“Everything that I’ve put into my debut album is going to be with the intent of competing with the best albums that I know,” Rockie Fresh states as he reflects on the success of albums like Kanye West’s The College Dropout, Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. The optimistic Chicago MC has his bar set high for his debut album and, interestingly enough, he’s already shown promise of one day being able to compete with such legendary albums. His mixtapes, Driving 88, and Electric Highway were both well-crafted and received positive reviews–so much so that Driving 88 inked him a deal with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group in 2012.
RESPECT. spoke with the young Chicago MC about his recent collaborative mixtape, Fresh Veggies (with Casey Veggies), his interest in blending alternative music with rap, unreleased records with mega-producer Hit-Boy, working with MMG label mates, an upcoming tour with G-Eazy, and constructing his debut album.
RESPECT: On your collaborative mixtape with Casey Veggies, Fresh Veggies, you two seem to have great chemistry. Can you describe your friendship with him?
Rockie Fresh: Me and Casey met in ’09 or ’10, during the first time I went out to LA. A friend of mine from Chicago, who previously moved out there, produced a song for Casey’s mixtape and put us on the same song. That was our first time hearing one another as artists and we finally got in the studio and did a song called “Duckin N Dodgin.” The chemistry was just crazy and we knocked the song out real fast. We just found out that we were young dudes trying to achieve the same goal. Throughout our climb as artists, we just, you know, stayed in contact, ended up getting booked for the same shows throughout the past year and just built kind of like a brotherhood. He got his situation with Roc Nation, I got my situation with MMG and we’ve both been super proud of each other for those moves. What I really think was the icing on the cake was both of us getting endorsement deals with PUMA. Once we saw all of the stars beginning to align, we realized that making music was just easy for one another. That was just a thing where we decided to do a project. PUMA really got behind us and gave us the opportunity to do what we wanted to do…and yeah it was a real easy project and it came together real smooth. Since finishing Fresh Veggies, we knocked out some more records that we are going to be dropping for the people.
Will you be releasing those records soon or whenever you guys feel that the time is right?
It’s a whenever we feel that the time is right kind of thing, but I definitely think that that’s gonna be soon. You can tell by the producers on [Fresh Veggies] that we really weren’t concerned about saving records for our albums or nothing like that. It was just a thing where we really wanted to give the fans quality every time we drop and we also feel that we should be able to make quality with the quickness every time we are around each other. We definitely don’t have a problem letting the records go so it should be sooner than later, honestly.
Speaking of producers for Fresh Veggies, you worked with Hit-Boy on “I Been Workin’” and “Circle”. Was he someone you were a big fan of before hand?
Definitely. I remember doing shows with Hit-Boy before he started working with Kanye. I first met him at a show in Chicago where we were booked together. All of a sudden, I saw that he was producing these hit records and it was just a thing where it really showed us that it was possible to go from one level to the next. His beats are obviously top-tiered, but one thing that I noticed from being around him is his work ethic. Every record that I’ve ever done with him, we’ve made it from scratch. I’ve never came into the situation where he had records pre-made. I’ve got about, I would say, probably 7 records with Hit-Boy that people haven’t heard yet. We were able to do maybe between 30 minutes to an hour and half each song and finish each to its entirety cause his energy is crazy. So, I’m definitely a big fan and I think he’s always gone win because he really enjoys doing what he do and works hard to take it to that next level.
In an interview with Peter Rosenberg, you mentioned that moving from the city to the suburbs gave you a greater appreciation for alternative rock music. Will you continue to add more rock influenced production to your music?
