“It’s taken a lot of getting used to, I won’t lie,” Fredo, 23, tells me as he lights up his freshly-rolled zoot, sitting in the office of his record label. He is, of course, talking about his rapid ascension in UK rap—a career he chose for two main reasons: to go legit, and to make his family proud. Coming from a life of hustling on street corners at the age of 15—and being very well-compensated for it—the rapper from the infamous Mozart Estate, West London, had to grow up quick for life in the fast lane, which shows in his been-there-done-that demeanour.
Inspired to get in the booth by local spitters Ratlin and the Harrow Road Boyz—in 2016, Fredo released a track that would change his life forever: “They Ain’t 100”, a hard-hitting trap banger that could’ve easily been slotted into a New York hip-hop radio playlist. It went off in every club that played it, very reminiscent of the effect Giggs had with “Talking Da Hardest” ten years ago. Fredo’s commanding flow, crystal-clear diction and hood-hugging lyrics gripped a corner of the British rap scene that excited critics and tastemakers all over. The song blew up organically but, unfortunately for him, he had to enjoy the hype from behind prison walls—Fredo, born Marvin Bailey, got recalled three weeks after the tune had debuted. Fresh out after a few months inside, he came through and relased his debut mixtape, Get Rich Or Get Recalled, where we got a deep insight into his many trials and tribulations.
Starting off 2017 with a clear mind, Fredo was back to work and realised that music was his one true calling. Following a number of collabs and loose cuts, “Change” was the next official single, a reflective song that showed off his storytelling skills in a real pop-friendly kind of way. This was part of his second mixtape, 2018’s Tables Turn, which hit No. 5 in the official albums chart. Last year, generally, was a massive one for Fredo: he scored a Top 40 hit with Young T & Bugsey (“Ay Caramba”) and a No. 1 hit with Dave (“Funky Friday”). Though with success, always come non-believers.
“His flow sounds the same on every song!”
Yes, he’s seen your comments—and he isn’t offended. “I ain’t been rapping for hella years so I might have one style,” he says. “It might take me a little time to learn a next style, but get the album and you’ll find something there for everyone.”
Out now via Since ‘93—a Sony imprint headed up by revered music execs Glyn Aikins and Riki Bleau—debut album Third Avenue, Fredo tells me, is about “showing people where me and my mandem come from.” The 13-tracker offers bossed-up anthems such as “Survival Of The Fittest” and “BMT” but he throws in some surprises, too, like “Love You For That”—an ode to his mother and a clear standout. A chart-topping star in the hood, Fredo knows his artistry has a way to go yet, but he’s fully determined to reach that final destination.
“I can prove my money now—that’s a big thing that’s changed. The feds can’t take nothing off me!”
From the release of “They Ain’t 100” in 2016, to going No. 1 with Dave last year, to now finally releasing your debut album on a major—when you were just a guy from the roads who rapped every now and then, did you ever think you would be in the position that you’re in right now?
Not really, you know. It’s all happened mad fast. I’ll tell you straight: at the start, it was blatantly just... not a hood ting, but there was just bare yutes rapping and I felt like they weren’t doing it right. Then that led to what it is now. I’m taking it more serious now though, because I’ve seen what it is and what it isn’t—how positive it is, and shit like that. But when I first started out, there wasn’t a plan.
Your rise has been rapid, and you’re pretty much a star in every hood at this point. How have you found that transition from being unknown to everyone knowing who are you are? Have you had to move differently in any way?
A lot has changed, but nothing’s changed at the same time. I can prove my money now—that’s a big thing that’s changed. The feds can’t take nothing off me! I don’t go out a lot, I don’t go to most places I’m invited to, so a lot of stuff hasn’t changed. I still be round over my sides and stuff, but a lot has changed too; I can finally put things in my name now [laughs]. My mum’s not on to me no more—I’ve got a legit job now.
How did you even get into rapping?
In December 2015, I decided I wanted to try and make a song, just to have a voice from my side. Bare man around me was doing it and it was just like, if they can do it, I’m gonna try and do a little something as well. And then I dropped “They Ain’t 100”.
Did you expect “They Ain’t 100” to blow up like it did?
Nah, it wasn’t for that. It was just for the roads, type of thing. It was just to let people know what me and my people are dealing with.
Which artists, growing up, were on rotation on your MP3 player?
I was listening to 50 [Cent] and Styles P in primary school—they were some of the first artists I remember listening to. Then, in secondary, I was listening to a lot of Giggs. Giggs and Tiny Boost. Then when I was about 15/16, I kinda fell back off music; I was young and living reckless on the roads so I wasn’t locked in like I was before.
Was there a particular mixtape or album that motivated you on your street hustle?
It didn’t really motivate me like that, but I used to listen to Giggs’ mixtapes and a lot of 50 Cent.
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ era?
I was in Year 5 when Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ came out. That was the first time I heard something like that.
What was it about that album that connected with you?
It was just different to anything that was out at the time. I used to listen to garage music too, like old-school UK garage. I used to play that stuff in the house, DJ Luck and MC Neat, and also Vybz Kartel and them man. When I went to America I was like 10, and I remember I used to bang Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ every day. It had that front cover that looked like it was all cracked and that.
You mentioned UK garage so I have to ask: do you like, or did you ever partake in grime music?
