February 22, 2001

A Rising Starr

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Becoming a solo artist after working with a successful group is a dicey proposition. For every Everlast (formerly of House of Pain), or Dave Hollister (of Blackstreet), who proves capable of handling the increased spotlight, the scene is littered with unsuccessful solo artists like the Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha. But we don’t live in a black-or-white, good-or-bad kind of world, so inevitably some newly emancipated musicians will live in this middle ground.

Apparently, Fredro Starr has decided to break away from the mediocre rap group Onyx to become a slightly better than mediocre solo artist. Like his former teammate Sticky Fingaz (whose verse on “Soldierz” proves he is Onyx’s best chance for a breakout star), leaving group life behind has given Fredro the opportunity to stretch his creative wings beyond the guns-and-violence rhymes that dominated his group work.

On Firestarr, Fredro succeeds only when he moves past gangster rap conventions and lets his personality take over. Songs like “Shining Through,” the theme song to Save The Last Dance, have a more positive tone, providing a refreshing contrast to the monotonous gunplay of “Thug Wars.” Other tracks, such as “Perfect Bitch,” the ghetto version of Conan O’Brien’s “What If They Mated” sketch, make a case for creativity in hip-hop.

Clearly the strongest song on the album is “What If?” Made up of a series of questions, Fredro contemplates the alternate reality that would be produced simply by changing a single event. The results range from chilling anarchy to inspired hope.

Probably the best thing Fredro did on his debut was staying away from high-watt guest appearances. While he is a fairly consistent MC, Starr lacks the star quality to break through to the next level. That means that every time he appears on a cut with higher profile rappers, he ends up being overshadowed, a sad state of affairs on your own album. A perfect example of this is the posse cut “Dyin’ 4 Rap (Remix),” where hip-hop superstar Noreaga and up-and-comer Cuban Link completely steal all of Fredro’s shine.

Even if he doesn’t have what it takes to be a chart-topping rapper, Firestarr establishes a potential claim for Starr as a top-tier producer. In crafting a good share of the album’s beats himself (along with his partner DaVinci), he ended up striking gold on several tracks, including the original version of “Dyin’ 4 Rap.”

All in all, Firestarr is an auspicious beginning for a solo career. While it’s unlikely the album will take the charts by storm, Starr is definitely a good rapper. That, combined with some incredible production and creative concepts, makes this album a success. But what I really can’t wait for is the Sticky Fingaz disc.

Archived article by Mike Giusto