24-year-old MMG rapper Rockie Fresh talks about his Chicago roots, the making of his new mixtape "The Night I Went To...," and his patient rise to stardom.
Rick Ross, founder of Maybach Music Group, has carefully crafted in image of himself as a man swaddled in gold chains and flanked by a harem of strippers who dines on a strict diet of caviar and Ace of Spades. Indeed, his ample belly seems to exist to prove that he is eating well.
This is not the case with 24-year-old MMG rapper Rockie Fresh, who is less likely to overpower with displays of obscene wealth than endear with his aw-shucks smile and understated yet razor-sharp wit. Rockie’s career has been slow to develop since he signed to MMG in 2012; his new mixtape, The Night I Went To..., which dropped on January 21, is his first solo release in nearly three years. Indeed, with a debut album on the horizon, the saga of Rockie Fresh has only just begun.
In an interview with HNHH, Rockie spoke about his Chicago roots, the making of The Night I Went To..., and his patient rise to stardom.
What was your childhood like growing up in Chicago? What neighborhood did you live in?
Man, I grew up like all over the city of Chicago. I was always like a homebody outside of when I was playing sports. A big part of my life was playing baseball for Rosemond Little League, and that’s on the Southside of Chicago. And during that time, my parents were moving around a lot, just trying to find the right spot for me so that I could be going to a good high school in the city. So by the time I got to 8th grade, my parents had moved to the suburb called Homewood. And I ended up going to this school called Homewood Flossmoor. The school is real diverse. When I was there, I started getting introduced to a bunch of different types of music. Before then, all I really knew about was gospel music and rap. And my parents had me in church too, so I was involved in a lot of church-related activities. By the time I got to high school, that was kind of like my moment of having more freedom. My parents ain’t want me getting into trouble so much in the early days.
How has church shaped your outlook on life and influenced the way you see music?
The church we went to had 20,000 members. I think the influence is just being in that environment – it made me more of a people person. Then also, a pastor being able to take scriptures and break them down to where people of all ages and all different demographics can understand the message. That’s something I took and wanted to put into my music, where even if I’m doing like a different sound, or even if I’m reaching from the past or reaching from the future, there’s a way that you can word stuff that can connect to everybody. So that’s what I try to go for as far as making songs, and I think that mindset kind of came from my church experiences.
It seems like you have a pretty tight knit family. What values have you family instilled in you the most?
I think just showing love and minding your own business. Like I really am a low-key person. I kind of stick with my small group of friends and I’m all about showing love when I do run into people. I think that’s allowed me to understand my surroundings a lot more. I still was taught to defend myself in certain situations and all of that, but I was always taught to be chill and stay quiet, stay observant. And I think that’s stuff that I still take to this day, and my parents are definitely that way as well.
In an interview with HNHH a couple years ago, you named the aquarium and the Museum of Science & Industry as two of your favorite spots in Chicago. So it seems like you like to learn, but in your music you talk about getting bad grades in school. What kind of student were you? What are favorite things to learn about?
So I skipped a grade when I was in grammar school, so I had always been a year ahead. And by the time I got to 6th or 7th grade, honestly I really stopped caring about school. It just seemed a little too easy for me, you know? From 6th grade to my last semester of college, when I went to junior college, I had terrible grades. I don’t know how I graduated high school to be honest. And it’s just mainly because I didn’t even know why I was learning certain stuff or how it was going to apply to my life. Like I knew I didn’t want to work in a field where I was going to need trigonometry. I knew I didn’t want to work in a field where I was going to necessarily to need to know the in-depth laws of physics and things like that. So just the whole school thing was kind of pointless to me. [I had] like all Ds on my report card. It was kind of depressing. And my parents definitely were not happy with me at the time.
So when I got this second wave of opportunity with music, I wanted to just make sure that I was really standing out with the things that I talked about and the metaphors I used in my raps. And I realized like, “Man, if I would have focused a little more in school, then I would have more to talk about.” So I really didn’t get back into really learning until I started making music, because it was so important for me to keep my content fresh and keep it different.
