A decree from punchline royalty.
Fabolous has earned the right to be deemed a legend in the game. Since emerging into the fold with 2001’s Ghetto Fabolous, Loso has deftly navigated a variety of musical movements, adapting without sacrificing his artistic integrity. Equally adept at trading punchlines with the mixtape circuit’s heavy-hitters as he is penning heartfelt love songs, Fab’s journey from a young Desert Storm lyricist to a storied veteran on his seventh studio album has been expansive and wide-ranging. All the while, he’s remained true to his own creative process, appreciating the importance of the art of writing.
Fab’s meticulous attention to detail has solidified him as both an underground punchline king and a commercially viable mainstream presence, an equally credible voice in both worlds. As a team player, his checklist remains impressive. Collaborations with Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, Nate Dogg, The Clipse, Lil Wayne, Joe Budden, Royce Da 5’9″, Just Blaze, Meek Mill, and many more pad his stat book. Having worked with no shortage of prominent names spanning across all generations, including some of today’s rising stars like Roddy Ricch and Lil Uzi Vert, few can maneuver like Fab.
I had the chance to catch up with Fab a few days removed from the release of Summertime Shootout 3, and our conversation has been transcribed below.
HNHH: Hey Fab, how you doing?
Fabolous: Hey, what’s up?
Thanks for taking the time to do this. How’s your day going so far?
So far it’s cool. Been a long day.
Must be busy. Considering the album just came out.
Yeah, the album came out on Black Friday.
How does it feel to have another one in the catalog?
Man, it feels good. I look at it as growth, you know what I’m saying?
For sure. When you first started out making music, did you ever think about creating an entire discography?
The goal was always to make an album, but I never saw it going this far. Being in the game this long. Doing what I’ve done. It’s really remarkable for somebody who didn’t have the vision to last this long.
I recently saw you reflect on how you view yourself as a writer. That was really cool to hear. It’s becoming more uncommon for rappers to refer to themselves in that way. A lot of rappers don’t even write anymore it seems, they go straight to the booth. But you really made it a point to talk about the writing process.
I like the process of writing cause I like to see my thoughts in front of me sometimes. I think that gives you space to really get what you’re thinking across. Not to knock the process of freestyling and catching a vibe. I like both processes, but I also like to get my thoughts out on paper. You know. To recite them and hear myself saying them. I still think it’s a great process. Even the memorizing! When you’re saying something off the head, you might go back and say it different cause you didn’t remember how you said it. Sometimes even reciting it, it sticks in your head.
When you’re writing your bars, how do you incorporate the flow?
That’s what I get from the beat. I kinda vibe with the beat and then come with the words once I got the flow locked in.
How’s your freestyle game, off the top of the dome?
I can write off the top, but I’m not a crazy off the top of the head freestyler. I’m more of a writer.
Is there anybody in the game you connected with over the writing process?
Not really. I think some people definitely write, but I have my own process. I think each artist has their own process. Some have changed over time. I know guys who first started out writing and then went into, you know, that four-bar freestyle pattern. There’s some guys who freestyle everything. Some guys go in and lay a flow pattern then come out and figure the words out. There are all kinda ways to do it, it’s just about being comfortable. I’m comfortable with writing, that’s my process.
You’re very unique in the sense in that you’ve experienced a few musical eras, but you’ve always adapted your style effectively to the sound. You could collaborate with Jadakiss and then go collaborate with Roddy Ricch. You’re clearly respected by both veterans and newcomers, but did that always come naturally?
I think it was just me paying attention and adapting. Through the years, I’ve rapped with everybody from The Lox to Bow Wow. It’s like, I approach these situations for what they are. If I’m rapping with Bow Wow I got into that bag, if I’m rapping with Jay-Z I’d go into that bag. Not everyone has that diversity or caters to each ear like that, but that’s one of the things I’ve been able to do. Why I’ve been able to be around for a while.
It’s funny you say that because many people consider you to still be in the conversation for “The Punchline King.” As an emcee, do you think the punchlines are still on point today?
