Few things will change your perspective on life faster than becoming a father. Except, perhaps, a conversation with JAY-Z about fatherhood. That’ll get your mind right, too. It certainly set Chicago rapper Rockie Fresh on the right course. Over the past few years, Fresh has shied away from the spotlight. His last full-length project—not his debut album—The Night I Went To…, was released in 2016 and since then it has been mostly crickets from his camp. Or so fans assumed.
In truth, Rockie Fresh had been taking his time to mature as a man and transition from Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group label to Rostrum Records, the onetime home to Wiz Khalifa, the late, great Mac Miller, Innanet James, and more.
“It wasn’t like a ‘leave’ type of thing,” Fresh tells me over the phone, breaking down the end of his relationship with MMG. “Me and [Rick] Ross, we got a real good relationship… I got freed up on some legal and was able to go my own way. I had a mutual friend that put me in [touch] with Benjy [Grinberg, founder and president of Rostrum]. When we had met, I was already familiar with all of the stuff he did with Wiz [Khalifa] and Mac [Miller]. When I saw what type of person he was… The fact that we both got children around the same age, it was just a lot of man-to-man stuff that we connected on. The opportunity that he offered, it was a no-brainer situation. That started around April of this year.”
Once Rockie got into working with Grinberg, he quickly realized the two could bond over their zeal and focus. They also bonded over their mutual desire to leave legacies for their children. “Everything we do is met with the mindset of bettering our families,” he says. “It’s deeper than just making successful records and making good songs for the fans.”
Rockie's obsession with legacy dates back nearly two years, to one of the last times he was in the studio in Los Angeles working with Rick Ross. “JAY-Z had actually came through and kicked it with us,” Rockie recalls. “At the time, he was working on the 4:44 album, so he had certain records for the album done. Me and him ended up having this long talk about fatherhood. This was before I knew what the gender of my child was going to be, and I was extremely nervous. He was telling me the importance of legacy. My last name has to be important for my child that’s to come. He ended up playing me and Ross an early version of the song ‘Legacy.’ From that moment, that’s when it became the focus.”
With legacy and focus as his operative words, it’s safe to say we are on the precipice of discovering a new, infinitely more matured and worldly Rockie Fresh. Rockie himself regards this album and signing as a new chapter in his career, one no one could have imagined for him. With that, he will finally be releasing his proper debut album, all these years later, on Rostrum Records. Don’t worry, his daughter helped A&R the final product.
DJBooth’s full interview with Rockie Fresh, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: How does it feel to be back in the spotlight with all this good news?
Rockie Fresh: I feel good, you know? I’m a chill, low-key type of dude. I don’t really be caring about what people know about what I got going on. The past couple of years, I’ve been putting things I got going on into play, so I think this announcement came at a good time for the fans so they could get an update. I was real comfortable with what was going on in my absence, but I’m glad my fans got this information.
When did you initially leave Maybach Music Group?
It wasn’t like a “leave” type of thing. Me and [Rick] Ross, we got a real good relationship. It was just a lot of things going on, on his side of the fence that I would rather him have the ability to explain. We always will have a real strong relationship. Even with Atlantic, I got a good relationship. Basically, I was able to… I got freed up on some legal and was able to go my own way. I had a mutual friend that put me in [touch] with Benjy [Grinberg, founder and president of Rostrum]. When we had met, I was already familiar with all of the stuff he did with Wiz [Khalifa] and Mac [Miller]. When I saw what type of person he was… The fact that we both got children around the same age, it was just a lot of man-to-man stuff that we connected on. The opportunity that he offered, it was a no-brainer situation. That started around April of this year.
Were there other labels in the running?
I was on a major for so long, I really wasn’t interested in doing any types of major record deals at the time. I kept my situation under wraps, out of respect for Ross. If me and Benjy didn’t have a mutual close friend, he would’ve never knew that information. I had no interest in really discussing my situation, and then certain rumors started coming out. I knew in my mind that I didn’t want to sign to a major. Any deal that I did, I wanted it to be very unorthodox and something that was new. The style that me and Benjy did is something that I definitely think I wouldn’t be able to get from a major label.
What’s new about it?
Just the leverage that I have creatively… A lot of times, when it comes to major labels, people think they change our style of music and I don’t think that’s really the case. I think that it’s more so the checks and balances of getting the songs out in the way that you wanna do it. When I signed to a major label, I was 21 years old and now I’m 27. A lot of my interests have changed as a man, and also the way music’s put out has changed. My first deal, out of respect for both sides of the label, it wasn’t based around streaming services because they didn’t exist when I signed. We were releasing CDs back then. Now people don’t buy CDs. I had to do something that benefited the way music is being released in 2018, and also that benefited the knowledge that I have now at 27 versus 21. That’s all it really was.
