On Sept. 11, 2001, amid the chaos, uncertainty and, later, the tragedy that has been deemed the “worse foreign attack on American soil,” music served as a bit of distraction. Despite the nation’s focus elsewhere, a number of quality albums managed to shine through the darkness. About 427,000 fans helped Jay Z draw The Blueprint to chart dominance. Alicia Keys’ Songs In A Minor snowballed through the summer to cling onto a Top 5 spot of the Billboard 200. Bob Dylan saw his best chart performance in more than 20 years with Love and Theft and Mariah Carey dropped off her “Glitter” soundtrack. Amongst all of the releases, there was one rap debut to stand out: Fabolous’s Ghetto Fabolous.
Where most of the albums stacked within hip-hop’s hallowed halls of classic debuts (Think Ready to Die, Reasonable Doubt, Illmatic) gave the world undeniable introductions to the prodigies behind the mic, the sales behind them never quite matched their acclaim (Save for Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle). Be that as it may, for the 16-track freshman effort put forth by a 25-year-old John “Fabolous” Jackson, a glass ceiling was shattered.
Despite its mixed reviews, the party-rocking debut sold 143,000 units in its first week, launched two back-to-back hits (“Young’n” and “Can’t Deny It”), and eventually earned a platinum certification for over a million copies sold. Not bad for a rap rookie whose debut arrived on September 11th. But while it was far from a classic like the earlier mentioned opuses, what makes Ghetto Fabolous stand out is how it provided more than an introduction. Instead of introducing a rap rookie armed with lethal bars, the release delivered a case study in how to make a rap star.
“I got em lookin at the billboard charts confused/ And I still freestyle to start the Clue’s…”
In this current era of hip-hop, rap stars are established left and right thanks to social media (Think Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert). But back then, the levels it took to get a shot was much more grueling.
At 21, Brevoort Project’s favorite son entered the rap major leagues through a chance freestyle session on DJ Clue’s Monday Night Mixtape show on WQHT New York in 1998. He impressed not only Clue and station listeners, but also Def Jam signee N.O.R.E., who was a part of the freestyle performance. From there, the MC ventured from mixtape oblivion to hit making phenom. After the freestyle, he signed to DJ Clue’s Desert Storm imprint and then landed a deal with Elektra Records in 2001. On his first big break, Lil Mo’s “Superwoman, Pt. II,” the self-professed Brooklyn Don established his star power all thanks to a languid flow and velvety verse (“I be like, duh-duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-damn”) that saw his way to a Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. He became an instant celebrity.
With an artillery of tough-as-nail freestyles for Clue mixtapes behind him and a growing list of guest features, Fab eventually dropped his freshman effort. Instead of delivering a disc driven by a singular theme and concept, he let his flexibility and versatility sit at the drive’s seat. While the power of his pen gleamed on street-tinged bangers like “Keepin It Gangsta,” “We Don’t Give A” and “The Bad Guy,” it beamed larger on the mainstream approaches taken on songs like “Can’t Deny It,” “Trade It All,” and “Young’n.” This rare skill would help stretch out his ascent from mixtape prominence to 15 year dominance. It may not have been regarded as a classic, but the debut launched a run that has expanded from music to fashion and sports.
Well over a decade since the release, Fab’s longevity has produced five Top 10 albums on the Billboard 200, a series of Top 50 hits on the Hot 100 chart, and a slew of gold and platinum certifications. Plus, unlike some of his compatriots who arrived on the scene around the same time he did, he’s traversed the analog era and continue to ride high throughout the current digital era, which has seen some his best work. Whether on mixtapes like the classic Soul Tape series or chart-topping digital albums like The Young OG Project, as well as lauded concept pieces like Summertime Shootout, Fab has been leading a hot streak that stretches out each and every year, producing a run that, in itself, deserves accolades, trophies, a “30 for 30” rap special, and more. Beyond output, how he’s been able to sparkle all these years within an ever-changing music game is the fact that in every given situation, Fab proves he still is the better rapper.
To think, this all started with an album that was initially an afterthought.
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