Freestyle Fellowship – The Promise
Circa ’93, I came across a little song called “Hot Potato” by a group called the Freestyle Fellowship. It was wacky and fun, but it was also innovative and it showed some superior lyrical skill. I was enthralled with the group and quickly gathered up everything I could find and they never disappointed. Their first album, “To Whom it May Concern”, while no masterpiece, was a solid record. However, “Inner City Griots” was an absolute masterpiece, one that is stilled played on a regular basis almost twenty years later. Between various solo albums, guest appearances and the highly acclaimed “Project Blowed” compilation,. The group consistently impressed me for the next several years.
But alas, things change and at some point, they lost their appeal. It could have been my growth and changing taste, but at times, there later releases seamed a little lazy and they lacked that spark. But being the obsessive fan I am, I always check out their releases which brings us to their latest album, “The Promise.”
I can honestly say that I’m actually somewhat impressed. “The Promise” is a solid album. The album is full of creative songs, inspired lyrics, and moments of genius. It’s got some of their trademark harmonies. It’s got some straight-up lyrical gems.
The main disappointment is the production. Gone is that sample heavy, jazzy vibe of “Inner City Griots.” Unfortunately, that’s a problem across the board with Hip-Hop. Sampling is the foundation of the beat and since sampling has been demonized, its hard to really do it like it was back in the day, so the music suffers. But enough of that rant…The beats on “The Promise” are, with some exception. more in that electro style that has permeated the west coast lately. The Fellowships vocals have always been heavily rooted in Jazz, and it has long been its own instrument and that’s why their earlier work was so ground breaking because everything worked together so well. So paring their vocals with more standard hip-hop productions styles has some limitations.
That said though, as emcees, these guys are at such a caliper that even with some slightly sub-par production, they still shine, which ends up making this a pretty good album, their best since “Inner City Griots.”