Rockie Fresh loves sports metaphors.
Sitting on a white couch in a nearly empty conference room inside of Atlantic Records’ offices in New York City, rocking gold chains and a Bathing Ape T-shirt, the Chicago-native finds the most appropriate way to compare himself to his hometown hero, Derrick Rose.
“I don’t feel like a new artist,” Fresh explains in this exclusive conversation with HipHopDX. “At the same time I don’t feel like a veteran either. I think it’s similar to my homie from Chicago, Derrick Rose. He’s been playing basketball for a long time. He was able to get success in college, go to the Final Four. He was able to gain success in the NBA by being the youngest MVP ever. At the same time, there’s still so much to do. Even though he’s been able to receive veteran accolades, even though he’s not in his rookie season anymore, that championship is the goal and until you reach that, you really can’t feel fulfilled. That’s how I feel as an artist.”
Later in the conversation he will find a way to seamlessly work in Seattle Seahawks savior, Richard Sherman and NBA champions Miami Heat. He’s a sports fanatic and a movie junky. He is super comfortable in conversation, the product of twenty-something years of diverse experiences and the guidance of his Maybach Music label head, Rick Ross.
The story of Rockie Fresh is still unfolding. It’s difficult to think of any artist with six mixtapes and seven years of experience as “new.” Yet, he’s far from an iTunes staple for most, so the above Derrick Rose metaphor is absolutely apropos. In a sense, at this point in his career, Rockie Fresh is still in the middle. But listening to him detail the MMG’s tumultuous year, Grammy Awards and examples of how musicians are exploited by brands—his perspective immediately stands out.
Rockie Fresh Says His Diverse Background Makes Him Relatable
HipHopDX: I want to open with a quote from Rick Ross about you. “Other than of course his ability to make music and write choruses and put visuals together, it’s like when I was just sitting there talking with him and connecting with him, I saw that he’s the reflection of everyman.” He describes you as being able to relate to anyone. Is that an accurate assessment?
Rockie Fresh: I believe so. I think that it’s due to the way that I came up. I was blessed to be able to have my father in the house at all times and my mom. They’ve been together ever since I was born. With that, I learned a lot from them. But also the different people that he was friends with. I always played sports. It was in the inner city, as well. Having learned from my coaches, having to be able to get along with other guys that were my teammates, it built a different respect for the next person for me. With that, when I go to make music, even when I walk into a room I just take into consideration what a person may be going through before I jump to conclusions or judge them or anything like that.
I think that everybody deserves to be treated with respect. Then on top of that, I went to school in the suburbs. From that, I was able to get a real diverse experience. I was able to coexist with people from different races and learn about them as well. I just take all of that into consideration when I go through my day-to-day life. I guess that makes me relatable to other people. But at the same time, I feel like anybody can do that if they just look inside their selves and decide to be respectful to the next person.
DX: Is that an intentional approach from an artistic standpoint? Are you writing songs targeting the different experiences that you’ve had or maybe different markets that you know exist?
Rockie Fresh: In a way, yeah. But it wasn’t with the intention of even looking at it from a marketing perspective because when I started working on my first music it was out of respect for what I really like. When I found Alternative Rock music, when I found Pop music, I actually had an appreciation for it because I saw its effects on different people. I liked it. It was a cool thing to see that emotion being brought out of somebody through music the same way that when I was in the hood and I heard certain Rap songs come on and I saw that reaction as well. It brought out something in me. Whether it was a different feeling, whether it was a similar feeling—the fact that it was able to get a reaction out of me, that’s how I go into making music in general. Maybe a certain record that I choose to make won’t hit with one kind of person, but it may hit with another kind of person because it hits with me and I know what I like and I know what other people like, too.
DX: Correct me if my math is wrong here. You have six widely known projects: Rockie’s Modern Life, The Otherside (Redux), Birthday Tape, Electric Highway, Fresh Veggies. You’ve been rhyming now, if I’m not mistaken, seven years. Do you feel like a new artist?
Rockie Fresh: I don’t feel like a new artist. At the same time I don’t feel like a veteran either. I think it’s similar to my homie from Chicago, Derrick Rose. He’s been playing basketball for a long time. He was able to get success in college, go to the Final Four. He was able to gain success in the NBA by being the youngest MVP ever. At the same time, there’s still so much to do. Even though he’s been able to receive veteran accolades, even though he’s not in his rookie season anymore, that championship is the goal and until you reach that, you really can’t feel fulfilled.
