Before the press chose Rick Ross to be the biggest hip-hop artist named after notorious drug trafficker “Freeway” Ricky Ross, there was Freeway (Leslie Pridgen), a North Philadelphia native and rapper famous for is rhyme-work, his involvement in the group State Property with Roc-A-Fella Records, his record of collaborations and his true-to-the-craft presence in the game over the last decade and a half. Other than “the Roc,” Free has been an emcee on such labels as Rhymesayers, Cash Money (briefly), Real Talk and now Babygrande Records, with whom he released his 2012 album Diamond in the Ruff and now Free Will (April 29), his fifth solo LP overall. To this project, Freeway brings all of his original, idiosyncratic street-likeness and doesn’t skimp on the nice hardcore bars. As an experienced one with the culture, he is tantamount to traditional yet renewed in energy, and the guest and producer spots thrill the bill.
Rather than being plagued, Free Will is influenced by the gangster tones of Free’s roots in rap, and although these roughly hued tones are not necessarily shining spotless hallmarks for the man on the album, they are long-time trademarks of his style. Freeway expresses his love of hustling, being a street boss plus running the scene and is very tough and very strong as usual when applying his braggadocio and verbal sanctions on weak sets and crews. He’s a good example of the average craft-honing street emcee-slash-student of the discipline. He follows the code of life he’s established for himself in “Illuminate,” loves his one and only in both “Bennie & Stella” and “Always Love You” and sticks to other more traditional subject matter elsewhere.
Riding along with Free’s fine vocal performances are the beats, an ensemble of sounds made by S. Frank, L.E.S, Money Alwayz, Girl Talk and Tryfe. It starts off by offering a bright bumpable stretch in the “Intro,” then a firm knocking cut with short bursts of repeated wails in “Addiction,” the rocking track of “Highway,” regal strings in “Always Love You” and lastly, bossy deafening metal in “First Things First.” Everything is pretty solid hands down, and it wouldn’t have been what it is without ROD, Raheem DeVaughn, Scholito and Young Buck joining in to help. Freeway has the freedom to hold himself like a hip-hop scholar here, and he does it, even if there are no surprises. Now if only he had mentioned in this project how pro-Bernie Sanders and anti-Islamophobia he is like he has recently stated, then his Free Will would have truly been used for really extraordinary purposes, but after all’s said and done, it is still a standup effort by the seasoned Philly word-worker.