Fab 5 Freddy is one of the great architects in hip hop. We used to watch him as the face of Yo! MTV Raps chatting with emerging rappers, most of whom probably fall into your Top 5 dead or alive spots. His involvment with some of the first hip-hop films ever, Rapture and Wild Style, only tell part of his story. Before he was on your TV, Fab was part of a young crew of NYC graffiti artists who would later go on to the change the game forever. From B.I.G. to Basquiat, Fred Brathwaite was there. We recently caught up with the man who traversed graffiti and hip-hop to an entire world. Hear from Fab 5 Freddy in his own words.
Interview by Justin Korkidis (@Say_WordYo)
You've just closed your latest exhibition, New York, New Work. What was this show all about?
The last few years I had been working on returning to making art, and this is it. It's two bodies of work, like a figurative thing. I started with photos of boxers, and these exotic dancers. We embellished the canvas with thousands of Swarovski crystals. The other body of work is like a graffiti-remix kind of vibe.
New York, New Work photos by: Ray Rael Yau
Photo by: Kristy Leibowitz
Speaking of graffiti, most people know you as the face of YO! MTV RAPS, but you first got your start doing graf in New York.
I started doing graf ages ago, but more significantly, I was one of the first writers that wanted to move into the art scene as an artist, back in the early '80s. Along with Lee Quinones, then hooking up with FUTURA 2000, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Haring. We were all on a similar path at the time.
Do you still chill with FUTURA?
We're really close. I'm actually Godfather to his son, he goes by the name 13th Witness. FUTURA and I, we share a studio together with Mare 139 in Williamsburg.
How do you feel about graf work being in Galleries and Museums?
I feel it's great. That's one of the things I helped bring into the game in the early '80s. It's great to see other people from other places bring such a visual flavor to the table.
What was your involvement with Art in the Streets?
I'm one of the artists in the show, a consultant and curator for the earlier stuff. The things that happened in the downtown scene that then became a blueprint for a lot of these street artists and graf writers from around the world. I've been a person who's been making things happen, and I had just returned to art. I stopped making art to go into film, and then YO! MTV Raps happened and it diverted me longer than I had planned. I wanted to diversify as far as making visual art. Film was something I had been passionate about, and then going on as a producer and star of the first hip-hop film, Wild Style.
Was this a goal you were working towards when you first started out?
Yeah, that's what I was about. I wanted to be an artist, and doing my Warhol-Soup Train was about that. That was the last train I painted, as a message to let people know that people doing graf knew more about just doing their names. We were aware of the art world, and meeting Jean-Michel, and a bunch of other artists, I figured we could be in that space, too.
You built the bridge which brought hip-hop, graffiti, and street art to the downtown scene. Do you think there's still that relationship between music and art, different worlds being merged together?
It seems that it is. More people are involved, more people know about it. It's become a global culture. It was only in the city at that time, and now it's worldwide. That's what is exciting for me, especially with Art in the Streets. There's a great website, Artinthestreet.tv, and it has short clips of the main artist in the show. You really get to see the diversity of the artist and their work. Different energies from different places. Mister Cartoon in L.A., everyone knows him for his tattoos, but the first time he saw graffiti, was when Lee and I were doing graf in the Rapture video, then he saw Wild Style and started doing his thing in L.A. I'm learning all these pieces to the puzzle now, how all these cats got connected. Os Gemeos had a black and white fax machine copy of Subway Art. That got them going. It's crazy how this culture just sparked so many people to jump into the game and bring their flavor to it. I'm happy to have been part of that in the beginning, and I'm back in the lane right now bringing new flavors, so hey—check me out.