You can normally find Dan Love’s writings at the formidable, From ‘Da Bricks. A native of London, Love knows more about hip-hop than nearly anyone in Britain, as well as maintaining one of the island’s coolest nomenclatures. Take that Dizzee Rascal, if that is your real name.
In an age when rappers can come and go in the time it takes to create a MySpace page Freddie Foxxx represents a saddening anomaly in hip hop. Rapping and producing since the late ‘80s means that the one and only Bumpy Knuckles is now two decades deep in the game and one of only a handful of MCs who can truly lay claim to sticking to his guns throughout. Respect due.
In the wake of the release of his previously shelved LP Crazy Like A Foxxx I had the opportunity to chat to the man and reflect on a career in music, his overlooked work as a producer and the long-standing relationships that see him continue to release bangin’ material to this day. For a nice, middle-class white boy from London the prospect was admittedly a little daunting – a beatdown via telephone connection didn’t seem completely out of the question – but Foxxx proved himself to be a consummate professional and great interviewee. If you can’t be bothered to read the text then there’s audio on offer here too, just try to ignore the bumbling British idiot asking the questions and you’ll be fine.
As a fan I’m really glad that the Crazy Like A Foxxx album has finally seen a release so let’s start with that. What prompted the decision to drop that now?
Well, I was in the studio working on a video documentary that I’ve been working on for the last year and a half and I was looking at old footage of myself during that time, when I was filming ‘So Tough’ and it reminded me of the passion I put into the record at that time. I still had the love for it but I knew the music had changed, but then I started to get e-mails and MySpace messages and requests from fans and people wanted to know what had happened to Crazy Like A Foxxx. I think there was some kind of a leak of a cassette that made its way onto the internet and people were telling me that the quality was really bad. I felt like, you know what? The album is sitting in my studio, I have it mastered, I should give the fans the chance to hear the work and how my mindset was during the time that I recorded the album. So I just decided to put it back out, I thought it wasn’t doing any good just sitting in the studio so I just remastered it and put it out.
And are you happy with how it sounds fourteen years later?
Yea, I mean I didn’t change anything because that would have been fake, you know what I mean? You know I was happy with how it sounded when I was ready to release it: what I was feelin’, what I was talking about was personal so I didn’t want to cheat the fans out of getting what the ’94 experience was that I was having. So I left it just like it was, all I did was remaster the record and gave it to you just like I would have gave it to you in ’94. That’s what people were asking for so that’s what I gave them.
Given that you had the ‘So Tough’ 12’’ drop and the promo tape circulated it must have been pretty close to release. Was it MCA or Epic that pulled the plug on the project?
You know what, I think it was Epic. I wasn’t on MCA, they did Freddie Foxxx Is Here. Epic was the label and I think there was some kind of problem between Flavor Unit and Epic and at the end of the day they pulled the plug on the album and I just happened to have something scheduled for release when that issue happened. So it was cool, I had to do what I had to do and that’s went I went really underground and kept my movement going.
So how come they didn’t want to take the original DITC version? It’s great.
Yea. Flavor Unit was telling me that the album sounded too dark and I was a little offended because I’m a hardcore, underground MC and I was a huge, huge lover of the work of Diggin’ In The Crates at the time, you know what I mean? I was feelin’ Buckwild’s sound, Lord Finesse… I mean Big L was sitting in the studio with us all the time. When I was recording with DITC Big L was at every session. They were always around us. That’s how I learned to sell my music independently is by being around DITC. Then Flavor Unit pulled the project, I mean they paid everybody for all the tracks, but they didn’t use it because they said it was too dark. They were looking for something that was brighter and with a bit more melody in it so I ended up producing the album myself and that was the one they accepted. I was really into the DITC version.
Obviously the beat that was originally used on ‘8 Bars To Catch A Body’ ended up being hugely successful with ‘Sound Of Da Police’. You sore about that at all?
Nah, not at all. You know KRS-One is a very good friend of mine and when they turned the beat down I’m glad that he was the one who took it and made it a success. It’s just an attachment to the ears that I had in the day, like those beats that they were playing me I was thinking that I had the ability to listen to certain things and know what’s good and what’s not. When KRS-One picked that beat I was actually happy for him that he got that track.
I did notice that were still some changes from the hissy promo copy that I got off the internet. The version of ‘So Tough’ with Queen Latifah on it got dropped for the new one, why was that?
