[15 July 2007]
After a two-year layoff, Fabolous releases his fourth album, From Nothin’ To Somethin’. The Brooklyn native emerged on the hip-hop scene back in 2001 and has made a fast and furious name for himself in the short, six years that he’s been churning out music. In that time, he’s been nominated for a Grammy; seen his first two albums certified RIAA platinum; and cracked the rap, R&B, and pop Top Five with numerous singles and guest appearances.
Fabolous’s voice is reminiscent of a younger, slightly more vocally refined Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Sean Combs, what have you. Fabolous’s intonation throughout the whole of From Nothin’ To Somethin’ consists of a monotone drone devoid of any sort of emotion, not even cracking a vocal smile as the finest diamond-covered bling is proffered before him. A similar cockiness and self-assured swagger is the only hint of passion within the rapping style of both artists. In fact, there are several instances on the album where Fabolous name-drops Combs, who is undoubtedly a major influence.
While Fabolous’ drive to succeed is to be commended, From Nothin’ To Somethin’ doesn’t offer much in the way of originality. There is little on the disc that offers something different from the bulk of what’s currently hot on the hip-hop dial. Fabo plays it safe by falling back upon a myriad of top-shelf guest artists and brings out the big guns with a notable squad of production gurus, overseen by executive producers Ken “Duro” Ifill, Skane, and DJ Clue. Fabolous is obviously well-connected and uses that fact to great advantage on this latest album.
Leading the way with a dual guest spot and production role, Akon lends a touch of melody to the low-key mantra of on “Change Up”. More heavy-hitters belly up to Fabo’s bar on “Make Me Better”. The piece boasts a cameo by Ne-Yo, whose vocal harmonies, heavy on the R&B flavoring, serve as a nice contrast to Fabolous breaking it down. The Timbaland-produced track features intricate string samples and the distinctive grooves of the knob-dialing dynamo.
There’s an all-but-mandatory T-Pain cameo on the uber-catchy “Baby Don’t Go”; (you would be hard-pressed to find an album that T-Pain has not made a guest appearance on within the past two years). In fact, the safe money dictates that were Michael Bolton to make a comeback album, there would be a track featuring T-Pain somewhere on the disc, rapping over some soprano saxophone bit by Kenny G.
Even Fabolous’ usually low-key vocals pick up the pace to compliment the Swizz Beatz and samples on “Return of the Hustle”, a track whose hype, over-the-top energy could qualify it to double as a boxer’s entrance theme. For as much energy as Fabo and his crew bounce across the disc, there are a few melodic slow jams like “Real Playa Like” and “First Time” (with appearances by Lloyd and Rihanna, respectively) that act as a nice buffer, adding variety to the disc.“Diamonds”, featuring Young Jeezy has become a radio and club hit, espousing the tried and true method of enticing women by wearing gigantic, multi-carat encrusted jewelry as a means of dressing to impress. The hypnotic, Soram and Steve Morales-produced beats make the track head-bobbingly catchy, although the lyrics and continual refrain of “diamonds on my damn chain” dangerously border on annoying. A pity, since Fabolous’ lyrics are otherwise clever and even manage to toss out a reference to hip-hop’s jeweler to the stars, Jacob.
“Brooklyn” suffers from a similar syndrome. While pulling off a dynamic cameo coup, bringing hip-hop’s most illustrious resident of the borough, Jay-Z, to the party, the song’s other guest, Uncle Murda, becomes the proverbial turd in the punchbowl. Sounding like the poor man’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard minus the flippant, lyrical dexterity of the late, great O.D.B., Murda’s rhymes bog the track down with trite “gangsta” references to gun-toting and drug dealing, growling “I throw bullets! / Bullets!”. Coupled with the droning repetition of the song’s NYC-themed title, Uncle Murda’s spotlight stanza makes the listener want to bust a cap in their own ass. Nonetheless, Jigga’s all-too-brief guest spot on the track shines, bursting through the monotone gloom with emphatic rhymes that jolt the listener to attention and break up the monotony of “Brooklyn”.
Among the mixed bag of offerings on From Nothin’ To Somethin’, “Jokes On You” is the sleeper standout track on the strength of its lyrics. Fabolous hits his lyrical stride with guest artist Pusha T weaving between straight up rhymes and interjecting with a style complimentary to Fabo’s own, a dual-commentary/word of warning, while running down a list of some of the most notable comedians of the latter 20th and 21st centuries.
While there is nothing really unique about From Nothing To Something, it was smart of Fabolous to incorporate so many guest artists on the album. At times, the vocal pairings clash with Fabo’s own style, on others, they mesh very well, providing an interesting contrast that switches up the pacing. Were it just Fabolous alone, the load would be almost impossible to carry. And therein lies the young rapper’s strong suit: being able to realize where his own positive contributions end and just who could best fill the pocket when needed to create something to catch the ears of his audience. Although there is nothing particularly groundbreaking overall on From Nothing To Something, it’s not a total washout. The disc and Fabolous himself manage to give fans more of what they love, even if it’s a slightly different spin on the same thing, done just a little bit better than average, thanks to a dazzling cast of guest artists and producers.