Fabolous Talks ‘Summertime Shootout 3’ and Why ‘Breathe’ Is Timeless

Over somber keys by producer AraabMuzik, Fabolous opens Summertime Shootout 3: Coldest Summer Ever with an intro about going through hard times this past summer. At the end of the song, he says, “I just feel like life is hot and cold, ups and downs, back and forth. Wins and losses.”

“It’s going to be some sunshine; it’s going to be some rain,” he continues. “When it rains, it pours. But ask yourself: Can you weather the storm until the sun shines again?” Fabolous has stated publicly that the domestic dispute involving his longtime girlfriend and mother of his two children, Emily Bustamante — for which the rapper was arrested and indicted in 2018 — is behind them. After working through their issues privately, he says he’s trying to become a better person, a better father, and a better partner, focusing on putting his family’s needs first. On November 18, Fab celebrated his 42nd birthday, keeping the celebration intimate with his loved ones that included Chicago rapper G Herbo, who is dating Taina Williams, Emily’s daughter, who she and Fab are co-parenting.

“It was a test of things I was saying that I wanted to do and things that I was working towards,” Fab tells Billboard.“It wasn’t like, ‘Alright, here’s your birthday. How do you want to do this? How do you want to celebrate this? How do you want it to be remembered?’ I was able to find time and balance.”Through his times of self-realization, Fab’s music career didn’t faltered. He remains one of the most consistent rappers from Brooklyn and a legend in his own right, staying hot with verses on Meek Mill’s “Uptown Vibes,” Tory Lanez’ “If You Gotta…,” and Casanova’s “So Brooklyn,” which helped kick off the entire #SoBrooklynChallenge. On his own singles, he’s built excitement behind the Summertime Shootout campaign with “Choosy” featuring Jeremih and Davido and its #ChoosyChallenge, as well as “B.O.M.B.S” that finds him getting back in his lyrical bag.

So Summertime Shootout 3 comes at an opportune time for Fab, where he’s in the process of rebuilding himself in a good light. The third installment came on Black Friday this year, following his tradition of releasing new music around a holiday. It’s stacked with features – Meek Mill, Lil Durk, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, Jacquees, Roddy Ricch, Chris Brown, and Teyana Taylor are just some of the marquee names who contributed to the project. Fab described this as a playlist, encouraging his fans to play it all the way through and add their favorites to their own personalized playlists as they wish.

Over the phone on December 4 — better known in the hip-hop world as Jay-Z’s birthday — Fab spoke to Billboard about his Thanksgiving, working with Casanova and “So Brooklyn,” The Young O.G. Project 2, and more.

Today is JAY-Z’s birthday. Are you going to send him a text or anything saying happy birthday?

Yeah, you definitely gotta say happy birthday to Hov. It’s the big 5-0.

It’s crazy he’s reached this level at 50, and I’m sure he still has much more to do.

Yeah, now he’s evolved into using his legacy to better other people as well. Not saying he wasn’t doing it before, but to shed light on certain situations and topics and things going on in the world outside of music. Jay-Z has always been a huge figure in hip-hop. Now he is doing things outside of the music game that are huge as well.

Let’s get into the release of the album, Summertime Shootout 3. You dropped it around Thanksgiving — how was your Thanksgiving?

It was good. I spent it with family. We ate kind of late, so that was a change. That was a new vibe, not eating as early as we have planned. Sometimes doing something different, it sparks a new energy. We ate late so everybody was definitely hungry. [Laughs.]

It was a good time, overall. Great spending time with the family. My album dropped at midnight. We all got to take part and engage in that. In between helping and preparing everything and getting myself ready, you know, approving things for the project, signing the vinyl covers and different things like that. It was an interesting Thanksgiving.

It’s almost become a ritual. If people want a break from their families, they can listen to new Fab.

Yeah, that definitely was one of the ideas. The holiday time is where people slow down a little bit more. You get a chance to really take in an album. Especially in our times today where everybody is so caught up. There is so much going on. Social media is flying 100 miles an hour. You got your own life. You got personal things that you gotta do. You got so much going on that sometimes music gets pushed to the back, because things are [higher] priority than that.