Yea, I actually I put a different version on because that was released as a single but I wanted to give you what wasn’t put out, you know what I mean? The one that was put out was the one I didn’t put on there. What wasn’t put out is on the album. So everything that people missed is on the album and then I gave you some special versions that people wouldn’t have expected me to put out to compensate for the fact that that record wasn’t on there.
There’s also the addition of ‘Killer’ with 2Pac that wasn’t on the original promo. Was that recorded during the same sessions and just left off the original album?
Nah, what happened is that 2Pac came to the studio and asked to record that when I was doing ‘So Tough’. Everyone that’s on that album showed up in the studio to record that record, you know what I mean? I still have 2Pac’s lyrics that he wrote down, he signed the paper that he wrote his lyrics on. I always have rappers who do a collaboration with me give me an original copy of their vocals and sign it. I have two different versions of the vocal that he did, you know he said the same rhyme but he said them two different ways. I kind of keep all of that stuff and I did for so many years because I knew that one day I would release this album and I was actually keeping the extra vocal for a remix of it. When he passed away I was like wow, this is a really good friend of mine, a very close friend of mine and I was still able to have his hand-scribed vocal and also have two versions of the rhymes. It wasn’t like an e-mail thing, Pac came to the studio, he performed in the booth that I performed in and that’s why the record is passionate to me because he was actually there, we worked together to do it.
So did you know him from the Digital Underground days?
I met him when he was just leaving Digital Underground.
And it must have been amazing to work with him.
Ah, absolutely, I mean Pac was incredible. Just to sit with him in the studio and see his energy and feed off his energy was incredible. He always had great ideas and did what he had to do and actually got involved. You know there’s a skit before the record ‘Killer’ with him Stretch and everybody and everyone made sure that the vocals sounded right, he really put a lot of energy in there. He was a leader in the studio, not a follower at all.
You’ve got a track with Kool G Rap on there as well and I can’t think of any other collaboration between you two except ‘Money In The Bank’.
Yea, G Rap came in to do that with me and he actually gave me my first chance to collaborate on anybody’s record, the first collaboration I ever did was with Kool G Rap on ‘Money In The Bank’. Me asking him to come and do that for me was definitely a good look for me because G Rap has always been one of my favourite MCs. We worked together, right there in the same studio. I did every record in that same studio, Powerplay in Queens, Long Island City.
And I gotta ask about the Ultramagnetic diss on ‘Crazy Like A Foxxx’. What was that routed in?
My history as an MC was really about battling. I forget what the initial incident was about but there was some kind of a statement made by Ultramagnetic in an article somewhere and I ended up switching the ‘Crazy Like A Foxxx’ record and just dissing them on the record. I know Kool Keith probably came through with some subliminals here and there, but I always have fun with those guys, now when I see them we shake hands and we laugh about it because it was part of our make-up when we were coming up as MCs and scrapping for position. I always show people that if you want to battle with me then bring your A-game because I always bring my A-game when I get on records with people.
The great thing about it now is to be able to see those guys and we can laugh about it and talk about it, you may still hear me get at Kool Keith once in a while because he likes to play those games with me but I got much respect for Ultramagnetic all day.
And things are all settled with Rakim now? I know there was a little beef on the internet.
You know what? Me and Rakim have a history and a lot of people don’t understand our personal history so they gonna make assumptions about what this beefing and battling is about and they’re not gonna be right about it because he and I have a personal history outside of the music business that’s gonna set off a different tone. We may express it through music because that’s what we both do. I actually haven’t spoken to Rakim and I kind of got the vibe from the people that he’s around and the people that I know that it’s not really a problem. Like I said, it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you consider yourself to be the best or in the ranks of the best, there’s nobody beyond catching it. If you’re an MC and you nice then you shouldn’t have a problem with somebody coming at you, body up and keep it moving. That’s how it works. Some guys just try that shit for no reason. I’m not the kind of guy who will start frivolous shit for attention, that’s not how I am. If I say something I have a reason for saying it.
I haven’t spoken to Rakim. He’s definitely legendary in the eyes of hip hop and in the eyes of a lot of MCs, as he is for myself. I see him as a legendary MC, but I also know that he and I have a personal relationship and we’ll deal with it how we deal with it but he better know, just like everybody else better know that I will show up for the battle. No problem. I respect Rakim and I’d like to see him come out with a nice new album because he’s an amazing MC and I wouldn’t battle him if he was wack. If Rakim wasn’t dope I wouldn’t say nothing to him because it would be a waste of my time. He and I are very good friends and I’ll always respect him.
