Album Review: Freeway's "Diamond In The Ruff"
We’ve already discussed how Freeway’s gotten to this point, and we’ve addressed how consistent he seems to be on the music front. With Diamond In The Ruff, he could’ve easily decided to mail it in yet again, but instead he puts out arguably his best project since Stimulus Package, the collaboration LP with Jake One. Freeway continues to crank out well-developed albums that show you why he’s one of the best from Philly, and armed with quality features and production he reinforces that point quite easily.
From the outset of Diamond, Freeway doesn’t waste any time combining his flows and dropping messages within his lines alongside the sultry voice of Marsha Ambrosius on “Right Back”, and the vibe flows well into the following tracks with Vivian Green (“Greatness”) and the now-obligatory producer collaboration with the previously referenced Jake One (“The Thirst”). Interestingly, although the latter seems to borrow a line or two from Kendrick Lamar’s “I’m Dying Of Thirst” in its hook, the content, vibe, and overall flow of the song couldn’t be more different as Freeway takes on the aspect of being thirsty for success.
Strong features from the aforementioned singers, along with Music Soulchild, Nikki Jean, and others truly add to the replay value of the project, especially when placed alongside a few tracks that has Freeway stepping out of his comfort zone to exercise lyrically. “No Doubt”, although not a bad song, doesn’t seem to fit well in the album’s sequencing at all, but in contrast the songs surrounding it works perfectly (this could be due to the song being dated; the linked teaser clip was released in April of 2011). Thankfully, it’s the only real song that's plunked in without any rhyme or reason; even the bounce-inducing “Numbers” fits better within the arrangement, and the verse from Neef Buck helps as well.
In addition to the great cast ensemble, the album’s chocked full of highlights that stand on their own. The Just Blaze-produced “Early” is the first time the duo have linked in quite a while, and Freeway falls right back into the groove as if nothing had been wrong all of these years. “Ghetto Streets” takes a different approach, teaming Freeway’s rhyme scheme explaining the street narrative with an unorthodox, but soulful background full of vocals and instrumentals that sound straight out of the 70s. Granted, it’s completely different from anything else on the album, but it succeeds.
Again, aside from those issues and the lackluster appearance from Wale on “True”, it’s hard to argue against the final product. Freeway’s been consistent, and he’s saved some of his best music of the year for Diamond In The Ruff. With great production from Jake One, Mike Jerz, and more, alongside the cameo appearances cited above, this is a dope play from start to finish. Freeway’s underrated, and he knows it; hopefully that changes soon, since there’s very few that are guaranteed to deliver musically like he is right now.