The term ‘Hip-Hop legend’ is one that’s thrown around a little too easily nowadays. With here-today-gone-tomorrow rappers currently claiming legendary status before their first mix-CD has even hit the streets, the criteria an artist must meet in order to be considered worthy of the title has obviously changed drastically in recent times. Freddie Foxxx, however, is an MC who has earned his stripes the old-fashioned way, through hard-work, determination and a love of making raw, emotionally-charged hardcore Hip-Hop.
With over 20 years in the game, Freddie’s career is perfect “Behind The Music” documentary material. Dropping a 12″ single in 1986 as a member of Supreme Force, the man also known as Bumpy Knuckles went on to work with Rakim’s former right-hand man Eric B. on his debut major label album, 1989’s “Freddie Foxxx Is Here”. The 90s saw the New York giant’s rep grow infinitely bigger, with Freddie entering into a short-lived feud with the Bronx’s Ultramagnetic MCs, his shelved “Crazy Like A Foxxx” album for Flavor Unit Records becoming one of the decade’s most sought-after unreleased projects, and show-stopping guest appearances on tracks from Kool G. Rap, Naughty By Nature, BDP and Gang Starr establishing the gruff-voiced wordsmith as a true cameo king.
In more recent years Foxxx has remained busy on the independent circuit, releasing 2000’s well-received “Industry Shakedown” album (followed a few years later by the equally potent “Konexion”) whilst appearing on projects from Pete Rock, De La Soul and former rap rival Kool Keith. This summer longstanding fans of Freddie were finally rewarded when the rapper dusted off the master tapes of his infamous “Crazy Like A Foxxx” project and released a dual-disc package on Fat Beats which included both the 1993 demo version of the album (produced by D.I.T.C.’s Showbiz, Lord Finesse and Buckwild) and the tweaked 1994 Flavor Unit version.
Often thought to be as aggressive in person as he is in his rhymes, Bumpy Knuckles kicked it with StreetCred.Com to talk about his new-but-old album, recording with rap greats, and his sometimes-misunderstood persona.
Ryan Proctor: During the intro to the recently released D.I.T.C. version of “Crazy Like A Foxxx” you mention that Flavor Unit turned it down when you originally submitted the project back in the 90s. Did they give you particular reasons as to why they didn’t want to release that version of the album?
Freddie Foxxx: When I turned in “Crazy Like A Foxxx” Flavor Unit felt that it was too dark for what they were looking for in terms of the marketing strategy they had planned for me. Back then Flavor Unit had already been involved with big radio records like Zhane’s “Hey Mr. DJ” and Naughty By Nature’s “Hip-Hop Hooray”. My sound at the time was very different to that, so the label turned down the original “Crazy Like A Foxxx” and I went back into the studio and made some more melodic sounding tracks, which was the final version they accepted.
RP: When you went back into the studio to record new material, did you feel like you were being forced to compromise your original vision of the album?
FF: It was more about keeping the concept of the album intact for me. If you notice, some of the tracks on both versions are the same. So to me, what I was talking about on the album was more important to me than the musical underlay I was saying it on. I was more concerned about getting my message across. I wanted people to feel exactly what I was going through in 1993 / 1994 and how I felt as a young man growing up in America. So I just said ‘Okay let me try and do this differently’ in terms of the production the label wanted.
But I was so in love with the original D.I.T.C. version that once I retained the masters and started getting emails from fans saying they wanted to hear it, I had to put the album out. I know there’s been a bootleg version going around for some years now that somebody took from the demo cassette, but the quality of that wasn’t very clear. So I wanted to finally put “Crazy Like A Foxxx” out properly and let the fans know that it was coming from the original source.
RP: Prior to recording “Crazy Like A Foxxx” in the early 90s you released your debut album “Freddie Foxxx Is Here” in 1989 on MCA Records. Did you have a different mindset going into recording “Crazy…” than when you made your first album?
FF: There was a lot that went on in my life between those albums. There was a lot of disappointment because I had high expectations for my first album. I was only young at the time and I thought that once you had a record deal you’d have access to work with all your favorite artists and everything else that comes with a major deal, but that just wasn’t the case. After my first album I went back into the streets and started getting an education there, so by the time I went into recording “Crazy Like A Foxxx” I was so full of a different type of information that it just changed my whole thought process.
RP: When you look back on the material contained on “Crazy Like A Foxxx” and then compare it to the music you’re making today, how do you feel you’ve developed as an artist over the years?
FF: I’m one of those MCs who if I’m going through some turmoil, if I’m angry or happy about something, I’ll write about my feelings. My passion is in my work, so if I get on a track and I’m screaming through the record people know that’s real emotion they’re hearing. I put my genuine emotions in my music, which is what separates me from a lot of other artists because too many cats are scared to really be real on a record so there’s no believability in what they’re saying. I always try to give people the best of what I can do as an artist and put all of the passion and emotion I’m feeling at a particular moment into the music I’m recording. I’ve done that since the beginning of my career and that’s still how I make music today. My format doesn’t change, I just update my rhyme style and stay on top of my skills.