With this material coming out the vault I’m intrigued to know if you have more stuff ready to break out. I’d heard you had a load of stuff on DAT with Pete Rock, any chance of that or other stuff getting released?
Oh yea, definitely. I got another version of the Konexion album that I didn’t use because at the time I was looking to put out a different sound. Pete Rock had recorded the whole entire Konexion album, it’s really about twelve Pete Rock tracks and then I switched gear because at the time I felt like I was ahead of myself. Those tracks are incredibly underground hip hop records and I do plan on releasing ReKonexion which is the original version of Konexion.
I’d love to hear the material with Pete Rock, I think you guys sound great together.
Yea, Pete is an incredible producer, you know I’m a very good friend of his. He’s like one of my favourite producers of all time along with Premier, they’re my two favourite producers of all time.
I mean you’ve worked with an incredible list of producers. Who do you think you’ve moulded with best and what collaboration has produced the best music?
I get a little something different from each one of these guys. When I work with Pete Rock, he’s the type of producer that when he brings me music he already knows that it’s for me. He doesn’t just play me stuff that he’s given to a whole bunch of people, he’s like, “Yo, this is definitely Bumpy Knuckles.” He’ll put together maybe ten or twenty tracks and bring them to me and leave them with me as long as I wanna keep them and he’ll just say, ‘Rap over them and call me when you’re ready to mix them.’ What I get out of that is that he trusts me to be creative in my own space with his product.
Premier will play me a bunch of stuff that he did for everybody else, because if Premier plays somebody some stuff and they don’t sound good or they don’t want to use it then he’ll put it in the trash and he won’t play it to nobody else. When I’m digging for Premier music it’s in his garbage can! I’ll take them and make them underground hits, ‘Part Of My Life’, ‘R.N.S.’, all those records were beats that other people had that he either didn’t like the way they sounded on them or they just didn’t do them. So I took them and made them classic underground, and that’s what I love about Premier is that he produces those records and then when I get in the booth he’ll say, “Foxxx, this is what I’m looking for here from you, I’m looking for this from a vocalist.” He’s a real producer like that. He’ll often say that he wants to produce something custom for me, but I’m always say no because I don’t want to ruin the chemistry that we have. The chemistry comes from the fact that he’s giving me all these joints that other people turned down and then I’m challenged to remake them and I have a ball doing them. It’s Premier anyway, so it’s always a banger to me. Everything he does I love.
He posted a couple of beats on the released version of Konexion, so I’m assuming that’s going to continue as a working relationship?
Oh absolutely. Premier is all over American Black Man, I got a whole album called Music From The Man featuring DJ Premier where all fourteen tracks are produced by Premo and I also got Pete Rock, Kev Brown, Oddissee, Clark Kent… a whole bunch of guys man.
Tell me a little more about American Black Man.
I was actually gonna try and drop it in ’08 but I fell back because I had to do some revamping because Nas ended up dropping the Nigger album. It just felt like for me to put it out whilst that was out wouldn’t have been a good idea. I have my reasons for feeling like that because they kind of go in the same direction so I wanted to change a few things. Anyone who knows my history knows I’ve been talking about American Black Man since Industry Shakedown and there was always gonna be a trilogy: Industry Shakedown, Konexion, American Black Man. One thing about me is that I’m not on anyone’s timeline, so I drop records as I feel they need to be released. I’ve got the luxury of doing that so I decided to pull back. Maybe sometime in mid ’09 it should be ready.
You’re someone who has endured your fair share of industry strife. How has that affected you as an artist and how have you managed to turn that around and still be so prominent in the game?
What’s amazing about that is that as an artist I’ve always had the idea that music has to consume time and space. If you’re a real producer and you sit down to make a track for someone or yourself, the passion that you put into your work should be indicative of who you are. I know that every time I’ve put a record out I’ve tried to give people who I really am, I’m not a gimmick or the kind of guy that just wants to tell people things that are made up. Even though we are MCs and part of our work is storytelling, I try to give you passion in all my music. Sometimes that passion may come out in a way that people may not understand, so me having the freedom to work in my own space… I look at it like this: me being on a record label that doesn’t share the passion for my music means there’s a problem with the marriage.