That’s how I feel as an artist. My first album, before I signed my deal, there were so many things that I wanted to achieve with it. I wanted it to be something Grammy nominated. I wanted it to be something that young people can learn from. I wanted the music to be an experience that people haven’t gotten from any artist before. Until I achieve that, I still feel not all the way as a vet. But at the same time, how easy the music comes—the fact that I can go into a booth without a pen and a pad and be able to get my thoughts out—that’s from practice versus being a natural gift. With that, I think I’ve moved a little bit past a new artist. But in the eyes of a lot of people, they don’t know about a lot of the projects so I’m still new to them. You’re always gonna be new to somebody. In my own mind, it’s like I’m reaching that level of, ‘This is what I really do.”
Rockie Fresh Says Youth Isn’t A Disadvantage To Crafting A Classic Album
DX: You said something interesting in an interview with XXL. You were describing your classics: The College Dropout, Reasonable Doubt. You said, “When I first heard College Dropout, when I first heard my experiences with Reasonable Doubt, these dudes were in a mature place where they were able to talk about a lot of key stuff that was relevant. That’s why they were classic.” You’re still young. Is that a disadvantage when it comes to making a classic album? Have you had enough experiences to be able to convey the things that you gravitated towards on Reasonable Doubt and College Dropout?
Rockie Fresh: I think the age that I’m at now is reaching the same point that they were at. I feel like life is moving a lot faster with my generation. Things have gotten a lot quicker. With that being said, it was like 2012, 2013, I was experiencing a lot of stuff for the first time. I had just got my deal. I had just put out my first mixtape as a signed artist. I had my first headlining tour around that time. A lot of these experiences were new and learning how to balance them was just another thing that I had to learn how to do. Now I’ve been signed for two years. I’ve been touring before I was with [Maybach Music Group] and it’s only been picking up. Also, I’ve been able to work on music a lot more. I get a lot of time to myself now. I have my own crib. I have my own vehicle. I spend a lot of time by myself. It gives me a lot of time to reflect on the defining moments of my past. I think that one of the things that makes this album special is that, with the mixtapes, there was a lot of stuff that I was going through from the time that I dropped those projects. But it always misses those in-depth stories that really define me being the man I am even outside of the artist. You’re gonna get a lot of that content in the album. I’m able to really think. I’m able to listen to a song that came out in 2008 now and it’s like, “Man, I remember where I was when I heard that song. I remember when I had my momma’s car…” Those defining moments help me become the artists that I am. The fans need those in-depth details of those experiences. I’m old enough now to be able to look at those things in the right way. I’m at a good age now to be really working on the album because you’re gonna get that reflection but also that hunger as a young person.
DX: Which movie is better: 3 Ninjas or 3 Ninjas Kickback?
Rockie Fresh: I think the second one was better. I liked the first 3 Ninjas of course. It was a classic. But it’s kind of like Back To The Future Part 2. It took the style to a whole-nother level. The guys were a little bit older. They were a little bit more comfortable. It was a fly movie.
DX: I’m surprised there wasn’t more Hip Hop in Back To The Future Part 2. They had Marty McFly dressing Hip Hop but there wasn’t any Hip Hop music or references.
Rockie Fresh: That’s real! We may have to remake it. I’ll produce the soundtrack or something. That would be tight.
DX: You’ve talked quite a bit about how you’ve been influenced by a range of artists from all genres. When your Puma deal was first announced, you described being a rapper as being a super hero. Kanye West this year said something interesting in his interview with Zane Lowe. He described musicians as being held to a lesser regard than artists of other genres. He believes the musicians are used to represent a brand to attract an audience but aren’t given an opportunity for ownership. Do you think about these things?
Rockie Fresh: I definitely identify with Kanye’s recent interviews. I think that’s the important thing of constantly wanting to learn about what you’re doing. Kanye is one of the big homies to the game in general. He’s given a lot of inspiration and new outlooks. Whether style or music, or even certain views that he has. That’s an artist that definitely inspires me. When he speaks on things like that, it’s definitely eye opening. It makes sense. I feel like a lot of his approach sometimes misses people. For me, actually understanding where he comes from, I totally see what he’s saying. That’s why I pay attention to him. It’s like, ‘Aight, I get where you’re going with this’ and that makes me look at things in a certain way. Going into my next ventures and my next moves, there’s going to be ways that we can communicate that properly with the people that I’m going to be working with. I definitely respect what he’s saying and I see it.
DX: It’s an interesting dichotomy. We grow up with Air Jordans or Kobes. A lot of these ownership level conversations seem to just have started to happen in the past 10 years as the independent opportunity became apparent.
Rockie Fresh: Definitely. That just shows the evolution. Even as far as African Americans are concerned, there’s so much that we have to get from society. There’s still so many stereotypes that we have to fight, so many things that we have to work for. The artists get put in a weird position in that whole scheme of things. We’re said to entertain but when we go for that business it becomes an issue.
I think that overtime, with people like Kanye taking some of those bullets that he’s taking, and people like Ross taking some of those bullets that he’s taken as well, in the sense of society because they put themselves on the line for what they believe in. It’s going to make it a little bit easier for me as I come up to get the things that I want out of my career. I appreciate them for that.
