This Week in Hip-Hop/ R&B History: Happy Birthday Fab 5 Freddy!

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– On August 31, 1959 one of hip-hop culture’s most influential pioneers, Fab 5 Freddy, was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of New York City.

Not many people have put their stamp on the culture in as many ways as Fab 5 Freddy has. As a visual artist, rapper, filmmaker, and TV Show host he has used all of the skills and resources in his arsenal to further hip-hop’s reach.

He first started to emerge in the underground hip-hop scene in the late 1970’s after becoming a member of the Brooklyn-based graffiti group, the Fabulous 5. Along with fellow group member Lee Quiñones (also a legend in his own right), Fab 5 Freddy began to shift their direction from street graffiti to the more established and widely respected art scene of downtown New York City – eventually bridging the gap between both worlds. In fact, they were so successful that they exhibited in the prestigious Galleria LaMedusa in Rome, Italy in 1979. Around this time, he was also a camera operator and regular guest on Glenn O’Brien’s public access TV show, TV Party, where he met Chris Stein and Debbie Harry of the new wave band, Blondie.

Fab 5 Freddy’s meeting with Blondie proved to be an important moment for both Freddy and the rock band. In 1981, Blondie released a song titled “Rapture” in which Fab 5 Freddy was immortalized via wax when Debbie Harry rapped, “Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody’s fly”. Freddy also landed a cameo appearance in the music video where he can be seen painting graffiti art in the background. (Side note: Grandmaster Flash was also namedropped in the song, but didn’t show up to the video shoot, so Jean-Michel Basquiat stood behind the turntables in his place.)

Fab 5 Freddy also began diving deeper into the film world as Glenn O’Brien cast both him and Lee Quiñones for the film later known as Downtown 81. Freddy also began producing his 1982 film, Wild Style, alongside filmmaker Charlie Ahearn. During this time, however, Fab 5 Freddy was still very involved in the street art scene curating shows that involved legendary artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Rammellzee.

Fab 5 Freddy even has something of a rap career. Though he only released one official song, “Change the Beat”, his line, “Ahhhhh, this stuff is really fresh” very well may be the most scratched sample in hip-hop history. Furthermore, the “A” side of the “12” single included Fab 5 Freddy rapping in both English and French.

In 1988, Fab 5 Freddy was a part of yet another culture shift when he was cast as the host of Yo! MTV Raps and became the very first “VJ (video jockey)”. On this show, countless classic hip-hop music videos were introduced and Fab 5 Freddy was able to interview some of hip-hops greatest acts, such as 2Pac, NWA, and Outkast.

His time spent with Yo! MTV Raps also led to him directing a number of music videos for artists like KRS-One, Nas, Shabba Ranks, Queen Latifah, EPMD, and more. He also landed a position as an associate producer in the 1991 film, New Jack City, and made an appearance as well.

There’s so much more to Fab 5 Freddy, and I could write all day about his contribution to this thing called Hip-Hop. Nonetheless, it’s pretty damn safe to say that Fab 5 Freddy is as important a figure in hip-hop culture as anyone else. In terms of incorporating all 4 elements of hip-hop into his work and helping the art form to become a global phenomenon, there might be no one better.

Happy Birthday Fab 5 Freddy!

Written by DJ Robinson

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