The blessing was that the internet became so relevant. I like the fact that people have to look for my music sometimes because it keeps it classic, everything is not so expendable. Some people that are real lovers of underground hip hop are like, “I gotta find this Freddie Foxxx record,” and because I’m the one that controls my own music, I’m the one deciding what does or does not get released. If I leak a record then I leak a record. No-one comes in my studio and takes my music and leaks my music and I’m very much in control of that. The control factor is more about passion than anything else. When you make passionate music you want people who handle your music to have the same passion or else it’s not gonna work out.
Has there been any fallout from going down the independent route or do you have no regrets about that at all?
It’s not something I’ve always gained from on a financial level like I would want to but it is something that I know that I have to do. It’s an option for me that I have to take because that’s the road I’ve made and I always stay in my lane. I’m not good at going to record company meetings and trying to sell myself to people who don’t understand what hip hop, me or the music is about. You know, people who are following the concept of mainstream radio where everybody’s got one favourite rapper… these fair-weather fans and record companies. I don’t want to be a part of that. That’s their thing – to make money – but as an artist I’ve always made that lane to have control over my work. That’s what it’s about. Sure I want to make money doing it but I’m not poor, far from that. Nowadays things are different because the internet is so relevant and popular.
I think it’s interesting that people always think of Freddie Foxxx as an MC but in fact you’ve been producing since your very first album. How do you approach that process differently from the rhymes?
How could you not know how to produce when you got guys like Pete, Premo, Alchemist, Clark Kent and DJ Scratch as friends? My long time friends are some of the biggest producers in hip hop so I’ve always been a guy who knew how to make his own music because sometimes people’s schedules mean that they can’t be there. Instead of me waiting for somebody I sat down and taught myself not only how to become a musician but also a producer. I’ve been in the game for 20 years or so and I’ve been producing as long as I’ve been rapping. The thing is I’ve only gotten better at it and tried to figure out ways to enhance my talent.
I think I approach MCing in the way a boxer walks into a ring and looking at the track as my opponent. I have to figure out all the loopholes in the music to place my words to make sure that it makes sense. As a producer I try to produce a track as somebody who’s building a ring for boxers to fight in. I want it to be sturdy enough for whoever’s rapping on the record. I’m producing for Run DMC right now, I’m producing for KRS-One right now and I hope to produce for rappers who have been in the game for ten years or better because those guys understand what it is that they’re rapping on. Not to say that the new cats don’t, but I don’t have as much work to do vocally with those guys.
And do you still take a traditional approach to beatmaking? What equipment do you use and what’s the process like?
I still got SP 1200s, I got an MPC 60, an MPC 3000, I got a 950, an S3000… I use different types of keyboard stuff, I got a catalogue of drum sounds as well as still sampling kicks and snares from records. I got tons of equipment, I’ve always had equipment and I was never one to get rid of my old stuff because you always want to be able to go back to them. The only sampler I don’t like is the MPC 2000 because I’m used to the 4000, but I’m a guy that when Pete Rock shows up to make beats for me to rap to I want to have the equipment that he likes to make his beats on. That’s why I got the SP and a 950. When Premier comes I have to have the 950 ready and an MPC 60 so that he can do what he does. I like to be able to have what people use.
Can you clarify what other material we should expect to see from you over the next year or so?
Right now I got a mix CD out called The OG and the reason I did that was because I wanted to show people that there’s a problem in hip hop right now. The problem is that hip hop has been given its proper place considering the wide range of music that’s out there. You can’t tell me that just because somebody’s not on the radio that they’re not relevant to the game. I put The OG out because you got a bunch of rappers from the ‘90s that are trying to act like they’re not in their late 30s or early 40s and to me that’s wack: if you nice, you nice. If you got good music you got good music, it shouldn’t matter that you’re 38 or 39 years old because if you’re an artist and you love hip hop as a culture you gonna live it ‘til you die. You can’t get away from it because you grew up in that era. The OG album is indicative of that kind of a concept but it’s still banged out hip hop where I take other rappers’ music and I spit over their records. Don’t be surprised when I’m rapping over these records if I’m getting at them, there’s 50 Cent, all kind of cats on there where I got their music and I just laid my vocals over their tracks. I’m not trying to remake their records, I’m doing those beats with my voice on them and do what I do. It’s really about buzz. I’m dropping a conceptual series of mix CDs. That’s The OG.
Then I got a whole ton of stuff in my studio that I’m just mixing, mastering and remastering and I’m just gonna drop a whole lotta shit.
MP3: Audio Portion of Dan Love’s Interview w/ Freddie Foxxx (left-click)