Rockie Fresh Explains Why Rick Ross Criticism Is Misguided
DX: This was the most diverse Grammy Rap Album Of The Year category I’ve ever seen. What did you take away when you saw the range of Hip Hop representations nominated this year?
Rockie Fresh: From what I listened to, those are definitely well executed albums. I listened to all of those albums. As a fan of music, even outside of music, those are albums that you have to respect. The Grammys’ has it’s idea of what they want and they set their standard a long time ago. A lot of people overlook the fact that someone like Pharrell comes from Hip Hop. So when he wins seven Grammys with Daft Punk and Robin Thicke—who’s his own artist that he signed way back and was able to believe in him—and still producing Pusha T’s album and working with Ross and Jay Z and people like that, it shows how far you can take music in general. I think that’s what all of those albums represent. It’s people going beyond the ceiling of what you think Rap should be. I think Drake does that well. I think Jay Z has always done that well. Of course Yeezus is it’s own thing. The content that Macklemore touched on is something that we’ve never heard in Rap before. Those albums really pushed boundaries sonically and topically. Kendrick Lamar, his storytelling was insane. The Rap community needed that. I respect the fact that all those albums got nominated. I’m not one of those guys that says so and so should’ve won. Everything plays out how it’s supposed to. It’s like sports. Whether you like the Miami Heat or not, they won the last two championships. You may have another favorite team or whatever, but you have to respect what they did.
DX: It feels like the perfect time for your aspirations. Everything that you’ve described for years now is beginning to play out in commercial music. Do you feel like a visionary in that sense?
Rockie Fresh: In a small way. I think that people even understand my impact more after the album. A lot of it—which is another reason why I relate to Kanye—is having the resources to really do how big you dream. I will always have big dreams. Not monetary dreams, but from an artist’s perspective, being able to put music together in a certain format. Being able to have live instrumentation as part of my album instead of sampling people’s work. I wanted to make something so original that other people will want to sample me. From the visuals, being able to paint that movie like picture. I’m a huge movie buff. So instead of having traditional Rap videos, I really want my music videos to feel like movies. It’s one thing to be able to have those dreams when you’re a kid first starting out making mixtapes. It’s another thing to be in the realm of where you actually can execute those things when you’re working on your album. With that, I feel like the visionary stage of what I have to offer is yet to come. It’s coming soon.
DX: Rick Ross’ Mastermind is one of the most anticipated albums of this year. Last year was a volatile year for Maybach Music. You have Ross in several unflattering public situations. You had Wale threatening a media outlet. What was the mood like within Maybach Music in 2013?
Rockie Fresh: I think it was a great vibe. This is when I really start getting close with a lot of these guys. Me and Meek Mill and Stalley and Ross—we were building our relationship. With that, one thing that was cool about them is that I never saw them sweat. I never really saw them unless they were working on the music. It’s just a passion. Richard Sherman won the championship and he had to show his passion. He needed to show what his defense was worth. Everyone on this team feels they understand what their music is worth and there’s different levels of passion that they’re willing to show to help people understand how serious they take it. Overall, these guys are still extremely successful. It’s just that they want more out of even what they have now. When it comes to this music, there’s just so much more to be got that it just brings out that passion and I like it from a fans perspective.
DX: Is there a part of Rick Ross’ reputation that may be unfairly judged? I look at the label he’s put together. I don’t see a lot of Rap labels as diverse as MMG and it’s all black men representing every touch point in Hip Hop. But he catches so much flack for a number of reasons. Is it fair in your opinion? Are we only looking at half the story?
Rockie Fresh: I definitely think people are looking at half the story. Which is why I appreciate being an artist in my position so much. I get to know these people for real. I get to really see how they are with their families and the way that they treat me. I think people get lost in utilizing these social networks to speak ignorantly. Not even ignorantly out of disrespect, but more so, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about at all.’ You don’t have these interactions with people to cast these certain judgments on them. At the same time, I saw Jay Z take his flack when he was first coming up with Roc-a-Fella. I saw Diddy take his flack. I saw Birdman take his flack. That’s what makes these guys so solid. Through all of the things that they may have come against, they were able to work past it. Ten years from now, we’re all gonna look up and it’s like, “OK, I get it.” Jay Z went through his Rap battles. He went through being called this and that. But then $500 million later, it’s like, aight what else can we say. I think Ross has that same energy. Another thing I like about MMG, too, is that it’s such a new label. So to see all the ground that was covered in such a short time frame, I think it’s awesome and really appreciated by the people. I think the social network aspect of things, they have their feelings about it, but if we look past all of that, MMG is getting a lot of support from the people and it’s due to the vision that Ross has. It’s all good things.