For sure. I think it’s going to be a lot more relevant now than ever before, you know, with me going into my first album, I have the resources to really do it professionally. The hardest thing for me coming up as an independent rapper was having these big ideas and big plans for my music and not necessarily knowing the people to go to that could really bring it to life. A few people that helped me get past that was Good Charlotte and my homie, Patrick Stump, from Fall Out Boy. Now it’s at a point where, you know, with me working on my album, I’m able to make a few more calls and pull a few more players in to make the music sound how I always envisioned it. I feel like people are going to [get a chance to] hear the beginning of the real way that I want the alternative sound to be blended with the rap music and part of it was just having live instrumentation. I really didn’t want to use a lot of weird sounds in my music, but more so using old school kind of vibes— real guitar, real piano, real drums— and things like that and really making things from scratch. Instead of sampling, I want to make music that people want to sample from me. So, if anything, now I have the ability to really do that and I think alternative music is definitely going to shine heavy by the time I drop my first album.
Kendrick Lamar performed with Imagine Dragons during this year’s Grammy Awards. Do you foresee alternative rock being intertwined into hip-hop music more going forward?
I think it’s just really about the artist and what story they are trying to tell. I think one reason why I did get into it was because the artists that I was a fan of coming up, they were always hinting at those kinds of vibes whether it was Nelly who was one of the first artist that I got into. His song, “Over and Over” featuring Tim McGraw, displayed a different side to hip-hop. Kanye worked with Chris Martin from Coldplay on his song “Homecoming” and Jay Z did the same thing for “Beach Chair” on his Kingdom Come album. A lot of big players in hip-hop have always been moving in that direction. I’ve always been makin’ moves in that direction and I wanted to hone in more instead of having one song like that, but actually having that vibe on an entire project to give people a different feel all the way through. I think with what Kendrick is doing is something that a lot of great artists do, which is take rap to a new level. So, if anybody wants to get Grammy recognition, I feel like that is something that they’re going to have to get into because it’s a lot bigger than what the surface shows you.
What has your experience been like working along side artists such as Meek Mill, Wale and Rick Ross?
It’s definitely a learning experience— really by example. I always tell people, because I’m 22 years old and I’m turning 23 in April, I look at Meek Mill and see that he’s achieved a lot at such a young age. It really motivated me to get on my hustle in a different way. We both share similarities in that we both have endorsement deals with PUMA so it’s just a thing where I learned a lot from him on a business level, and the same thing for Ross. With Wale, it’s how he approaches his music. He takes such a serious and caring approach to it. His records are very successful and he’s been able to drop a lot of platinum singles and things like that. So, I’ve just really been learning from example and taking their grind and really implementing it into the different ways that I want to push my music. We have a lot of new music coming, but using different ways and strategies of releasing it. I’ve learned how they do things. It’s gonna be dope.
You typically keep an overall positive message throughout your lyrics. Why is that so important for you?
I think it’s important because that’s just the way that I got introduced to music, you know, as far as with Jay Z, he was talking a lot about things that he was going through as far as his life as being a drug dealer and different things like that. He was showing the pros and cons. I definitely never want to come off as a perfect person in my music because I’ve made a lot of mistakes that I had to learn from and I feel like, as far as me being an African-American male with a voice, I just really want to motivate the culture to be more than what we’re expected to be. I always talk with my friends and we are always so surprised when we see a person [we know] graduate from college or we see somebody out here doing something good with their lives. By the time I’m old I really want that to be the norm for my race and for people that’s coming up under me. In Chicago, there’s always young people dying and killing each other and I think a lot of that just has to do with the fact that they really don’t have any good examples so that’s why I try to be a good example through the music. You’re going to go through stuff, but it can be a positive outlook on the other side of the fence if you keep grindin’.
Ok, switching gears for a minute, let’s talk about touring. Your mini-tour with Casey Veggies has just ended and you’re about to join G-Eazy for the These Things Happen Tour, what can fans expect from that show?
The fans will get the best Rockie Fresh performance to this date. A lot of times that I’ve been on tour, I’ve been opening for artists that have been much bigger than me and with that it’s about winning their fans over. With me being able to have my own shows, people who are already familiar with the songs and with what’s going on are starting to come in the masses. With that, it just adds a different comfort level to my performances. I think it’s going to be a lot more fun and a lot less pressure due to the fact that it is more so me going in front of my family versus me going in front of complete strangers that don’t know what’s goin’ on. I’m really excited about the tour, it’s going to be my longest tour to date and yeah it should be a good time.
