MAESTRO FRESH WES interviews FAB 5 FREDDY at the Holiday Inn on King (370 King West). Saturday (June 14), 1:15 pm. $20, free with $149 NXNE Priority Pass or $249 NXNE Super Pass (see page 62). www.nxne.com. Rating: NNNNN
Interviewing “Fab 5 Freddy” Braithwaite is an exercise in innovation.
First, he chooses to communicate only through Skype technology – a prickly prerequisite. He does not want to use the ol’ telephone.
After some computer wizards cure our technical difficulties, I find myself feeling the future, peering through the video link window at Fab’s spacious, well-?decorated living room and the living legend himself, relaxed and reflective.
A self-?described tech head, he makes sure we can see each other well, then swiftly turns the tables, asking me about my history with NOW.
“Are you aware that I was on the cover of that magazine back in 82? Yeah. It was the first hip-?hop tour, called The Kitchen Tour.
“We performed at the Masonic Temple in Toronto. The Kitchen was where performance artists who did different kinds of creative things would happen in New York. We went to about seven or eight cities, including Toronto. It was me rapping, and I had a DJ plus some members of the Rock Steady Crew.”
I inform him of the synchronicity in the fact that the Masonic Temple is where MTV Canada is now located. Freddy was America’s first-?ever national hip-?hop VJ, the face of YO! MTV Raps, hip hop’s first globally broadcast music video showcase, debuting September 17, 1988.
This is the man who introduced hip-?hop culture to Debbie Harry’s guitarist, Chris Stein. Fab was even included in the lyrics and the video for Blondie’s Rapture. In January 1981, it was the first rap/rap-?like single to reach number-?one on the Billboard charts.
An elder statesman still in possession of his youthful spirit, Freddy was always a hip-?hop head, but he wore many hats on it: nationally exhibited painter, actor, screenwriter, rapper, graffiti artist, producer, VJ – the list goes on. Apparently, the work he puts his energy into nowadays remains the same as it ever was.
“I’m basically still doing what I always did: I’m involved in popular culture as a film and TV director and producer.
“I have the same spirit and energy I brought from doing graffiti on the streets.”
Not wanting to sound like an old fogey screaming from the bottom of the generation gap, I try not to be overly critical of modern rap video culture, but Freddy stops me.
“It’s important to be totally critical. We have to speak out. The reason we’ve had such a proliferation of ignorance and doggerel regurgitation of trash connects to the fact that this has become a big business.”
Making a necessary distinction, Fab says, “I’m talking artists in America. A lot of the artists, if they are not hip to the game, have not realized that the music business as they knew it has ended. Record companies no longer have the upper hand; we have the upper hand, with technology. You can use a camera phone, and if you got the right shit, you can make a video for a song and put it up on YouTube, and anywhere from 200 to 2,000,000 people can see you.”
But, noting MTV’s inclusion of ring-?tone rapper Soulja Boy on its hottest rappers list, Freddy says he believes the democratization of music has also depressed the quality standards hip-?hop adhered to in its youth.
“We had 20 years of hip-?hop where the lyrical game was on par with any of the greatest literature ever fucking written! By Hemingway, by motherfuckin’ Salinger, by Shakespeare, any of them!” Fab enthusiastically insists.
“Yeah, it’s fun to have fun in the club and bounce, but hip-?hop as a culture has given us substance, too, shit we can reflect on.”