What’s your working relationship with Benjy like?
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Me and him are extremely focused on our legacy for our children. I think that’s what’s most important. I don’t want my daughter just living off things I did in my past. She’s 16 months now, and as she’s getting older, I wanna make sure I’m creating a legacy off of something that I love and showing her the fruits of my labor in the sense of working hard and being able to adjust to the time and doing something new that she could grow up and really feel the benefits of. He’s in the same mode for his child as well. With that, everything we do is met with the mindset of bettering our families. It’s deeper than just making successful records and making good songs for the fans. Now, we’re working hard for somebody else.
What’s the stress like going from one label to another?
Honestly, it was pretty seamless. Like I said, the way that I was able to make this move is something that isn’t a way that people would necessarily believe. With that being said, I don’t really feel pressure. I’m in such a new space in my life, not to keep referring back to my daughter, when I look at her and see how excited she is… Even when my songs come on and the way that she dances to them, I just got such a new energy for life. Really, my only pressure is to make sure I continue making a good life for her. Outside of that, I don’t really feel no pressure.
Do you think of this as a rebirth for your career?
I think it’s another chapter. I’m a real hard-working dude, so a lot of the things I did in the music business in the past was through hard work. Ross, he definitely showed me a lot of love and put on for me in a lot of ways. I think, as far as my full plan, we never really got to see all that I had to offer. I don’t think that was because of MMG. I think it was because a lot of things personally I had to learn as a man. I didn’t go to college, so from 21 to 25, I was really learning a lot from guys like Rick Ross and Meek Mill. Now, I’m at the point where I’m about to execute everything that I’ve learned. I feel like what I’m about to do now is just totally beyond what everybody expected me to do.
Rostrum will be releasing your debut. With all these years in the game, what does the debut album mean to you now?
At one point, when I first signed, that title meant everything to me. Now, with the way music is and with the way that I create, it’s simply just a title to me. I approach every project like my first album. Even the last full-length project I released, I had features from Ed Sheeran on there, Rick Ross, Chris Brown. I always approach everything with my best foot forward, and this is really no different.
What’s the most important story told on the album?
The real vibe of the album, for me, is to show people that during the time that they didn’t hear from me, I wasn’t in a place of negativity. My album is not gon’ be some type of pity party to create sympathy for my absence. It’s not gon’ be me trying to explain what went wrong with the label because I don’t have no issues with what I went through. As far as my album, it’s a sign of where I’m at right now: the fun that I’m having, the responsibility of being a dad, my outlook on girls.
What about this debut will be most surprising for fans?
I think we got a lot of surprises! A lot of times, with fans, they hear a single or two, and they think an artist is going in a specific direction. That’s a fun connection, being able to keep them on the journey as I’m dropping singles and videos as I lead them to an album. With people not hearing from me for so long, with certain singles they’re gon’ have one perception, but by the time they hear the whole body of work, they’re gonna be surprised with how well-rounded it is. And still getting certain vintage Rockie Fresh vibes on top of a new sound that you wouldn’t see coming from me.
Does your daughter A&R for you?
It’s funny that you ask that because that’s just now starting to be a thing. In the past two months, she now one hundred percent knows my voice. She knows how to keep rhythm to certain beats that she likes. There are a couple songs on the album that my daughter has heard that she’s lost her mind [over]. That have made me look at the songs a lot differently.
Speak your legacy into existence for me.
One of the last times I was in the studio with Ross, we was out in LA. JAY-Z had actually came through and kicked it with us. At the time, he was working on the 4:44 album, so he had certain records for the album done. Me and him ended up having this long talk about fatherhood. This was before I knew what the gender of my child was going to be, and I was extremely nervous. He was telling me the importance of legacy. My last name has to be important for my child that’s to come. He ended up playing me and Ross an early version of the song “Legacy.” From that moment, that’s when it became the focus.
With my legacy, I want it to compare to a person of that level. I’m able to not only be an extremely successful artist for myself, but create a network where I can help other artists become millionaires and reach their fans, and make the music that they wanna make, on top of having businesses that my daughter can own. I look at all the things that people like JAY-Z, and Ross, and Chris Brown, people that I’ve been able to see firsthand, and I look at the safety net that they’ve been able to create for their family off of their music… That’s really legacy for me.
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