Renaissance Man Fab 5 Freddy Hosts Salon Talk at YoungArts

Written By Josie Gulliksen
December 6, 2015 at 1:49 PM

Renaissance Man Fab 5 Freddy Hosts Salon Talk at YoungArts

Design and Architecture High School graduate and 2008 YoungArts winner in Visual Arts James Allister Sprang served as moderator for the YoungArts Salon Discussion with legendary hip-hop pioneer, visual artist, and filmmaker Fab 5 Freddy (Fred Braithwaite).

In a capacity-filled room, the crowd gathered to listen and take a trip through the life of Fab 5 Freddy, who through his charismatic storytelling made everyone laugh and clap. That was in part thanks to Sprang, a master interviewer and clearly a huge fan who did his homework when researching Fab 5’s life.

Sprang kicked off the evening naming all of Fab 5 Freddy’s many accolades from his work in hip hop and influence in the genre, to his continuing contributions to the arts, film projects and groundbreaking 1980s show on MTV Yo! MTV Raps, which put him on the map. It was the first “man on the street” style show on television.

“MTV producer Peter Dardy lobbied everyone at MTV about showing more rap videos and eventually about the show Yo! MTV Raps, and he immediately tapped me to be the host,” Freddy said. “I told him I would host if I could be out on the streets of New York where I was more comfortable.”

Freddy spoke of his father’s lifelong friend Max Roach, a jazz percussionist and composer, considered a pioneer of bebop, and who was his biggest influence as an artist. As Roach’s name came up, slides were shown of Roach and Freddy’s father.

He then discussed his art, saying he creates both figurative work and abstract mixed media pieces. Much of his work is actually inspired by the way hip hop music is made. He is currently working on a new figurative series based on African-American boxers Jack Johnson and Bumpy Johnson.

“The sampling, cutting, and mixing is something I incorporate into my visual art pieces,” said Freddy.

Photo courtesy of YoungArts

Alistair then quoted a lyric from the song “Talkin’ All That Jazz,” which Fab 5 produced for Stetsasonic, a hip hop band from the early days of the genre. That led to Freddy talking a bit about the origins of appropriation.

The early 1980s in New York, when he was leaving his mark with artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat and leaving an indelible impression on Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of the alt band Blondie, he described as “fertile ground.”

“Especially what I found in Manhattan, because rent was so affordable. We were part of the No Wave movement, a reaction to New Wave music. A lot of them were art students,” he said.

The now infamous line “Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody’s fly” in Blondie’s hit song “Rapture,” he says “is an example of fertile ground. New York was a lot more segregated at that time and Debbie and Chris were the first ones to buy my work.”

He is also a huge fan of Andy Warhol because of his diverse artistic life that included filmmaking, publishing, and visual art. Freddy, Haring, Basquiat and Warhol were all part of that scene. Haring and Freddy curated shows on the third floor of the Mudd Club, a far cry from the bright lights of Studio 54 where the velvet ropes were invented. At Mudd the vibe was about creating an artistic movement.

Basquiat, Freddy, and Haring also made a name for themselves as street artists in New York’s subways, where Freddy recalls “Bull 99 was of the first things I wrote when I tagged.”

“In our time the context of making it was making it amongst your peers, not like today where the goal is who can get 1 million hits or followers,” Freddy said. “Because of the new digital tools things develop too quickly instead of letting them ferment and cook.”

He directed KRS One’s first video for the song “My Philosophy” and learned rudimentary filmmaking while making his film Wild Style.

Once the talk ended and the audience asked their questions, the evening’s DJ played Fab 5’s Spotify Playlist, kicking it off with a song by Max Roach.

About being in Miami to participate in a YoungArts Salon talk, Fab 5 Freddy said, “I hear great things about YoungArts and the great work they’re doing here so I am here to support that.”

To learn more about the YoungArts Salon series visit their Website.


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