RP: You’ve gained a reputation over the years as being a very aggressive and volatile individual. Do you feel that, even now, you’re still viewed as being a “mad rapper” type of character?
FF: Exactly. Absolutely (laughs). People have painted a picture of me, and I wouldn’t say that I don’t take responsibility for that to some extent, but sometimes you expect people to think along broader lines than they do. It seems like my angry side intrigues people more than my calmer side. It is what it is and I’ve had to learn to rock with that.
The media contributes to that as well; they’ll always describe me as being an angry rapper and use pictures of me with a mad face. So sometimes if I try to do something outside of that musically it doesn’t always gel with people, so the dilemma I go through as a recording artist is do I just stick to doing what people think I am? Or do I keep trying to push that wall down so they can see there’s more to Freddie Foxxx than they think? It’s always a puzzle to me.
I take time out to look at interviews that people have done with me on the blogs and whatever. I’ll read the comments people put up about me, and sometimes I’ll even answer if someone’s taken something I’ve said out of context. People are quick to critique what they don’t know, so sometimes the only way to deal with that is to step to it and say ‘Nah, that’s not what it is.’
One thing I’ve always felt I needed to do was keep my brain fed with new information. A lot of that comes from being a kid whose mother was very strict about me reading a lot. As a kid, every time I got an ass-whipping because I’d done something wrong, part of my punishment was to read. So I’ve always tried to keep up with new information, especially being in this music business, because once you develop a reputation or people decide they think they know who you are, you’ve gotta learn how to get around that intellectually and in a smart way. But I think my temper has gotten the better of me a lot of times and caused people to back away from me without really getting a chance to know me as a person.
RP: Do you think that’s something that’s possibly held your career back over the years?
FF: You know what? It’s been a gift and a curse. Eventually you can become who the people think you are if you’re not focused, and sometimes you have to just fallback because there’s no defense from the truth. I mean, if you do something to me, I’m going to step up and say what I say. If you ask me a question, I’m going to give you an honest answer. It might not always be what people wanna hear, but it will be my genuine opinion. I was raised to always give an honest opinion and I’ve always respected honesty. That’s why I don’t trip out when I hear people saying they don’t like Freddie Foxxx because I don’t expect everyone to think that what I do is to their liking.
I’m always very realistic about things, including my career. I believe there was a time that was right for me to strike, but my temper got the better of me and people still charge me with that. People feel like they’ve gotta be careful around me, but I’m not an animal and I’m not someone who doesn’t know how to handle their business. But I’ve had to learn to deal with the perception people have of me in order for me to do what I need to do as an artist, because my main objective is to make music, it’s not to entertain what people think about me. Once I got past that hump, then I became a better individual.
RP: Throughout your career, you’ve collaborated with some of the greatest MCs of all-time, from Kool G. Rap and KRS-One to Naughty By Nature’s Treach and Guru of Gang Starr. Have you ever gone into a studio and felt intimidated by the level of lyrical skill a particular artist was bringing to the table?
FF: Nah (laughs). I wouldn’t make a song with anyone I didn’t think could put pressure on me. A lot of people have called me to do songs with them, but I felt they weren’t qualified as MCs to be able to put pressure on me. Like, I love being in the studio with KRS-One because he says so much stuff in a tricky type of way that you can’t do nothing but think that he’s getting at you (laughs). We just recorded an album together called “Royalty Check” and there’s a track on there where KRS says ‘We’re all foxes, but you’re more Vivica, I’m more Jamie.’ So I can’t help but think he’s trying to be funny. I’ll laugh about it, but by the same token I’ll turn around and say something back in my next rhyme. But we don’t get into some whole angry beef situation about it, because that’s just what MCs do to make each other better in the studio.
I think someone like Kool G. Rap is such an incredible MC that people expect him to just body you on a record, so I needed that type of pressure to bring my A-game when we did “Money In The Bank” for his “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” album, to at least make people say ‘Yo, I kinda like both their verses.’ G. Rap saying a better verse than me wouldn’t have been a problem, the problem comes when someone totally annihilates you on a record to the point where your name isn’t even mentioned in the discussion. So far I don’t think I’ve had a strike against my name like that and I’ve never felt pressure from any MC that I didn’t want.
Even if someone didn’t think I had the hottest verse on a record, the fact that I’m in the debate tells me that I did my job. It’s when it’s a hands-down decision that the other guy came out on top, that’s when you know you’re in trouble (laughs).
RP: I remember reading back in the day that the reason your part is so long on “Ruff, Ruff” from BDP’s 1992 album “Sex And Violence” is because KRS-One had actually finished his rhyme and was doing graffiti in his notepad but you thought he was still writing.
