Chicago native Rockie Fresh is a new rapper-on-scene with lyrical gifts that belie his age. The 20-year-old rap upstart has “Next Big Thing” written all over him, and he’s poised to fulfill some high expectations. After going from uploading songs to his personal Facebook page to getting co-signs from artists ranging from Twista to Fall Out Boy, Fresh is living the sort of 21st century fairy tale that most artists can only dream about. Late last year he got the hip hop press buzzing with his surefooted second mixtape, The Otherside, and this October, he’ll attempt to top that release with an all-new project. BET.com chatted with Rockie about making a name for himself in the Chi, and what it really means to be at the forefront of hip hop’s next generation.
BET.com: So what’s the first thing people need to know about Rockie Fresh?
Rockie Fresh: I’m just a young hip hop artist from Chicago and I like a lot of different kinds of music, so I try to blend them in my songs.
You started rapping at a young age. How did you get into hip hop, and what made you pick up a mic?
I got into hip hop in the 8th grade. At that time artists like Kanye [West] and Lupe [Fiasco] were making their marks. And both of them were like non-traditional type[s] of rappers as far as, you know, they weren’t ''hood artists.' Which I am a fan of, but I just didn’t relate to it because that wasn’t really my life. So, once I had some artists that I could relate to, then I got more into the music. But even with that, I never really thought that I would become a rapper. But whenever I would play the music, I would make up my own lyrics and that’s kind of how it all started. I just wanted to pursue it young.
At what point did you think you might be able to make a career out of this? When did people start paying attention?
Well, it happened real organically. I released my first song [called “Rockie Fresh”] on Facebook and it had gotten a positive response. One of the biggest hip hop blogs in Chicago called Fake Shore Drive picked it up and put it on their site, so that was really cool for me. After that, people started checking for other songs, so I put two more songs out. Then I started working on a mixtape [2009’s Rockie’s Modern Life]. When I dropped my mixtape, it got a good response on the Internet, but I also was gonna do a concert for the release at a 500 capacity venue. We just wanted to see if we could do an event and have people come out and show their support. We ended up selling out the show, and at that point I started to think that maybe this was something I could make a career out of.
What was it like growing up, for you, in Chicago?
I grew up in the suburbs and just had a super normal life. I played sports and all of that — I was exposed to a lot of people of different colors and races and people that had different experiences and backgrounds from me. I think that experience has made it so that, instead of shying away from things that are different from me when it comes to music, I’m more likely to embrace them.
Tell us what The Otherside means.
The Otherside was really about my perspective of where I am and where I wanna be in the future. It was really my first attempt to try and get myself to that point of success that I aspire to, where I’m having number one albums and ... doing my own tours across the country.
You’re a young guy but there’s a maturity to your sound and lyrics that’s uncommon for a lot of rappers in your age group. Where do you think that comes from?
Well, I’ve just always been around older people. Growing up I had two older siblings, one who is 38 and another who’s 32, and they were always around, so it was just a different type of environment. And I’m not in school right now, so a lot of it is just me dealing with everyday life and the same things that adults go through. I just turn around and put that into my music.
What did you study in school? What subjects interested you?
I used to want to be a lawyer, so I took a lot of classes like economics and government, and things like that. Later I got into psychology, which I have started applying to my songs, just in terms of the way certain repeated phrases can stick in people’s memory.
What musicians have inspired your sound?
John Mayer, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z. I really pay attention to lyrics in music, and those guys are really focused on that.
Chicago obviously has a very rich and historic hip hop scene. Has it been a challenge for you to break through and make your own lane?
You know, not really, because artists who have come from Chicago have historically had breakthroughs later in their lives, just because of the way the industry was set up. But I feel like, with me being so young, and having come at a time where the Internet is really running things and I have this platform where I can instantly reach millions of fans, that allows me to approach things differently and make a kind of music that has never been done before.
Do you worry about distinguishing yourself from other rappers from your city or in your age group?
I think that we’re all coming from different perspectives and have different experiences, so if you just stay true to yourself then your sound will be different. That’s definitely what I try to do with my music — I just try and speak to things that have to do with the way I’m feeling and what I’m experiencing in my day-to-day life.
You’re currently on tour, opening for Patrick Stump [of Fall Out Boy]. How did you connect with him?
He downloaded my mixtape, The Otherside, and liked it and reached out to me. I went over to his house and we were just chillin’, did a record together and were hanging out. Being on tour with him has really been an amazing opportunity and I’ve been able to bring my music to an entirely new audience.
So tell me about your next project? Will the Stump collaboration be on it?
Well, we haven’t actually decided yet what we’re gonna do with that song. We’re going to announce the name of the tape next week. It has the same consistency as The Otherside but it’s definitely more fun, and a little lighter just because that’s where I’m at in my life right now.
What is APG?
It started out as just my management company, but then we sort of made it into a movement, just having fun with it. Absolute Players Group. And it’s not really “players” in the sense of being with women, but more about being smooth with handling whatever situation you’re in.
Besides Patrick Stump and Naledge [from Chicago’s Kidz in the Hall], who are some of the artists you’re excited to be working with?
Casey Veggies, Phil Ade, YP; I really like to connect with other young artists who are coming up in the game. I’m interested in building something to represent for the new generation.
Are you still working with [The Otherside producers] The Cartoonz?
Yeah, but they’re not producing the whole thing this time. I’m working with a few other producers, as well, like Oak and Pop, who produced two tracks on Nicki Minaj’s album; Da Internz, who produced the new single “Dance (A$$)” for Big Sean, and Joel and Benji Madden from Good Charlotte have a track on there, as well. The Cartoonz did four or five tracks — they really brought a different sound to it.
What are your goals for the rest of the year?
I would love to go on tour again. I’m looking forward to putting out my next project and trying to make it even more successful than my last one. I’m really determined about seeing my own growth, so that’s where my focus is.
(Photo: Darkroom Demons)