My favorite thing to learn about, I still would say, is the English language in general, and just vocabulary. And one of my little tricks that I do is I watch a lot of movies, and when I hear words that I don’t know, I always try to figure out a way to work them into a rap and look up the definition and find adjectives, synonyms, and things like that to match it.
You added the ‘Fresh’ to your name because people admired the way you dressed. How did you get into fashion? What are some of your favorite sneakers and brands to wear?
So, in Chicago, you got a lot of athletes. And I was really good at sports, believe it or not. But just because of the area that I was in and that type of competition was so high, it just really made me average in comparison. Kids like Derrick Rose, who graduated a year before me, were just running things on the sports level. And so I really wanted to make myself stand out and find something I was passionate about.
I always was a big fan of sneakers. Like in my baby pictures, my parents were buying me all of the new Jordans before I could walk. My pops was really big on having me in like Ralph Lauren.
And then the upside with Jordan was that he always re-released his shoes, so I was always able to keep stuff from my past and reference those pictures. I kind of got into that way. And just being into that stuff so young, a lot of people around the city respected me for being a fresh dude.
So I think I would have to say my favorite shoes are Jordans. At the time when I was younger, I really liked Jordan 11’s and Jordan 10’s. But right now I would say my favorite Jordans are probably Jordan 1’s. Bape has always been one of my favorite clothing lines. I still wear a lot of Bape to this day.
You have a diverse style and you’re a very introspective artist, so it’s sometimes hard to tell where you get your style from. What artists influenced you growing up?
So I definitely think some of my biggest influences growing up were definitely like Kanye, definitely Jay-Z. That’s when I really could understand the higher level of content in rap music. I was in 8th grade I think when College Dropout had came out and when the Black Album had came out. You had Jay-Z, who making his last album, so he was putting his everything into it. And then you had Kanye, who was just coming into the game, who was making his first impression on everybody and he was putting his all into it. I think that kind of inspired me to make my mixtapes extremely cohesive and make them with a storyline - because every album that I was really a fan of, it was because artist put together the story with such detail.
What are you listening to these days?
I’m a huge fan of the artists in my generation, so I listen to everybody. I like Young Thug. I like J Cole. I like Kendrick. I like Migos. I like pretty much everybody, but when it goes down to making projects, I always reference those things that got me into it. So I always go back to College Dropout. I still go back to the Black Album. I go back to John Mayer’s Continuum album. I just try to reference things that are certified classic to try to inspire me for the sound and the vibe that I’mma go for.
You should get John Mayer on a track. He’s an incredible guitarist.
Its funny man, because we have a pretty good relationship. Me and him text every now and then. That’s my dog. Its funny with the Ed Sheeran record [“Are You With Me”], [Mayer] actually gave me a lot of input on the mix I emailed to him. It was like one of the coolest moments for me to get an email back from him, you know, telling me about how much he liked the Ed Sheeran record. There’s a punchline in that song where I say, “We were slow dancing in a burning room, while I was trying to jump the past… I was trying to sweep that past, you was trying to jump the broom.” That was a reference to his song “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.” So in the email, he was like, “Man, I really appreciate that reference that you used.”
‘The Night I Went To…” is heavily influenced by your adventures on tour. Did you record a lot of the songs from the project while you were on the road?
I recorded a lot when I was on tour, but most of the music that I recorded I ended up not using. I wasn’t really deep with it like I thought I was, which is why when I got home I had to restructure everything.
What is the hardest thing about being on tour? Is that a skill -- going on tour?
Yeah, it’s definitely a skill. But I also think it’s about the team of people that you have around you – and that’s what I learned. To be honest, everybody that is your friend is not ready to be a person that’s on the road with you when it comes to touring. And I had to learn that the hard way. So I had just a lot of hiccups in the road and a lot of bumps that just didn’t need to be there because of the simple fact that I was trying to put friends in the business role and it just didn’t need to be that way.
But I think outside of that, you know, it’s an amazing experience. I enjoy doing the shows. I enjoy going to the different cities. It doesn’t really have lot of wear and tear on me physically, because this is what I signed up for and this was like one of the things that I looked forward to the most when I started rapping. So every time I get to go on a tour, I view it as a blessing to just go out and be able to touch the people. But you know, I think that any other artists that is reading this should know that your team around you is one of the most important things when touring.
