Written By Ryan Lyons for Respect Magazine, Photo By Ryan Lyons
“So surprised that I’m unsigned, but my time will come,” Rockie Fresh raps on his second tape, The Otherside. But being an up-and-comer these days is more of a bittersweet position. The whole world might pay attention for five minutes, but what will keep their undivided attention once the channel inevitably switches? Whether due to his solid Midwestern fanbase or his knack for quality production and youthful yet reflective raps at only 21-years-old, Rick Ross saw something in the Chicago-bred MC that’ll keep the people listening. Now Rockie’s finally sitting in the position that he rapped about on his Kanye West-sampled track, “A.C. Green.” He’s finally on the other side.
Flanked by his publicist and his road manager, Rockie steps into the lobby of the Hudson Hotel, a swanky, low-key stay somewhere in midtown Manhattan, and plops down on the comfy leather loveseat. Today seems like a long day for the recent MMG signee, filled with lots of questions and anticipation for his latest project, Electric Highway, but he’s both gracious and eager to get the ball rolling. Both Puffy and Rozay attempted to sign Rockie, but he decided to go with Ross, who’s had a great track record with new talent as of late. On YoutTube, we watched as Rozay cracked the seal on a Rolex flooded with diamonds and handed it to Fresh. Today, he’s rocking his new wrist-wear, along with a black leather biker jacket and some red Balenciaga kicks to brighten things up. His aura is calm. Comparable to his raps, he’s both smart and relaxed in demeanor.
While the rest of Chicago is swept up in its recent drill movement, Rockie’s music enters into a more positive aspect. “I think their success is great. It’s allowed them to do positive,” he says of peers like Chief Keef and Lil Reese. Rockie grew up in church, living in the city and eventually migrating to the suburbs, and while the violence isn’t something that he’s into, he makes it clear that Chicago’s problem isn’t attributed to the music. “It stems more from the projects being knocked down,” he explains of the city’s recent move to do away with it’s high-rise tenement buildings. Now there’s more violence because neighborhoods have been mingled.
He’d been selling out shows prior to the entrance of the popular trap offset, but he’s collaborated with the scenes purveyors like King Louie while still maintaining his persona throughout. After a few mixtapes, he’s slid into a lane of music that is one with the night. Rockie’s laid-back delivery is what makes suits his music to a late night ride. It’s both reflective and eclectic, borrowing inspiration from indie rock as well as hip-hop. It’s also gotten him comparisons to genre-blender Kanye West, and Rockie takes it all in stride. “I think it’s [because] we’re both from Chicago,” he says. “If it’s not something aggressive, it’s compared to Kanye West.”
Although he didn’t quite get into hip-hop until his late teens — not that it shows — his favorite hip-hop albums range from Kanye’s College Dropout to Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. “I hope that when I’m 26 I can look at life like that,” he muses, thinking of Jay’s first record. On the verge of a new release, Electric Highway, Fresh openly admits that he didn’t record while he was on tour. “I’m all about the quality,” he says, “so I had to wait till I got off tour to get the type of quality that I wanted.” The mixtape drops in 24 hours, but he feels good about it. The Lunice-produced banger, “Superman OG” just leaked that morning. As soon as the bass drops, Rockie hops on effortlessly spews swag: “One of the freshest niggas you’ve seen in a while.” It’s nonchalantly swagged out. He’s happy; he’s signed.
Days later at Rockie’s first headlining show at New York’s SOB’s, it’s freezing cold outside, somewhere below 10 degrees. Fans have been waiting outside for two hours circling the small venue. It seems as though Maybach Music is reliving Bad Boy Record’s stint in ‘95, only withMeek Mill posters everywhere and Gunplay mixtapes passed out by the street team. The first 25 people in line get exclusive purple Electric Highway cassette tapes and 3D glasses for the experience. Rockie’s trying to win this city over, ice cold or not. It feels like New York’s welcoming him in true Windy City style. Not only are Young Chop and Sasha Go Hard in the building, Lunice preps with an animated set as well as Sir Michael Rocks. The building is filled with college kids, mostly Rockie’s age, and it’s evident he’s made an impression. Later in the day, Rockie Instagrams pics with French Montana, Wale, Meek Mill, Rozay, and the rest of MMG, and even though his facial expression doesn’t show it, he’s thrilled. Towards the end of his set, he announced, “It was always my dream to freestyle in New York.” And so, of course, he does.