One of our ideas going in from a long time ago — because I’ve been dropping projects during the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmastime for a while — was catching people while they’re dormant, while they got a chance to kick their feet up, and they don’t have work the next day, and they don’t have to do as much. I think one of the only disadvantages is that things shut down a little bit towards the holidays. Other than that, the connection to the listener, I think that’s worth it.

We are just more tuned in. You had a few projects that dropped during the holidays.

One of the S.O.U.L. Tapes on Christmas. One of the S.O.U.L. Tapes dropped around Thanksgiving. I just caught wind of it a little while ago. I remember back in the days in the late ‘90s, November-December, mostly December was a big time to drop records. I think all the big dogs: Jay-Zs, the DMXs. They would all drop records in December or early to late December. And we would get big turnouts.

I do remember there was kind of a “black” time right after that. January was usually the “black out,” like a dead space because I guess after Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, people are pretty tapped out. You’re not going to get big sales after that. But the big sales usually came in December and they would shoot back up once late January, late February [comes around].After you dropped a project, you did a fan concert called The Black Friday Pull Up in Brooklyn. How was the experience?

It was fun. It was really an appreciation thing, pulling up and performing. Between me and Def Jam, we got a venue out in Brooklyn and people just pulled up. I didn’t have a setlist. We just really pulled up and started rocking some joints. Did some joints from the new project, of course. And just vibed out with the fans. It was dope.

You and Casanova performed “So Brooklyn” together. Talk about working with Cas and him reaching out to do the song. I feel like your verse kicked off this whole Summertime Shootout roll out now.

Yeah Cas just hit me and said he had a joint called “So Brooklyn.” And truthfully, I get a lot of offers to do the Brooklyn record or the New York record with fellow New York artists. A lot of the times, I would tell them, ‘I would do a record with you, but I don’t want every record I do to be like trying to make the New York anthem.’ Those come every once in a while but I don’t want to be all, you know, we just stuck trying to make New York anthems. Let’s make records for ourselves that translate throughout the whole country.

Not to say New York anthems are not needed — like I said, I did “So Brooklyn.” There’s a place for them, but I don’t want us to be so focused on that that is all we are doing. Let’s make sure that if we are competing, we are competing with everyone and not just ourselves.

But yeah, he hit me up. I like the joint. Also, me and Cas have a good relationship. Us doing the record together is pretty much just us hitting each other up. So he hit me up and I got it done. It was interesting how the [#SoBrooklyn] Challenge started too. I think the verse sparked the #SoBrooklynChallenge and made everybody want to rap on it. Like, lemme take my shot. That’s almost like what my verse was, me taking my shot.

I think Maino did one. Uncle Murda and Papoose did the challenge too. Any one of them you particularly liked?

There’s a lot of dope ones. It’s been a minute since I’ve heard the actual ones. I think Papoose did his thing on there. I think Young M.A. did her thing on it as far as Brooklyn goes. I think G Herbo too. It turns into a global thing. I was getting @-ed on social media with everybody wanting me to hear their verse. “So Australia,” you know what I mean? I was like, “Oh, I didn’t even now the record was going that far.” It also shows the power of hip-hop, and the power of a good record.

The Summertime Shootout series are like recaps of the summer for you. How would you sum up your summer this year?

This summer, it had sunshine and it had its rain. What it was about was weathering the storm. When the rain goes away, usually the sun comes back out. That’s what I just kept in mind, even when I was going through things pretty much through the summer. Even things that I didn’t have answers for, I had never experienced before. I was just able to keep my faith in that the storm has passed. That’s where the spirit of Summertime Shootout 3 came from. That whole energy.

During that time when you were weathering the storm, what did you learn about yourself?

I learned patience. I had a certain level of patience, but sometimes weathering the storm is a patient process. Every storm don’t pass fast. Every storm, it can be passing, but it can be getting stronger and stronger or it could be coming down hard. Metaphorically, in that state, that’s when I learned patience for just having to go through it and whatever time it took, I had to still accept it and go through it. I couldn’t rush it. I couldn’t make it stop raining whenever I wanted to. I couldn’t make the situation end when I wanted it to. It had to end when it was allowed.

What were you doing to keep you busy?

Making music, one thing that kept me busy [and] focusing on things that I wanted. I put a lot of time and energy into things that I wanted and that’s what really kept me busy throughout the summer, throughout this process, was just really focusing on what I wanted and what I needed too. Not just things that you want, things that you need in your life. I focused on those things and not the distractions that everything else was coming along.

