Jaheim feat. Tha Rayne – “Fabulous”

Released: 10.29.02

Peak:#28

Maybe because “Fabulous” broke while I was living in Chicago, something in Jaheim Hoagland’s weathered voice rang stoically Midwestern to me, suggesting one of those grimy white-skied days in mid-winter when the sun skirts around the horizon instead of rising. Actually, Jaheim was a protégé of North Jersey’s own Kay Gee, of Naughty by Nature; the strings and piano on “Fabulous,” lifted from Harold Melvin’s “Wake Up Everybody,” accentuating the Philly soul edge to Jaheim’s voice, might have tipped me to his eastern origins.

Jahiem’s not quite in Teddy P’s class–prior to “Fabulous,” his string of journeyman singles barely skittered past my ears as they edged over from R&B to pop radio–though stylistically he stands up against the more critically favored Anthony Hamilton or John Legend. And as a child of hip-hop, the middle class aspirations of the Gamble/Huff machine would likely ring corny to his ears. Where McFadden and Whitehead could be preachy (at one point during “Wake Up,” we are admonished to “Stop using the dope!”), Jaheim is big brotherly, not advising change so much as self-esteem, with Kay Gee’s girl group, Tha Rayne, imitating schoolchildren to spell out “U-N-I-T-Y” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” alongside him.

Like “My Block,” “Fabulous” gestured toward a new ghetto for-lack-of-a-better-word realism, replacing flashy fantasies of escape with celebrations of the everyday, chuckling at the cultural idiosyncrasies of inner city life. (“Spend up all our dough on them chromey thangs/ Name our kids some funny names.”) The first verse introduces us to a hard-luck ex-con and a girl aching to grow up too soon; second verse reveals the couple as the singer’s own soon-to-split dad and struggling single mom. A tough start, to be sure, but the implication is that Jaheim turned out all right. Then again, just last week, cops busted Jaheim in his hometown for speeding while smoking weed. Again. Charge that to the game.

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