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A very happy 36th birthday to Bed Stuy’s own, John David Jackson, better known to the world as Fabolous. You could be forgiven for not knowing Fab’s birthday prior to reading this post. For years, he’s existed as a primarily regional act. Ironically, he’s done so by pasting his style on top of whatever sound is trending at the moment.
But there was a brief time, as New York’s dominance over Rap waned, that Fabolous was arguably the biggest star in his lane. He rose to prominence bringing New York-mixtape-punchline rap into the modern era. Fabolous took Big Daddy Kane’s (Very New York) propensity for clever, relentless punchlines and, most crucially, constructed his own using complex, multi-syllabic rhyme schemes. His delivery had an uncanny rhythm that his writing complemented. His ability to kick great “freestyles” helped make him an ideal cameo rapper. While Jay Z is quick to site Kane as a primary influence, you could argue no one carried his torch as faithfully as Fab.
He also introduced much of the subject fodder that would mold a generation of mixtape rappers. (“My weed is the color of——–“, “I pitch white like (insert MLB pitcher)”, “My gun is bigger than ———“, “I’m so sick that ———–“, etc.) Fab had a trademark cadence that was as much about his built in mid-bar hesitations, as the torrent of packed syllables that followed. He also injected his bars with gargantuan swag before swag was even a thing. These are all crucial changes guys like Lloyd Banks owe their careers to, and you could argue, motivated artists like Jay Z to become the double entendre spewing, extended metaphor machines, that pushed punchline rap to new, poetic heights.
Fab also changed the way we think about mixtapes. DJ Clue once primarily featured previews of album cuts from established artists as well as rarities that had been left on the cutting room floor. Fabolous was the first artist signed to Clue’s Desert Storm imprint; along with guys like Joe Budden, he was among the first to make original content “freestyles” over popular instrumentals as important, if not more important, than the traditional song content on mixtapes. (There were “freestyles” from established artists, but more often than not, rappers like Biggie would recite old verses over them) By being the first artist to jump from a freestyle specialist to major label artist with 2001’s hit packed Ghetto Fabolous, he showed aspiring artists and the industry, that mixtapes could serve as a farm system for a major deal and mainstream success.
So Happy Birthday Fab. In celebration of the artist you were, we’re posting a link to DJ Nobody’s pretty completist collection of your best early mixtape work with a few of your early hits sprinkled in. I think you’d be hard pressed to fit Fab into a top 20 argument for anything besides punchlines, but for me he’ll always be significant as the first organically bred mixtape rapper, and the guy who introduced a sense of style into what had been a particularly joyless, content-focused flow.
ZIP: Fabolous – The Best of Fabolous