Fabolous sounds like a real jerk. A moderately talented jerk, true, though I suspect that for a certain kind of hip-hop fan his jerkiness boosts his appeal more than his hardly unsurpassed skills. His guest raps were the bane of my ’00s rap-listening — well, not “the” bane, considering the territory, but certainly he was an unwelcome interruption to the romantic musings of young women of whom he was artistically and sexually unworthy. (As if to underscore this unworthiness, his own ballads entrusted the hooks to R&B backbenchers like Lil Mo or Tamia.) And not only did his clipped delivery indicate the smugness yet to come, but he can’t fucking spell.
So yeah, jerks deserve no benefit of any doubt. “Can’t Deny It” tried to pick a fight I had no interest in — sure, you’re a fucking rider, whatever, please don’t sic Nate Dogg on me. And “Young’n (Holla Back)” owed as much to “Sympathy for the Devil” as “Bittersweet Symphony” had. [funnier, factual accurate zing TK]. But on “Breathe,” the insertion of metrically required extra syllables to “oxygen-mask-es” and the sharp threat to “ride up on” his foes “like they escalators” justify his smugness for once. Though hardly flab-free — the rapper rehearses the same tedious gripes (“money-hungry bitches”) and boasts of “quick metaphors” right after comparing his flow to a fast car — “Breathe” is definitely Fabolous’s finest moment.
Of course, that’s mostly because “Breathe” is among Just Blaze’s finest moments. That piano sample, courtesy Supertramp’s “Crime of the Century,” generates an urgency as claustrophobic as the title deserves, highlighted by the title exclamation and driven by a persistent backbeat. Credit where it’s due: Fab’s “One, one and then the two…” hook only adds to the suspense. Still, I can’t help but wonder how unbearably tense Freeway would have made this track.