a couple more then put it together and just put it out as a tape.
Anything beyond that?
Yeah we got a project and an album. Trying to worry about which way I… I be low key working on like three albums at one time, which is bad, but it’s also what spirit I get, what music comes in.
You’ve always had a different approach. Like with the Soul Tape series or with the Young OG album, and the freestyles follow suit. Sort of asking, what’s no one doing?
What’s missing? That’s what I did with the freestyles. That was missing. And I really remember growing up, that was one of our gems. That was one of the things we loved. We loved every time a mixtape comes out you got Jay Z freestyling or Nas or whoever it was. It just stopped now. More everybody’s trying to construct a mixtape or one of these club anthems.
It’s like follow the leader but you got to be your own leader.
And that’s the only way to stand out from everything that’s going on, too.
So who you got in the Finals, who you got winning it all?
I still like the Cavs, man. I think they got a solid team. Think they got some hard players. Some great players.