Filed under: BK All Day,Features,Interviews,Not Your Average,Steady Bootleggin',The 80's Files
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Freshco is best remembered as the being the winner of the 1990 New Music Seminar Battle For World Supremacy MC Battle who teamed up with the winner of the DJ Battle from that same year, DJ Miz. That story was covered in detail in the documentary World Supreme Hip-Hop, but there is a lot more to his story, as I discovered when I caught up with him recently. In the first part of this interview, we discuss his early days as an accomplished train bomber, skater and popper.
Robbie: What made you want to rhyme?
Freshco: Back in high school, in the lunchroom, people would bang beats on the table and dudes would just start rhyming, so I’d join in. A friend of mine told me about his rhyme book, which I thought was brilliant. I didn’t have a rhyme book, and his rhyme book was full. That was one of my initial goals, to have a rhyme book that was that was more than five pages. After that, a cousin of mine gave me one of his tapes with somebody rhyming, and I learned that rhyme and started saying it in my neighborhood, and people were like, “Hey, you’re good!”. So that was the beginning.
What part of Brooklyn are you from?
Boro Park, Brooklyn. I used to be a big-time skater. I used to go to all the roller rinks and I was one of the top skaters when I was younger. It was the same time I was writing graffiti on all these trains here in New York, I must have been about 13, 14. When I was skating, this guy that I used to hang-out with told me about this radio station here in New York called WHBI. Mr. Magic was from WHBI, and it was one of those stations that played music that you didn’t hear on regular radio. WHBI gave me this window into funk, and it was my start into hearing hip-hop. You could find it for one or two hours, especially when I discovered a show called The Awesome Two. Teddy Ted and Special K – who became friends of mine – that’s how you found out about underground hip-hop here in New York.
Would you tape all of these shows on your deck?
Yeah. It started with WHBI, and eventually on Friday and Saturday nights Red Alert and Chuck Chillout would come on. I would make a tape out of it and I would try to pause it before the commercials came on and un-pause it when they finished so I would have this smooth tape.
What did you used to tag?
I used to write BLAS. I used to hang-out with a lot of top writers. The guys I used to hang out with were more train bombers, so they were famous for their tags being everywhere rather than great artists.
So you were more focused on insides?
Absolutely. I was doing a lot of insides on the B, N, RR, D, F and A trains. I hung out with guys like DELK from TST, MR.R, ROACH, KROOK, HERO, JOE NUTS and MESK. A lot of major inside bombers that were legends in New York bombing. I was one of those young guys with ink in my fingernails and on my underwear from leaky markers. I was hanging out with Big Daddy Kane for a while, and I asked him how he came up with the name Kane, and he told me that he used to write graffiti and that’s what he used to write. I don’t think many people knew that, and it showed me that hip-hop was all of that – it was skating, it was skateboards, it was BMX, it was graffiti, it was breakdancing and it was rhyming. A lot of people don’t understand that. Even when I hear comments like, “Oh, this white guy is trying to rap!” I think, “Well, some of the greatest graffiti writers were white”.
When you say “skating”, you mean rollerskating?
Yes. At first, I played roller hockey. I had a very popular rink in my neighborhood called Fort Hamilton Roller Hockey League. Brian Mullen and Joe Mullen – who played on the New York Rangers – they came to this rink and played hockey there. I played there for years and won many, many hockey awards, and the adults were telling me I have a good chance of going far with hockey, but it got side-tracked by dance-skating. I got into doing tricks on skates, going to U.S.A. in Queens, State Key in The Bronx, Empire Skating Rink in Brooklyn, and became the kid the huge circle would be around. They use to call me MAGIC and started skating with a crew called Fancy Wheelers and later Starlight Rollers. I won a big contest that a radio station threw. 92 KTU threw a big roller skating contest, and I won first place. I won a free bike and some cash. I was big-time into skating, just as much as I was into graffiti or rhyming.
Did you ever get busted by the transits?
We used to get chased all the time. In the documentary, World Supreme Hip Hop, one of my boys is talking about when we had to run across the elevated train tracks and climb down from elevated train tracks. I think it was raining. We were getting chased by either cops or work-bums, that was regular. I never got caught for graffiti, but we used to hear stories about guys getting caught by cops and the cops putting their head in the toilet bowl and flushing the toilet and all that stuff.
