For his third studio effort as a solo artist, Derrick Freeman serves as ringmaster to a masterful, manic musical circus, rich in recruited local talent, in his deft melding of melding of rock, rap, retro-soul, jazz and funk into a damn-good-time display of expert composition, outlandish comedy and high-minded artistry.
In the opening track “The Caliling” (YouTube it), Freeman (a.k.a. Mr. Smoker) offers up self-affirmation via spoken word-style hip-hop delivery, punctuated by guests M@ Peoples and Jermaine Quiz and topped off with samples cut from Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Freeman shifts to a Tupac-type flow in the following “P.A.M.A.T.A.B.” for a gangsta-rap homage that bounces to a delicious groove.
A slinky synth intro (courtesy Drew Meez) and tenacious piano rolls (from Jason Butler) help highlight “Skate,” a cutting parody of bloated “naturally N’awlins” culture (a sacred cow somehow rarely, if ever, satirized by local artists) with Freeman popping off about “How ya mama fried chicken in the neutral ground.”
An accomplished jazz musician known to many for his gig as Kermit Ruffins’ drummer, Freeman changes pace as he partners up with trumpeter Nicholas Payton for a stellar version of the late Cedar Walton’s Civil Rights-era Blue Note classic, “Black.”
The album concludes with the climatic “DWB,” a true-life tale ushered in by Khris Royal on didgeridoo and Freeman explaining “Driving while black in Alabama / Of course I had some weed / Now I’m in the slammer / In the end I’ll be as broke as fuckin’ MC Hammer” in opening a sprawling 10-minute jam (punctuated by mind-bending guitar from Danny Abel (Gravity A) and tight horn section) for a tune as jubilant and groovy as it is challenging and provocative—kinda like Freeman himself.