How did you and G-Eazy link up?
I’ve been doing shows for a long time and before I was a part of MMG, me and G-Eazy performed together for an event. We got the crowd rockin’ and that’s when I first really got introduced to his music and found out that he was a fan of my music, as well. The tour opportunity presented itself and me and him knew that we represented the same things, but we also have very different approaches to getting to that point and with that it could make for a very interesting show and so we decided to go on tour together. Me and him have been kickin’ it a lot together recently and outside of the music he’s a super cool dude. So, yeah, that’s how it went down.
You’re also performing at SXSW this year.
Yes, I’m going to be there for 2 days.
You’ve been performing there since 2010. What makes SXSW so special?
It gives a lot of people a stage to get their music out to different tastemakers in the United States and throughout the world. It’s a lot of people that come through SXSW. I first started getting my out-of-town shows during my first year at SXSW. There were a lot of promoters there and they were able to hook me up with some different opportunities after they saw me perform, but also it’s cool to link up with other artists. I got a lot of relationship started at SXSW, you know, just crossing paths with other dudes who you may have seen their name on a blog or whatever, but having that face to face contact takes things to another place. So, that’s why I like SXSW. It’s a real chill opportunity in different ways. I think it’s definitely something that all new artists should really be a part of.
We hit on your debut album a little bit, but let’s talk about that more in-depth. Are you planning on going for what the fans expect or are you going to switch it up and do something different?
I think the fans really expect something different every time from me anyway. I feel like all my mixtapes have so many things as far as comparing and contrasting between the future and the past and different ways that affect your life and so that content I’m definitely going to stick with that. I’m going to go more in-depth into the storytelling as far as using real life example and certain family names and things like that that I’ve never really spoke on in my mixtapes. I’ve been kind of saving it for this [debut] album moment. Musically, it’s definitely going to be a higher quality of things that I’ve done before and it’s going to be more orchestrated. Everything that I’ve put into it is just going to be with the intent to compete with the best albums that I know, such as The College Dropout, Reasonable Doubt and good kid, m.A.A.d city, different projects that have really impacted the culture. I really want to give people something different that can stand along with those same albums and that’s really the mentality behind it, so I think the only different that people are going to get from it is how focused I am on making a classic. It’s just something a mixtape will never do. I think that it’s going to be a crazy album and it’s definitely going to be something that people are going to appreciate just because I am taking into consideration the lifestyle of my fans versus the lifestyle that I’m living as a rapper.
Will the album be released this year?
I don’t have a set time, but it’s going to be coming out this year. I like to work on music in different states and with me going on this tour, I feel like a lot of new content is going to come out on the project and so I really want to give that some time to grow into what it’s supposed to grow into.
After looking back over the past year, what is one thing that you hope to achieve this year?
I think it’s just definitely putting out a successful album, you know, with the tour, that was one thing I had going into this year and just making sure that I was at a place with my fans where I could really turn out shows on my own and things like that. Now it’s coming to life, so with that being said, the focus is going to be on making sure that I have an album that could last 20 years from now. I think it was so cool that The College Dropout had its 10-year anniversary. I want to look up 10 years from now and say that in 2014, I put out a project that will last the same way. I think that’s pretty much the goal right now.
Speaking of Kanye, have you had a chance to interact with him on a musical level?
[When I met him] I really didn’t get a chance to talk to him too long on that. It was just a quick thing. I really want to do things on my own, but I think it will eventually get to that point due to where I plan on taking my art .I think what made The College Dropout so dope is that, it was so much of Kanye put into the album and it makes you really have to respect where he was coming from as far as making beats, rapping and utilizing the different ideas he had for features. I really don’t want people to interfere with my mindset of where I want to go with this project and so it’s really just a thing where I want to take on responsibility on my own and make it something dope from where I’m at as an artist. And yeah that’s really the mindset, but at the same time if Kanye happens to hear the album before it comes out and he wants to throw something on it, I’m definitely open to that.
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