FF: Yeah, yeah. You know what happened? I wasn’t sure if KRS wanted me to talk reckless on the record or not, so I tried to come with this pro-black, uplifting rhyme. Then when I said the rhyme KRS was like, ‘I like that, but that ain’t the Freddie Foxxx that I wanna hear.’ I’m like ‘What you mean?’ He said, ‘I wanna hear the Freddie Foxxx that everyone’s talking about, the MC-murdering, gun-slinging Freddie Foxxx.’ I was like ‘Oh word!’
I wrote my “Ruff, Ruff” verse right there in like 15 to 20 minutes. When I said the second rhyme that ended up on the record, that was the beginning of our friendship right there. KRS was like ‘That’s what I’m talking about.’
RP: Do you have any other memories of working with KRS on that particular album?
FF: I remember when we recorded the album’s intro “The Original Way”; I didn’t go in the booth to spit my verse. The engineer plugged the microphone in outside in the control room, so we were just handing each other the mic like we’re at a party right there in an open room to get that live sound. It was amazing and the idea was crazy. Kenny Parker was in the studio and me and KRS were just passing the mic back-and-forth. That whole joint was just us freestyling.
The consistency of that “Sex And Violence” album reminded me why I jumped into this game and stuck with this craft for so long because KRS gave me an education in a whole different style of rhyming with that record. When I worked with G. Rap I learned a lot about work ethic. The same thing working with people like Treach, 2Pac and Chuck D, I took something from all those experiences.
That was the great thing about that time, because I actually worked with those people before it was normal for someone to just email you a verse. I was actually able to form first-hand working relationships in the studio with these people. I remember I sat in on a Run-DMC session with Eric B. one time just as a fan, and just to see them working was an inspiration. At that point I’d never even been into a proper recording booth, so when I saw those guys in the studio I was just like ‘Wow! This is what I wanna do.’ I wanted to be behind the mic like DMC, who I thought had the craziest, craziest voice in the world.
RP: There seems to be a real generation gap developing in Hip-Hop with a lot of older artists openly criticizing younger cats. As someone who’s been a part of the culture for many years, what’s your take on that?
FF: Some of the criticism is warranted, some of it’s not. When people are given the opportunity to fully explain themselves, you can see where they’re coming from, but some of it’s just straight hate. Back in the day Hip-Hop was more about lyrics and people wanted to hear MCs spitting dope rhymes. It was all about the rapper back then and it was the rapper who built the personality of a record.
Back then it seemed like artists just had a more creative approach to their overall presentation, particularly where live performances where concerned. I mean, nothing was bigger than seeing Doug E. Fresh climbing out of a globe onstage, or seeing Slick Rick sitting on a throne, Eric B’s turntables rising out of the stage, or LL’s giant radio. Performing was so much a big part of what artists did back then and I think that had a lot to do with fans getting excited about a particular artist because they had a more personal relationship with them than they do today.
When it started to become more about the producer and the rappers became secondary to who was actually producing a track, then you started hearing less quality work from some MCs. But I think the best advice someone can give these new rappers is for them to dig deep into themselves and find something more to talk about than just the normal superficial stupidness.
The business has changed to such an extent now that it’s cheapened the worth of the music. There’s nothing special about rappers anymore like there used to be. Back in the day there had to be something extraordinary about you as an artist in order for you to be considered special by the fans, now there’s such an over saturation of mediocre artists which definitely isn’t good for the music.
RP: What do you think can be done to encourage communication between the different generations of Hip-Hop artists?
FF: I think they need to bring the seminars back. Back in the day, I was going to Jack The Rapper and How Can I Be Down? and that’s how a lot of new artists were getting their information from the older artists. Since they stopped doing the seminars, it’s been more difficult to mix the culture. I was able to meet people like Melle Mel and Afrika Bambaataa and talk to those guys as an upcoming artist. I think there needs to be more events like that today, because to me those seminars were a huge learning experience because you were able to see all these artists who were already in the industry sitting on discussion panels giving you jewels. There needs to be more forums and platforms for discussion, but everyone’s so damn lazy just sitting on a computer all day long, and they’re not looking at informative websites, they’re looking at gossip websites and that kinda shit.
RP: Do you think the internet has hurt Hip-Hop?
FF: Nowadays people are quick to dismiss new music. Like a guy will download a new song, but then two days later when someone else plays it they’re like ‘I’ve heard that already – what’s next?’ It could be a good record, but once they’ve heard it they want something else straight away. It makes me wonder what the fans are listening to or what they actually want from the music. That can mess with your creative process if you’re not focused because some artists are so unsure about what people want to hear, they end up doing anything trying to please everyone. The other problem is that a lot of today’s fans are aspiring artists themselves, so they’re listening to new music and saying ‘I could make a better album than that’ which stops people from fully supporting or enjoying the music.
RP: So what’s next for Freddie Foxxx?
FF: I’m just going to continue to make rap music the way I make rap music. I don’t want to try and fit into an already overcrowded space. I love being in my own lane as an artist and I’m someone who can actually say they have a genuine fan base so I’m not mad at that. When I get emails from fans telling me they’ve been following me for however many years, that confirms to me that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is making Hip-Hop music the way I think it should be made.