When Ghostface Killah snarled, on “The Champ,” about those “stuck on ’Laffy Taffy,’” he was not alone. A certain breed of self-serious rap fan looked at the butt-centric novelty hit, a genuine Billboard #1 in the early weeks of 2006, the way Scottish villagers must’ve once looked at Viking warships. As someone who lived in New York and wrote about rap music in the mid-’00s, I can only tell you that a whole lot of people thought that song was The End — the moment where a time-honored artistic tradition took an irreversible turn toward knowing, cynical lowest-common-denominator stupidity. I honestly can’t think of another single song that’s received that level of rap-fan vitriol in my years as a music critic — not even “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” This viewpoint was, of course, dumb as fuck. Rap had plenty of novelty hits before “Laffy Taffy,” it’s had plenty since, and it can sustain plenty more. And those who sneered at “Laffy Taffy” — ultimately a harmless dumb-fun song — cheated themselves out of a few genuine pleasures, like the spacey dinky-dink beat and the performance of the rubber-limbed baritone lunatic Fabo, the only interesting member of D4L. Fabo cut a clownish figure in the “Laffy Taffy” video, sure enough, but if you were willing to pay attention, he emerged as a bona fide visionary rap eccentric — like, well, Ghostface Killah.
Spend enough time with Down For Life, the only album D4L ever released, and Fabo emerges as rap’s reigning chronicler of the dizzy, sweaty, out-of-control gone-off-that-ecstasy mental state. Fabo’s version of rapping was a bellowing singsong that barely ever settled into a single cadence or octave for more than a bar or two. He seemed to pull unshakable hooks out of midair, and he was unquestionably the driving force behind “Laffy Taffy”; every other rapper fades into the background immediately. The beats on Down For Life were next-level things — prim and minimal and propulsive and straight-up radical in the DJ Toomp era. They’ve had a seismic effect on rap in Atlanta and California, echoing through jerk and swag-rap and ratchet music and a pile of other minute little teenager-driven mini-genres. It’s impossible to imagine, for instance, DJ Mustard’s recent West Coast rap takeover without the D4L precedent. And D4L would never have worked without Fabo throwing hot buckets of personality all over every track. The three other members were stolid, boring street-rap types, whereas Fabo was a full-bore nutcase who could barely be contained by even tracks as spacey as these. And when he got a track all to himself, the album truly achieved liftoff. Consider the immortal bugshit anthem “Scotty,” on which Fabo abandons all sense of structure and chants about Star Trek and Nerf footballs and feeling like the wall is looking at him for four delirious minutes. It’s a true rap cult favorite, a product of an endlessly restless and inventive mind.
Fabo should’ve been a star, but instead it was his D4L crewmate Shawty Lo who randomly scored a couple of hits before disappearing completely. Fabo, meanwhile, didn’t even get the solo hits. He released a few absolutely insane solo tracks and a 2008 mixtape that I somehow missed at the time, and he also went to college and generally faded from memory. A triumphantly loony verse on Trinidad James’s “Quez” last year gave me one of those “oh yeah, that guy” quick jolts, but it wasn’t enough to prepare me for We Amongst U, a seriously fun, all-over-the-place mixtape that hit the internet yesterday and showed Fabo operating at or near peak capacity. (If you were wondering: I have no idea why he added the “2$” to his name.) On opener “Catch Me On Dat Molly,” he’s back in that weaving, staggering lost-in-chemicals feeling, talking about politicking over loopholes with a bitch taller than Manute Bol before hitting that inevitable moment where he wishes he wasn’t high anymore: “When I don’t remember my name, I close my eyes and I deal with this pain.” There are are other moments of real talk, too, as on the meditative, melodic, sober “How The Fuck Did I Get Here?,” a song full of regrets about dumb-kid mistakes.
But this isn’t, for the most part, a grown-up mixtape. Instead, it’s fun. Fabo is showing off here, doing loops of double-time nonsense on “In Space” and approaching his own “Scotty” insanity on “My GIK Walk.” “Keep Your Mind On Dat Money,” the last proper song on the album, is retooled retro-soul, like something Fabo’s fellow Atlanta eccentric Cee-Lo would do, and it somehow comes off as a sincerely goofy pastiche, not a cynical move. There’s a skit where he tries to buy a cupcake from an uptight white lady. It’s all a bit messy and unfocused, and the beats, from an array of lesser-knowns, don’t have the spacey architecture or the propulsive force as the ones on Down For Life. Still, We Amongst U is a hell of a good time, and it announces the reemergence of an American original, a guy who never should’ve gone away. The tape has moments of magic, but more excitingly, it gives some idea of how great this guy could be if he channels his voice into something a bit more thought-out.
Download We Amongst U at Livemixtapes.