Nah, not really. I dunno know, man, I just never really got into it like that. Even all the grime artists, I don’t really know any of them apart from Ghetto, and the only grime tune I really liked was “Pow!”. When it comes to the real hard, fast spitting, I never really used to keep up with that.
Apart from your lyrical content, you’re quite a clean and precise artist. By clean, I mean your whole presentation—everything from your delivery through to the way that you dress is just clean. Have you always been like this?
That’s me. Check my first video, bro. That’s another reason why I started rapping: what these bruddas are rapping about is what we’re actually living. That’s just me, still. I like all that. Even when I was younger and had no money, I always liked clothes. When I got to around 16/17 and started getting money-money, I always just wanted to buy clothes with it. The older niggas on my block, that’s what they were dealing with—bare designer. That’s the sort of stuff we used to look up to.
“It’s 9 in the morning and you’re Gucci’d up? I ain’t on all that.”
You’ve definitely inspired a lot of the fellas to step up their drip game. Not to get too deep, but do you feel like there’s extra pressure on you now to always look the part?
Nah, bro. You see me now and you’re saying that, but that’s because I’m doing an interview. Usually, though, I’d just have one of them tracksuits on. I’m not on swagging up every day because it’s long! I feel tight in jeans like these [laughs]. Them designer shoes as well. Day to day, I’m not on all that and I don’t think people know that about me. I hate them bruddas that just swag up all the time; it’s 9 in the morning you’re Gucci’d up? I ain’t on all that.
They’re probably on that flex because they want to be like you [laughs].
That’s what I mean about Instagram. If I go somewhere and take a picture, obviously I switch it up. But it’s not like that on a normal day.
Staying on fashion for a second, if you were to front a campaign, which brand would you be most hyped about?
Jordan. To make a pair of Jordans is my dream. Jordan 1s are my favourite; 4s were my favourite for a long time growing up, but 1s are my favourite now.
So tell me about Third Avenue, your debut album. How does it differ to your previous mixtape drops? Personally speaking, I thought Tables Turn had a real album quality to it.
I feel like I’m understanding my sound more now. I sit on all the beats better, and I’ve chosen better beats. On Get Rich Or Get Recalled, it was all types of shit. On Tables Turn, it was more straightforward. So I feel like I’ve improved a lot! It’s not gonna happen, but I feel like re-doing that whole first mixtape. As an artist, I feel like your best music comes out when you’re in different headspaces. When it came time to do the album, I had bare songs already from different times. Maybe sometimes I was feeling angry or sometimes I’d be feeling happy about something, so we just had to pick and then I had to do a couple more to make sure. I’m never really in one headspace on the album; sometimes I’m happy on songs, other times something else is going on. I’m sure “Survival Of The Fittest” was more of a time where I was pissed at something.
What are your aims for the album? Did you make it with the charts in mind?
Nah, I just wanted everyone to know that I can rap. That’s really it. The charts are cool, but I don’t make music to chart.
Totally unrelated, but “Change” is still probably my favourite track of yours; for me, as a rap critic, it really made me lock-in to your wave. Who produced that one?
That was Figz and Beat Boss. They work with Hypo and that. It took me a minute to remember that because I’m just getting into knowing names and who people are. I used to just get beats off YouTube and stuff, but I’ve learnt that it’s a whole process and it takes time.
There’s one line on the song that stuck out to me: “So I hide my pain through these designer frames.” Does spending money on clothes, jewels—the finer things in life—help you to forget certain things?
There’s a lot of bad stuff in my life, certain situations, but people don’t see that because they just see what they see. What they see is not really what it is; it’s not all just sweet. When I'm having a bad day, I might go and buy some stuff but I generally just like to do that anyway. But like I said, it’s not an everyday thing.
And what’s happening with PG Ent, your music company—anything big planned for 2019? That young Keds is a star-in-the-making.
He’s got a banger right now; we’re shooting a video for it soon. It’s a whole movement, bro. But I do wanna make it into a label. I want to sign people. I signed a producer called JB recently; he’s got like seven tunes on the album. This year, we’re on a real business vibe. A lot more professional. You know how the feds are, so I’m not even bringing bare man to shows no more. We’re just gonna move more clean—more tight security—and continue to make moves.
“If it wasn’t for the fans, none of this would be happening for me.”
I remember being at We Are FSTVL last year, where you were supposed to perform, and hearing that you and your people got arrested. That day was wild!
Yeah, we all got arrested! And then, after that, they never let me in Wireless. I’m booked again this year, so I have to move correct—I have to!—or else I won’t be able to do these things.
You’re still a fairly new artist, but you’ve achieved a lot in the years that you’ve been active—what advice would you give to aspiring artists, rappers, who would like to get to your level some day?
Don’t let no one sell you no dreams or act like they can sell you a dream. It’s the same stuff on the roads, though: a lot of people talking nonsense. I’ve met a lot of good people, but I’ve also met people that showed me a lot and taught me a lot. I don’t really like going to industry parties or events—I just try and separate myself and focus. So I’d say do the same; get a good team, focus on the music, and believe in yourself.
Any last words for your supporters?
Boy! I’m coming—just know that. You know me, I’m not really on Snapchat speaking to fans but I appreciate all of them. If it wasn’t for the fans, none of this would be happening for me.