What is it about Brooklyn MC’s that sets you guys apart?
It’s not only hip-hop. When it comes to basketball and different things, there’s a certain confidence that’s uncontainable. It’s not a confidence that’s like, “I’m going to be a millionaire, I’m gonna be rich, I’m gonna be famous”. It’s a confidence like, “Watch this! Watch what I can do!” It was the same in graffiti. New York in general has that attitude! I used to go to a club called The Rooftop, and you walk into the Rooftop and you see things that you’ve never seen before in other boroughs. You’d see Nike sneakers that no one else had! Rappers so confident about what we were able to do. We didn’t think twice about it! Jay-Z, Biggie, me and all these Brooklyn MC’s – it wasn’t a big deal. It was just what we did. It was no different than the graffiti that we wrote yesterday, or the breakdancing that we did the day before. We can do this thing inside and out, and upside down.
Were you always called Freshco?
Freshco came in the last few years of graffiti. People used to tag one tag name, but they had an alias, so even though my tag name was BLAS, I started writing JF. JF standing for JUST FRESHCO. A lotta people don’t know that, either. I’ve actually never talked about that. People used to say, “Who’s JF?” Only if you could see the style of the writing you would know it was me. You had to study closely to notice that. A lot of writers used to do that, MIN ONE used to write NE. FRESHCO came from my friend DELK from TST. He was saying something in spanish about “freco”. I heard it and said, “I’m gonna make it FRESHCO, and the next day I went and got a Frescho hat, and that was it. Back then, you would go and put Olde English style letters on your hat.
At that time, I was leaving graffiti and entering my breakdancing phase. I was mainly a popper. I could do windmills and stuff like that but I started going to The Roxy, watching guys like Fabel and Normski from Rock Steady Crew, and I basically was copying their style and bringing that back to Brooklyn. Professor Paul took me to The Roxy, I must have been 15 or 16. I made a fake ID, I got into The Roxy and I was turned on to Fabel. He was a legend, watching him pop was like watching a god on the dance floor. It was unbelievable. I was one of the few people in my neighborhood that had access to that kind of thing, so when I came back to the roller skating rink I was doing moves that I kinda caught from Fable, and people were like, “Oh my gosh! How the hell are you doing that?”. By the way, there was another guy that used to pop the Roxy – we didn’t know his name so we called him Boots, because when he was popping he would always have Timberland boots on. That guy ended-up being Kool Keith from Ultramagnetic. Guys like Mr. Wiggles wrote graffiti like all of us did. Nothing too different there. That was normal for most guys back then.
How did you get your deal with Tommy Boy for your solo single?
I got that deal through a guy who was producing me at the time, named Jerry Callender. He met Dante Ross, who the A&R at Tommy Boy at the time, and got me the deal in late ‘88. Sometime in ‘87 I started working towards getting a record deal. Jerry Callender was producing a girl named LaShaun. LaShaun made the record “Doin’ It Well” before LL Cool J did it. LaShaun got that deal on Warlock Records, I think, and I was upset because I couldn’t believe that she got a deal before me. I thought I’d never get signed to a record deal. Years later, LL Cool J does a remix of “Doin’ It Well” and does not put LaShaun in the video, and I thought that was wrong. I did not want to do the record “4 At A Time” as my single. I had another demo called “Code Red”. “Code Red” was more like “Wrath of Kane”, it was more of what I was trying to do at the time, which was show the world that I was as good, or better, than Big Daddy Kane. Tommy Boy said, “We think we can make 4 At A Time a hit”, but I was trying to tell them that “4 At A Time” was just a funny, album-filler kinda record. So the record came out with no video, and to me, the record wasn’t a success. I had to go the New Music Seminar and win the World Championship rap contest to prove to people that I was one of the greatest.
“Are You Ready” was more along those lines, wasn’t it?
“Are You Ready”, I tried to put some style in there and something that was a little more about what I was doing, but I had other material that was just more raw, but it just didn’t happen that way. I felt like I was still waiting to explode.
Freshco – “Are You Ready?”
Freshco – “4 At A Time”
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