Think about male hip-hop figures and their trademarks. At times, the symbol—a material object or signature action—receives more attention than the artist does, which is why Mr. John Dough is hell-bent on keeping this part of his brand in pristine condition. Lil Jon has his pimp cup. Sean Combs has his “Diddy” bop. What does Philadelphia rapper Freeway have? His beard. “I use this good shampoo and conditioner [on it],” he admits. “I keep it moisturized and soft, comb it. I take a lot better care of it than when I first got on.” For a man who makes a barbershop visit every two weeks to keep it properly trimmed, would it be wrong to think he put a name to the lengthy strands so near and dear to his heart? “No, I haven’t,” he continues with a laugh, “but I’m sure some other people might have.”
While monikers for his beard get thrown around, Freeway is tending to other matters, namely the release of his highly-anticipated third album, The Stimulus Package. Produced entirely by veteran G-Unit producer Jake One, the 15-track disc features collaborations with the likes of Beanie Sigel, Raekwon, and Bun B, among others. There’s even a sampling of Rick James’ “Mary Jane” on “She Makes Me Feel Alright,” an ode to the woman who makes the MC laugh. The album—created to awaken listeners from the nightmare of mundane lyrics and beats—is a collective effort, from the tracks to the custom casing built like a wallet. “It takes a lot of brains to make a masterpiece,” Freeway reveals. “If you get some of the best people that do what they do, then you will create that.”
As the father of two drives his pals to perform at a local Philly show (yes, he also acts as a chauffeur for his boys), he pulls double duty, airing out his thoughts on the Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel controversy, his favorite “hang out” spot, and which R&B singer he’d like to collaborate with.
1. On “Money” you mention once having a job sweeping hair in a barbershop. What’s another job you’ve had besides that one?
That was the only real job I had besides rap. It was cool, I was a young boy so I didn’t really hate it. I was making money every weekend and all the other kids didn’t really have money. I was 11 [years old]. I never cut hair though, just swept it up. I was rapping at that time too. I used to battle a lot at Paul’s Barbershop. They had a franchise. Both were on 52nd Street, one was at the top and one was on the southwest side. It was crazy. There was this guy named Twan that used to work there; he was grown and I was a young boy. He was supposed to be the hottest, so I wanted to battle him.
2. You created The Stimulus Package to stimulate hip-hop. Do you feel the genre is coming out of a “recession”?
I feel as though it’s coming out of the recession. Music that I love, ya know what I’m saying. I’m not hating on nobody’s music, ’cause that’s what music is about—creativity, different styles, and everything. I’m talking about music I love. I think it’s coming back around with the release of the Raekwon album [Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II] last year and things of that nature.
3. When you say “music that I love,” what is that?
Like the late ’90s and early 2000s. The Lox, like Biggie, like Jay-Z.
4. Last year you mentioned working with Cash Money. What is the status of that? Are you signed to them?
Nah, I’m not signed to them. That’s something that’s up in the air. But if it works out, that would be lovely. Baby is on the album. We have a crazy track on The Stimulus Package. I had bumped into him in Miami at the Louis [Vuitton] store and we were brushin’ it up. I told him about the project and that I needed him on the joint, “Follow My Moves.” He said, “Let’s do it.”
5. The album title was inspired by President Obama’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act. What are your thoughts about his work in office right now?
He’s doing a good job. I think he had a big mess to clean up. It will take a minute to clean the mess up and turn things around. Everyone should just be patient with him. I think he definitely speaks to the people a lot. Communication is important in whatever you do. If there is no communication, then you don’t know what’s on people’s minds and you don’t know how they’re thinking about situations.
6. On the track “She Makes Me Feel Alright,” you state that “behind every good man there’s a strong woman.” You shouted out First Lady Michelle Obama as being that woman for Obama. What lady in your life plays that role?
[Laughs] You still want to know! My mom, definitely. She’s a strong black woman and she plays an important role, her and my aunts. They did a good job raising me. The type of person that I am, I don’t really discuss my problems with people. I try to tackle my problems myself first and if it gets too much for me then I’ll reach out. [My mom] definitely understands the business. When I first got on Roc-A-Fella in 2000, I had just got out of jail—I got locked up for possession with the intent to deliver—and one thing that I can remember about my mom is when I first came home, she was like, “You need to leave the rap stuff alone and try to find yourself a job.” I told her, “If nothing happens this year with the rap thing, then I’ll leave it alone and find a job.” That was in the beginning of the year. Then [later] in November, things started picking up. The Dynasty: Roc La Familia album came out. I forgot all about that conversation. Then she was like, “You told me if something didn’t happen, you was gonna find a job, but you made it happen. I’m proud of you.” It felt good.
7. Last year you put out a song addressing the Beanie Sigel and Jay-Z turmoil. What was one of your biggest issues with that situation?
As far as my relationship with Beans, we Muslim so that’s my brother. I’m gonna stick by him no matter what. Me and Jay, we cool, ya know what I’m saying. We talk here and there. I don’t got no bad feelings towards him. It’s one of those things I wish didn’t happen but it is what it is.
8. Where in Philadelphia do you go to relieve stress?
I go to the masjid. That’s where Muslims go pray at. I go there a lot. It makes me happy. It’s a comfortable place to worship. I go every day.
9. If you had to choose a bill to put your face on, which one would it be?
The thousand-dollar bill. It would have to stand out, put a special watermark on it. I might put a couple little shades of different colors up in there to make it more flavorful than the regular money. You know they not gonna let you change it up too much.
10. Is there an artist that you want to work with but haven’t had the chance to yet?
Alicia Keys. I actually just did an unofficial remix with her for “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart” with DJ Benja Styles. We put it on the Internet and it’s been getting a good response. She better get with it. We could make beautiful music together.