I get a nocturnal kind of vibe from the new mixtape. Were you writing and recording a lot at night?
I had so many sleepless nights due to things that were going on in my personal life, and just really wanting to put together a project that caused me to be restless, you know? It caused me to sacrifice things that normal humans feel like they need to get through the next day. Like I wanted to put all of that to the side for creativity and it definitely left me with a lot of night where I was just up creating. Waking up my homies and trying to get them to listen to these random ideas and play them the beats and all of that. And I think it kind of turned everyone around me like into that same mindset.
You’re a pretty low-key guy and you’re not that big into social media. Do you get recognized a lot in Chicago? What’s your relationship like with your fans?
Man, it’s pretty awesome. I get a lot of love in Chicago just doing normal stuff, like going to get food. I get a lot of love in the city, but I also try to show as much love as possible too.
Its also been cool for me to see how that’s grown into other cities, because my manager lives in New York now and my main producer lives in LA. So I spent a lot of time in LA and New York as well. I also get a lot of love from the fans when I’m out and about there too. It’s just a real gratifying feeling because, you know, me being low-key, I often wonder sometimes, like “Do people even know what’s going on?” And for me, it’s really not that important, just because I’ve always been a person about the music. But to see that people can recognize who I am and feel comfortable showing love and comfortable speaking – it’s just a real humbling thing.
How did you meet Chris Brown? How did his feature on the new mixtape come about?
I was in the studio with Hit-Boy in LA and we were working. One of Chris Brown’s homies, his name is Hood, he had came into the stu and he needed a Swisher or a Backwood or something, I forgot what I was smoking at the time, but I happened to have one. When I gave it to him, he was like “Man, you Rockie, right?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And then he was like, “Man, we really fuck with you and, you know, Chris would love to meet you.” And I didn’t even know who he was talking about at the time because I was, you know, a little smacked outta my mind off the LA Kush. I just followed along with him. He took me into the next studio and introduced me to Chris. This was during the time when he was working on the X album.
From there, me and him hung out a couple times while he was in LA. He had ended up getting locked up after I had met him. I had always been a big fan of him. To me and my homies, that he like our R. Kelly and still kind of is. You know, that’s who we listen to when we’re chilling with the ladies.
Basically, when had got out, he had changed his number. We had a mutual friend who actually put us back in tune, and I’m in Chicago and Chris happened to Facetime me. I let him know that we had a record, I had a record for him. We were just chopping it up and I sent it to him, and he got it back to me within 24 hours via email.
The mixtape’s opening track “The Landing” reminds me of a song Cam’ron just dropped called “U Wasn’t There” where he thanks everyone who helped him achieve success over the course of his career. He’s almost 40, and you’re just 24. Why are you feeling so thankful at this stage of your career? Could it have anything to do with your aunt dying of cancer recently?
Yeah, 100%. Man, you know, that was just a huge thing because she was really my best friend. She was so relevant in my life. It was just crazy, you know? So that whole situation, it affected so many things that I was doing, so many songs. You can hear it in the content throughout a few of the records.
I think that situation is going to be something that is relevant and brings out different emotions and different vibes throughout pretty much everything that I do from this point forward. Just because we talked so much about music and just talked so much about what my plan was as an artist. To know that person is not going to be here to actually experience it with me is just going to push me that much harder to experience it with the people that I do have in my life.
What can we expect from Rockie Fresh in 2016?
Man, it’s going to be a good year. You guys can expect a lot more music. As long as people are willing to listen, I’m going to be dropping. But I think where we went in a different direction last year as far as being a lot more low-key with the music. We were cooking the whole time so that way this year we can make sure we have a lot of good stuff to drop for the people. I think that it’s never really going to be a moment where I go missing in 2016 musically.
So you can expect a lot of songs, a lot of cool collaborations and a lot of dope solo records. And just really locking in on lot of the things that I talked about on the The Night I Went To..., but also staying true to the essence of being honest with my listeners. So it’s going to be a very cool year, I think.