Courtesy of his eternally youthful appearance, it can be galling to consider how long Fabolous has been on hip-hop’s active roster. Fresh from a largely unheralded, two-year-long features spree, Fab is now taking that momentum—not to mention some of his newfound allies-- and harnessing it into a fully-fledged project. His first official studio record since 2015, Summertime Shootout 3: The Coldest Summer Ever is an exercise in bringing Fab back from the fringes of underground acclaim and right back to the plaque-lined playground. For those in need of a brief catch-up, Fab’s abstinence from building his discography hasn’t meant that he downed tools completely. In actual fact, he’s reigned supreme in the mixtape arena with the Soul Tape, There Is No Competition and Summertime Shootout series’, with the inaugural edition of SS standing tall as the second most played project in Datpiff history to this day

Three years on from the previous installment, Fabo has revisited the formula and transposed it to the major release schedule. Elevated by a luscious instrumental from the MPC maestro Araabmuzik, the intro of “Cold Summer” opens with a rumination on resilience in the face of adversity. Spoken from the view of a grizzled veteran, there is both sincerity and immovable self-belief as he proclaims “some can't take smoke so they may choke, but those who learn to make boats, stay afloat.” Comparing his journey to that of other artists that had been prematurely counted out—“they was giving Meek an L, said he wouldn't prevail, next thing you know that boy was in a championship”-- Fab soon dispenses with all ambiguity as to what this project should represent as he spits “I know my story gets better 'cause I know the author / keep readin', it's a comeback story.”

Fab’s commitment to eradicating even the faintest sign of complacency is one of the main attributes that makes Summertime Shootout 3 such a compelling listen. With his snappy punchlines kept intact, Fab delves headlong into melodic flows, autotuned vocal modulation and every facet of modern hip-hop or R&B production that he can slink round. Far from alone in this endeavor, Fab enlists a motley crew of artists and producers to enact his vision. Calling upon the services of everyone from beat-making extraordinaires such as Bink! OG Parker, and Wallis Lane to R&B newcomer Josh K, YFN Lucci and Jacquees, Fab daringly allows his collaborators to commandeer much of the runtime on numerous tracks. At this stage, Fab doesn’t need to outshine these artists, instead aiming for coexistence. Armed with a nuanced hook cleverly entrusted to Highbridge’s finest A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, “Gone For The Summer” metamorphosizes the same Fantastic Four sample thatNas rapped over on the underrated gem of “Take It In Blood” and reimagines it in the region of an atmospheric OVO Sound-style offering. 

Renowned for touching on matters of the heart, the passionate embrace emblazoned on the cover of SS3 proved an indication of one a key lyrical theme. Love and its many manifestations permeate through innately catchy choruses and expertly realised bars. Hooking up with none other than Ty Dolla $ign, “Ooh Yea” sees both men treating the object of their affections to the finer things in life while “Bae Dreaming” allots Fab and YFN Lucci a chance to give us a window into their most explicit desires. A feat that’s quickly repeated on the Jacquees aided “My Mind,” these refreshingly uncynical tributes to the fairer sex reach their pinnacle on the delicate, afrobeats-informed number “Choosy.” Constructed with universality in mind as Fab declares “the Middle East, Russia, Canada, worldwide, Loso, Davido, and Jeremih had to let 'em all know,” it’d be no surprise if this track truly did make international ripples in the club. 

Much of the record’s duration provides a welcome refresher course on the unique lane he’s fashioned within romance rap since the days of “Into You” and “Can’t Let You Go.” Conversely, Loso doesn’t shy away from reproaching the more conspiratorial females he’s observed on “Seasons Change” with Tory Lanez or on the distinctly modern allegory of “Insecure.” Complete with a melancholic beat from Araabmuzik that correlates with its tale of social media deceptions, Fab and The Dream uphold rap’s rich storytelling tradition with a tale that sees the newly minted “Fably Cooper” theorise “Betrayal is the new trend, loyalty is vintage now.” A frank examination of the unbridled jealousy and maniacal behavior that comes into play when a partner sets their sights on greener, Instagram-informed pastures, its skit at the end is wince-inducing in all the right ways. Springing into life with a Hitmaka production tag, “Options” feels like an olive branch towards those who are hankering for some of that Soul Tape sound, coming through with reinforcements in the shape of PnB Rock, Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz. Centered on how fame and fortune have made the world into every MC’s oyster, each rapper does an excellent job of depicting that unabridged lavishness that makes hip-hop stardom into the ultimate fantasy. And when enjoyed in a vacuum, that’s all "Options" represents. However, in the broader context of the album, it speaks to one of the few sticking points that anyone could discernibly have with SS3.

Constantly reassured by the presence of another, the album’s endless procession of guests can get a little grating when in reality, you’d rather hear more of Fab. In many ways an indictment of the feature-obsessed landscape that he’s catering to, an artist as talented and versatile as the NY vet realistically doesn’t need to pad his project with another prominent name on every song. Still, Summertime Shootout 3 excels in depicting Fab as both aspirational in the stature he’s reached and inspirational in his refusal to accept the diminished stature that so many rappers of his age range have languished in. Although its liberal use of features may rankle some, this album has everything he could need to ingratiate him to new audiences while keeping his loyal supporters onside.