How Fabolous Found His (Loso’s) Way

How Fabolous Found His (Loso’s) Way

In 1993, director Brian De Palma joined forces with Al Pacino for Carlito’s Way — a film that arguably changed the course of rapper Fabolous’ career. Pacino dusted off his “bad guy” acting chops and starred as Carlito Brigante, a Puerto Rican drug dealer who wants to put his life of crime behind him. As Roger Ebert wrote in a review: “Carlito’s Way, like Scarface, is a first and last a character study, a portrait of a man who wants to be better than he is.”

The same can be said for Fabolous’ Loso’s Way, an album inspired by the De Palma film. Fab took a stab at creating a concept album like JAY-Z did with 2007’s American Gangster and finally let fans into his personal life. Loso’s Way, released nearly a decade and half after its silver screen inspiration, turns 10 today (July 28).

Fab has been spitting impressive bars and witty one-liners about his wealth and the streets since the late ‘90s, but he often stayed mum on his personal life in those earlier days — which became a primary critique that haunted him from the beginning of his career. In 2009, Sean Fennessey from the Village Voice called Fab’s first album, Ghetto Fabolous, “a half terrific and half-bland mélange.”

“Prone to spelling his name (“F-A-B-O…” in case you forgot) and rapping about things people who don’t know about rap think are the only things rappers rap about — money, cars, women, clothes, his reputation — the record announced a likable guy saying nothing in wonderfully inventive ways,” Fennessey wrote.

Not everyone considered the album lackluster. Bonsu Thompson wrote in a 2016 Billboard article that the album “provided a first glimpse at a special versatility that would sunblock his green competition.”

Fabolous, whose real name is John Jackson, grew up in Brooklyn and began rapping in high school. Then, in 1998, Fab’s managers brought him to DJ Clue’s radio show on Hot 97 to participate in a rap cipher with Noreaga. Clue revealed in a 2016 interview with iHeartRadio that the meetup happened after he DJ’d a couple parties that were thrown by Fab’s managers at the time. After they told Clue’s manager about Fab, Clue invited him to his show.

Fab’s back-to-back freestyles on the show led to his eventual signing to Desert Storm, a label run by Clue and his partner, Ken “Duro” Ifill. There, he built buzz via Clue’s classic mixtapes, including The Professional series and The Backstage soundtrack. His debut album, Ghetto Fabolous, followed in 2001 on Desert Storm and in the years since then he garnered his share of radio hits: “Into You,” featuring Tamia in 2003; “Breathe,” in 2004; and “Make Me Better,” with Ne-Yo in 2007.

Loso’s Way marked a turning point for Fab, though, as he decided to start looking inward for material. “For a while it felt like my personal life was just my personal life,” Fabolous told Billboard in 2009. “But I started to feel more comfortable in my skin and with myself as a public figure, and I wanted to share more of my character with my fans. I also felt it could help my music, too — especially this album.”

The 16-track project boasted star-studded features from the likes of Lil Wayne, JAY-Z and The-Dream, among many others — and featured immaculate production from a list of notable producers. Not only was Fab getting more personal — he was adding a professional shine. He put his detractors on notice with the very first track, “The Way,” blasting his grievances with the rap game:

Let’s talk about how I’m killin’ everything I touches
Or how I waked in this game with no crutches
No Diddy, No Dupri, No Dre
No Cash Money from Baby and no Rocs from JAY
And I’m still here (still here), we still here (still here)

Grammy Award winning producer Streetrunner, who crafted the track, told TIDAL that he knew he had struck gold when he discovered the original sample, “Fly Me to the Moon” by Leslie Uggams. He repurposed the original track’s build-up intro and used it as an intro for “The Way.” From there, he chopped up the horns on Uggams’ track for the song’s main beat.

“I bought the vinyl that had the actual sample in Detroit,” he said. “When I came back from Detroit, I flipped it and I knew I wanted to do something different with the drums and make them sound different. I put a little intro on it and that was it. Fab just blacked out on it.”

Fab busted out his stalwart formula of glitzy production, flashy albeit clever wordplay and standout features for the album’s stellar singles. For “Throw it in the Bag,” he enlisted the dynamic duo Christopher “Tricky” Stewart and The-Dream for the song’s production and hook, respectively. “Money Goes, Honey Stay” repurposed a leftover track from JAY-Z’s American Gangster, but Hov stuck around for the hook. Jeremih lent his vocals for the Runners-produced “It’s My Time,” while Ryan Leslie laid the production and brought Fab and Keri Hilson together for the swanky cut “Everything, Everyday, Everywhere.”

After a brief lull with the back-to-back R&B tracks “Making Love” and “Last Time,” he returns with a string of heavy-hitters. Carlito’s backstabbing friend Pachanga serves as the inspiration for the track “Pachanga,” in which Fab talks about conniving “frenemies”:

See when the love is gone, then it’s just B.S. left
Just n***as with chains on trying to be S.F
That’s when your ace boom coom, your B.F.F.
Pachang you like they was a P.F. Chef.

For the hook, he lifts lyrics from Nas’ “The Message” over producers Sean C & LV’s gloomy beat. He also sneaks in lyrics about his relationship struggles with his children’s mother, Emily B:

My doctor said it’s no cure for the Emilys
Had a crush on you, now we Kim and Cease
We don’t even talk no more, it’s no biggie
I was so Biggie, you was Faith
I let you slide in my home, you was safe

He thoroughly silenced those critics who accused him of never getting personal with “Stay,” perhaps the most poignant track on the album. The track, which featured Marsha Ambrosius, delved into his strained relationship with his father — and his own relationship with his son.

“I just had a son prior to doing that record and it made me reflect on my father being absent from my life,” Fab told Hard Knock TV in 2010. “It was kind of a weird moment for me because I [asked myself] if I feel this way about my son, why didn’t my father feel that way about me? It was something that I definitely wanted to talk about and I felt like people related to it.”

The album concludes with “I Miss My Love,” a somber narrative about love and loss in the drug game. On the track, Fab weaves a story about a former hustler who gets back into drugs (like Carlito) and reluctantly puts a hit out on his girlfriend after she snitches on him to the feds.

Loso’s release generally received positive reviews and went on to be Fabolous’ most successful album to date. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 99,000 copies in its first week. Upon its release, Newsday’s Glenn Gamboa wrote that the album “marks the first time the Brooklyn rapper delivered a broader idea of who he is as an artist and a person.”

Although there were some personal moments on his previous efforts like “One Day” from Ghetto Fabolous and “Can You Hear Me” from Real Talk, after Loso’s Way, we saw Fab getting deeper and offering up introspection more often. For example, 2011’s S.O.U.L. Tape series had songs like “Riesling and Rolling Papers” that saw Fab reflecting on his role in the rap game among the new up and coming generation of emcees. On 2012’s “B.I.T.E” and 2013’s “Everything was the Same,” Fab introspectively discussed his rise and navigated his experience with the streets.

Streetrunner said that he also recognized Fab’s growth following Loso’s Way. He went on to work with Fab again on the S.O.U.L. Tape series, producing the track “For the Love” on The S.O.U.L. Tape 2.

“Honestly, every time I look back on [Loso’s Way], I’m impressed because it’s such a dope body of work,” he said. “His other albums before this did numbers, but to me this album was a turning point.”

Carlito never got the opportunity to become a better man. Spoiler: he was killed by Benny Blanco on the Grand Central Terminal. But Fab, his hip hop counterpart, survived the shots from his critics, stayed relevant and grew into the Young OG.

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