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Fabo: Ode to a Bankhead hardhead

Rapper dances around critics

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When Lefabian "Fabo" Williams exploded onto the scene in early 2005 as one-fourth of the Bankhead-bred rap group D4L, he immediately evoked a love-hate response from the music world. D4L's minimally produced songs "Betcha Can't Do It Like Me" and "Laffy Taffy" had listeners either snapping their fingers or throwing the group a figurative middle finger. Critics and peers were no different. While Busta Rhymes and Twista (hailing from New York and Chicago, respectively) hopped on the "Laffy Taffy" remix, other East Coast hip-hop stalwarts such as Ghostface and Eve cited the song's existence as one of the reasons why hip-hop was dead.

"Well, if hip-hop is dead, then say hello to GIK music," Fabo rattles back, some two years later. He promotes the acronym as "Give Instead of Kill" – a far cry from the image of the drug-addicted "geek monster" that the term connotes. Of course, remixing tradition is Fabo's forte.

Often photographed wearing knee-high stirrup socks, a fitted baseball cap and his trademark plastic, white-framed shades, Fabo (pronounced "FAY-boh") is a colorful character, to say the least. He's largely credited with turning the snap dance (which complements the "snap music" D4L and other Bankhead groups such as Dem Franchize Boyz helped create) into a national phenomenon. Fabo embellishes his own version of the dance with signature moves, such as flipping his foot up toward his shoulder while mugging at onlookers.

But the same tricks he's used to distinguish himself from the crowd have been used against him by those within hip-hop who think his style of showmanship epitomizes the kind of minstrel caricatures stereotypical of the Old South.

It's not a cross that Fabo bears alone. From the "haaaanh" hollers of the Ying Yang Twins to the "yayeaaahs" that spill from Lil Jon's diamond-encrusted grill, Southern rappers – and a distinct brand of Atlanta rappers, in particular – have been crucified in recent years for dumbing down rap music as they yuck it up.

But the image conveyed in videos and on CDs is often just that – a one-dimensional image. Fabo's desire to rectify his own image may be the reason why he started Fabo.tv, a website that offers rare behind-the-scenes glimpses at a man who seems to have more in common with the mythical Stagger Lee gangster than any sort of Jim Crow-era caricature.

In a poignant moment captured in late 2006 on the underground DVD Caught Raw and Uncut TV 2, Fabo addresses those quick to classify him as a hambone. Shielding his eyes behind his trademark Fabo shades, the entertainer's sensitivity to the topic is still apparent.

"All them lil sucka[s] ... keep walkin' up on me talking 'bout 'Do that lil dance.' I don't mind doing that lil muthafuckin' dance, but let me tell you something ...," he states calmly. "I ain't finna be stuntin' for my muthafuckin' [dinner] plate, grabbin' my goddamn feet and all that type of crap right there. ... I will do the dance or whatever. Just ... find a better way to approach me man, cause when a [dude] get off from McDonald's, you ain't gon' be walkin' up behind [him] talking 'bout, 'Gimme a hamburger, man. Gimme a hamburger. Gimme a hamburger. ...'

"You walk up behind me talkin' 'bout 'Do dat lil dance,' I'ma slap the goddamn shit outta ya. ... So don't be walking up to me with that bullshit. But the kids, I love y'all," he says, flashing the camera an obligatory smile as he snaps back into entertainer mode. "I love the kids."

Read between the lines and you'll discover Fabo is neither the gangster nor the caricature people may perceive, but a product of his environment, hell-bent on overcoming the odds. The twentysomething native grew up on Atlanta's Westside, moving between Hollywood Courts and the now-extinct Perry Homes housing development. More than 30 percent of the residents in the 30318 ZIP code he hails from live below the poverty line. The ZIP code also produces more Georgia prison inmates than any other ZIP in the state, according to Georgia Department of Corrections data.

One might expect Fabo to have a chip on his shoulder too big to dance with after emerging from such circumstances. Rather than wallow in self-pity, he chooses to entertain.

"It's a million niggas telling the same story," explains the rapper who wears his white-rimmed shades in tribute to his brother serving life in prison. "Everybody says, 'I'm broke. I'm from the 'hood.' You want me to tell the same story? Check my criminal record if you want to know about me. People better be happy I'm smiling."

Raheem the Dream, for one, is both happy and proud. "You tend to make music [reflective] of the environment you are in," says the Atlanta music legend credited with discovering and developing the early careers of Fabo, Young Dro and Dem Franchize Boyz. "I'm happy to see artists like Fabo be able to show they are having a good time despite the conditions they grew up in."

With the first single, "How You Do That" featuring Young Dro, leaking from his upcoming Atlantic records solo album, GIK Music, and his show-stealing appearance on the Alliance's "Tatted Up" exploding on radio, Fabo doesn't intend to fade into the background anytime soon.

Whether or not he can continue to bear the burden of fans' expectations and naysayers' criticism remains to be seen. Immediately following his not-so-subtle DVD clip tirade directed toward those who chide him to dance on command, someone from behind the camera makes the inevitable request: "Do dat dance, Fabo."

A slow, half-hearted grin creeps over his face as he turns his head and stares dead into the camera. "I'ma do that dance, too," Fabo says, easing to his feet. "One time."


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