I think there are people who still love that. A lot of people do other things, but sometimes they mix the punchlines in with what they do. There are some you wouldn’t call “punchline rappers” but sometimes they throw in a punchline or two. And there are some people who come from that and evolve into what they are now. Like Tory Lanez. I’ve seen him start as a battle rapper, that kind of background. Now what he is today, you can see the difference in it. The way he uses flow, cadence, even using autotune.
For sure. Do you ever look back on the mixtape era? You had a pretty epic mixtape run with Joe Budden and Paul Cain, the Desert Storm crew. Did that healthy competition you guys had help shape your style to this day?
I think that whole mixtape era helped shape us as “mixtape emcees,” and then we evolved into other things as well. Making albums, making songs. But it’s like steel sharpens steel. The mixtape era helps shape you as an emcee in the same way battle rap would.
I remember I heard a track you did with Lloyd Banks and Busta Rhymes called “Fall Back.” At the time, it was the craziest bars I’d heard. I’m taking it back with that one!
[Laughs] I remember that joint! That was a great joint. Punchline Lloyd Banks. He’s another person who started out as a punchline rapper, but as he progressed he changed his style up. He had a line: ‘shit could get uglier than a Master P sneaker.’ It wasn’t a set-up line, his flow changed a little bit.
Putting out music in the industry today and looking back on that mixtape circuit, do you feel like those are two different worlds with different rules?
I don’t think there are rules, but music has certain times. It adapts, it changes, technology advances. Hip-hop broadens, it stretches. It becomes universal or international. There are a lot of things that can change hip-hop and the way its digested. Even now how digital is our main source of music. There was a time CDs were. I do think these different times can change music. Now playlists are the new mixtapes.
How we digest music changed, with how fast people are putting out projects. How fast people are really digesting the music and wanting something more after that. It’s not the same as when you’d spin your albums for months. I don’t think it’s a different world, but things change and advance. Music has to advance with it.
How long were you working on Summertime Shootout 3?
Close to a year. I took time where I was traveling or doing other things so I can’t say I was working during that time. But it was mostly from experiences I had in 2018, some from 2019.
Was there any particular studio session that you’d say was one for the books?
There was a lot of energy on the night me and Meek made “Talk To Me Nicely.” Meek was working here in New York, getting a lot of New York energy. Even the “Uptown Vibe” song was created, and we kept working. The song that’s on my project is one of the songs we did. It was us going in the studio for a week or so and coming up with a couple of different songs. He used one for his project, I used one for mine.
I saw you on Drink Champs the other day. You told a story about how when you were first working on Ghetto Fabolous, you witnessed Lil Wayne roll through, devour a feast and lay a verse in fifteen minutes. Have you applied lessons from that moment to a modern context, say, working with a younger artist like Roddy Ricch?
I thought the Wanye session was going to be a different vibe, where we would be in there hanging out, partying. Things that you had looked to or heard about the rap game, how studio sessions are like parties. It actually wasn’t that. It taught me not to expect something, and to take every moment for what it is. Not to expect that it’s going to be something it’s not. That was one of my first lessons. With Roddy Ricch, he had that joint and he played it for me. He thought that it was a cool vibe I could work with. When I heard it, I loved it instantly too. I felt like it had a good vibe. I didn’t even record it that night. I took it the next night and started vibing with it.
It’s one of my favorites on the record.
It’s titled “Time,” so I just talk about two perspectives on time. The second verse is a little more reflective, the first verse is about time shared with someone personally. I like to think, especially with something where the hook is in place, verse-wise I was trying to come in and tell my story, the story I want to tell.
Circling back to the writing process – I recently saw you mention the desire to work with Eminem and Nas. What is it about those artists that speaks to you as a writer? I notice they’re notably excellent writers themselves.
That’s why those two would be my picks. I really notice their writing, and the thought that goes into it is really heavy. Very strong. Really detailed. That’s why those two would be my top picks. Eminem is also a wordsmith type of guy. On that side, he’s somebody I admired in that light. What he does with playing with words and making words rhyme that usually don’t rhyme. And Nas is a skilled writer, even his thought process on topics and subject matter as well. They’re still on my list!
There’s still time.
It’s not too late!