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5 August, 2009@7:56 am

The list of emcees who have struggled with finding the sweet spot between what’s heartfelt and what’s commercial includes, well, just about everyone, but few have embodied that dichotomy quite as well during the 2000s as Brooklyn’s Fabolous. Though he’s had both the lyrics and the legal entanglements to keep his street cred intact, he’s had some of his biggest successes with songs like “Trade It All,” “Into You” and “Make Me Better.” Not exactly a hardcore Murderers’ Row.

Since his last studio album (and first for Def Jam), 2007′s From Nothin’ to Somethin’, did the poorest sales numbers of his career, Fabolous could be forgiven for bending even more to try to go with what’s trendy over what’s true for his new joint. That’s not the case, though, as Loso’s Way sees the rapper walking the line as well as he’s ever done it, putting the new album firmly into the category of pleasant surprises.

While the title is unabashedly inspired by the Pacino cult classic Carlito’s Way, to call the new record a concept album would be a bit of a stretch. What Loso’s Way does have going for it is a bit of a cinematic feel thanks to its team of producers – and it really is a team, as only Ryan Leslie does more than one beat – and a nice progression with most of the straightforward rhymes on the first half and most of the introspective stuff in the back half.

Fabolous comes out firing on the intro, “The Way,” as he describes how he made his name in the rap game without the same advantages others have had: “Let’s talk about how I’m killing everything I touches/ Or how I walked in this game with no crutches./ No Diddy, no Dupri, no Dr. Dre/ No Cash Money from Baby and no Rocs from Jay.” He does get a chorus from Jay-Z on “Money Goes, Honey Stay,” and it sure sounds like he’s channeling his inner S. Carter on the soulful “Pachanga” – and that’s intended as a compliment.

Other standout tracks include the other Mr. Carter, Lil Wayne, guesting over the drum line beat hooked up by Miguel Jiminez for “Salute” and The Alchemist cooking up a typically sinister “Lullaby.” The radio friendly cuts don’t seem to include a sure smash like Fab’s had almost every time out, but lead single “Throw It in the Bag,” “Last Time” and “Stay” are all catchy enough.

Def Jam also got just about every hot R&B artist out there to sing a chorus, including The Dream, Ne-Yo, Trey Songz, Keri Hilson and current man of the hour Jeremih. If the spins don’t come, it won’t be for a lack of trying.

All told, Loso’s Way is probably one of the smarter ways to make hip hop these days: keep one ear to the streets and one to the radio and the clubs, then hopefully find something that meets them halfway. Fabolous mostly succeeds with that balancing act this time, meaning a lot of different listeners should find something here that they like. - Nick Tylwalk

  Mixtape D.L.
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