Was one those things family?

Yeah, family was definitely something I focused on. Down to how I accept and move through certain things. Even down to how I celebrate certain things. My birthday was always a time I celebrated publicly. Sometimes I would celebrate with my family, but a lot of times it was so much energy and focus celebrating outside of my family. This was one of the times where I wanted to change that.You celebrated your birthday last month. It looked real intimate.

It was November 18th. It was definitely something I was working towards. That was…I don’t want to say “test,” for lack of a better word. But it was a test of things I was saying that I wanted to do and things that I was working towards. It wasn’t like, “All right, here’s your birthday. How do you want to do this? How do you want to celebrate this? How do you want it to be remembered?” I was able to find time and balance.

Balance is another key to what I was going through, too. Just finding the right balance of career, family, personal goals, personal feelings. All of that is part of life and part of growing up. Evolving. That’s what I worked on.

That’s growth. Around the time you dropped the first Summertime Shootout, you announced The Young O.G. Project 2. Are fans still going to get that or is it shelved entirely?

I stated it then because I had a lot of records for it and was working on that. I ended up not putting it out because I don’t think I had the records finalized with what I was doing. I’m more about doing the right way then just doing it to do it. So I didn’t push it forward. But I still have that slated. I still have that on deck. It’s about me just finishing it up.

It was already six-seven songs on that project done. I wasn’t trying to get it too long, but I also was trying to like just finalize it. I didn’t want to just slap together the next three, four, five songs and it didn’t feel the way the other songs did.

You called Summertime Shootout 3 a playlist vibe — and when we listen to it from front to back we get all these different moods. Coming from your background making mixtapes with the freedom to experiment, how does Fab approach an album?

That’s funny because I think the lines are blurred a little bit: Album, mixtape, playlist. I believe “playlist” became the new “mixtape.” I feel like the same way people were putting together playlists was how people were putting together mixtapes. They were curating a selection of songs that sonically vibed together. And sometimes even exclusive [songs] or serve their purpose whatever way they did. Now I feel like playlists are earning that same token. People get albums and the first thing they do is pull a song or two off of it and make their own personal playlist vibe. That was the approach to making the project.I want to end with “Breathe.” It came out 15 years ago in 2004 and is still getting plays today. Do you have any reflections on the song or working with Just Blaze?

One of the key stories that I always tell is that I wrote the song with this whole metaphorical catchphrase of “Breathe” and after I did it, Just told me that the sample wasn’t saying “breathe.” And I was like, ‘What!” He was like, ‘Yeah, don’t worry. I can make it say ‘breathe.’’ So somehow, he made it sonically sound like it was saying “breathe.” I can’t remember what it actually was. It might’ve been “freeze” or something like that. It wasn’t saying “breathe.” He told me that, and he was able to work his magic. My “Breathe” song was able to live.

Anytime I’m at the Barclays and you’re performing and that song goes on. It just takes me to another place.

Thank you, man. At that time, too, Just Blaze was one of the dopest producers in the game — if not the dopest. He gave me a joint that had a great hip-hop feel, but still had some energy, some bop. It was a mixture of a kind of record that you don’t find just everyday. I tip my hat to Just for even giving me that kind of joint. You gotta also think Just was around a lot of guys that time. I don’t know how that beat slipped through Jay-Z’s hands or whoever. But I’m thankful for it. It’s always going to be a staple in my catalogue.

Fat Joe and The Game have recently dropped their final albums. When do you feel ready to retire? Do you think you have more to say on your albums?

Yeah, I definitely do. I feel like as you grow, you’re still going to evolve as long as you’re on this Earth. I would like to, if I can, bring that to my music. Bring whatever I am going through, the changes I am addressing, anything I am doing, I would like to share that. Maybe people need to hear it. Maybe people need to see it, just to help them and improve their day. If I can, yeah, I would love to keep doing it until it don’t make no sense anymore.

Yeah, until you’re 50.

Word. Yeah, Jay could still drop an album today if he wanted to, you know what I mean? There was a time that Jay could put in his raps that he didn’t want to rap after a certain age. I forgot what he said. He thought rapping at 38 was it. But I think he dropped a couple of albums since 38.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.