Hard work pays off is a phrase that may sound cliché but is unquestionably true. The World’s Freshest (a.k.a. DJ Fresh) knows this firsthand.
He became immersed in the hip-hop culture during his adolescent years in Baltimore. At the tender age of nine years old, he started spinning records on the turntables, which would transition into him battling other DJs and keeping the parties jumpin’. Producing would become another activity he experimented with. Largely influenced by the soulful sounds of the 70s and 80s, he decided to incorporate that style into his production. But his sound also has the heavy 808s perfect for the speakers.
Perfecting his skills in both DJing and producing over the years, Fresh has earned a spot among the most prolific individuals who have their hands in hip-hop. He gained a large chunk of popularity from his The Tonite Show series, which is a collaborative effort that involves him exclusively producing projects for artists. California spitters, such as Messy Marv, Keak Da Sneak, The Jacka, and Yukmouth are among the artists he’s worked with for the album series. He’s also stepped outside of the region and created a The Tonite Show with New York rap legend Raekwon.
In an exclusive interview with ahumblesoul.com, Fresh talks about coming from a hop-hop-influenced family, touring with Nas, switching his moniker from DJ Fresh to The World’s Freshest, what producers he’s feeling right now, upcoming releases, and much more.
Starting off, give me a brief background on how you got to where you’re at right now in the game?
I started out DJing when I was nine. I graduated from doing DJ battles to doing tours, and I just kept graduating. And I went on to do my own production. I come from the school of DJs when everybody was doing mixtapes on real cassette tapes; just playing songs of the hottest joints that was out and putting their name on it. That was cool, but I just wanted to make my own music and produce my own stuff, and that’s how I came up with the brand The Tonite Show. It’s kind of like how DJ Drama had Gangsta Grillz, only I’m the one, myself and my production team, we’re actually producing all the tracks. We’re not just grabbing original tracks from artists. We’re actually marketing the projects. We’re discovering the artists, or we’re contacting artists that are already established, and we’re producing a full-on EP or album from front to back.
Two of your older brothers are DJs too, right?
Yeah. DJ Dummy (DJ for Common and J. Cole) and DJ LS1 (past DJ for DMX and G-Unit). We had a group called 12-inch Assassins. We all knew how to battle and all that, but we were a real well-rounded DJ crew. Back when DJ crews were like the thing to do, we were tearing up parties. We would do corporate events and we could do battles too. At the time, we were like the Coalition [a group of DJs in Atlanta]. We were a group of dope DJs who could really kill shit.
When did your first big break come?
My first break was when I got a chance to do a show in San Francisco with Common. And then from there, I DJ’d for Nas for like two tours. I was so young. I was 18, 19 years old doing that.
How did you link up with Nas?
The DJs I was with at the time, one of the members, DJ Ruckus, was DJing for an artist named Freddie Foxx. And Freddie Foxx and Nas had a relationship. Nas told him that he needed a DJ. He was living in California at the time, and I was in California. And it just lined up right. Freddie Foxx asked DJ Ruckus and, of course, DJ Ruckus told him about me. Nas’ manager called me up. I didn’t believe it at first. I was like ‘put Nas on the phone.’ And he put Nas on the phone, and me and Nas spoke briefly. He was like, ‘how much you need?’ I told him to make me an offer, and he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. And then I DJ’d for him. That was a great thing. It opened up my eyes to a lot. A lot of people respect me because of that.
Have you ever thought about doing a project with Nas?
Of course. I would love to do something, but the thing about this game that I’ve come to learn is when you deal with independent artists versus artists of that stature, it’s just a whole lot more that goes into it. It’s not as simple as it sounds, because it’s so many more people involved and it’s so many more legalities that’s involved. And for things to come out the correct way, a lot of these people need to be involved. It’s just a lot more that goes into it when you deal with a major artist.
What made you change your name from DJ Fresh to The World’s Freshest?
We live in the Google me era. You’ve got to be the first thing to pop up when people go looking for you. And when people typed in DJ Fresh, I wasn’t the first thing to come up. The first one to come up was a totally different DJ Fresh [an English producer and DJ] in a totally different genre. It was just getting to me. It made me feel like I wasn’t getting my just due, because I constantly had to compete with another DJ Fresh in a whole different genre. It kind of discouraged me.
I’m going to be DJ Fresh forever. That’s never going to change, but on [the internet], The World’s Freshest is easier to find. I changed the name to the World’s Freshest then in quotations DJ Fresh. At the end of the day, we live in this Google me era. The attention span of people are about five seconds these days, so I wanted it to be easier for people to find me, and make myself be a little bit more acce
I don’t really have a format. I’ll just show an artist what I have at that time. At this point, I’m all about chemistry. It comes down to if you like my beats. If I can make the beats that I make easily and the chemistry is good, we’ll have a good project. I’ll show the artist and they’ll be like, ‘I like this Fresh. I like that.’ That’ll inspire me to keep making more stuff for them. I have my phases with an artist where I’ll want to sample this. I want to sample that. Then I’ll have my phases where I don’t want to sample nothing. I just want to come up with some stuff I’ve never did before.
How would you describe your sound?
My sound is like a feel good sound. An old soul sound, but it’s definitely got that slap behind it. It’s definitely got an unique sound that you’re only going to hear when you hear Fresh beats. It’s not going to sound the way everybody else sounds, so either you’re going to like my shit or you ain’t going to like my shit. If you’re a fan of Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, The Gap Band, just any good soul, rap, or jazz music, you’ll probably be a fan of my music, because that’s what I pull from. I pull from what I grew up on.
Who are some producers that you’re feeling right now? And who are some of your influences?
This new producer named Taylor Beats. It’s a new producer named Matt Louie. And they’re from the Bay Area. They’re really dope. This guy named Jeffro. Mr. Tower from The Whole Shabang. But cats from outside of my region, I would say Flying Lotus from Los Angeles. I like him a lot. This cat named Dâm-Funk from L.A., I like a lot too. This cat named Clayton William. Of course, Just Blaze. Timbaland. I like Droop-E too. That’s my homie. We’re actually doing an album together. We’re producing the whole thing together. That’s going to be crazy. Rick Rock was influential. The Mechanix. Battlecat. Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam. Quincy Jones. I could go on and on.
When you’re producing, what’s some of your favorite types of equipment to use?
My stuff is real simple. I use turntables, Ableton Live to do all of my sequencing, chopping and all that kind of stuff, and a MIDI controller keyboard. Most cats really ain’t using a whole lot of hardware like they were back in the day. It’s pretty simple now with what you can do with this technology. Every now and then, I like to bring in some live instrumentation.
How often do you produce?
I produce every day. Even if I don’t go to the studio and physically make a beat, I’m still producing in my head. If I’m not physically on the boards everyday, I’m jotting shit down like ‘between this time and this time, I want to chop up this sample right here.’ But when I do get to the studio, I try to make it a point to do at least two to three beats a day. I used to do seven beats a day.
How long does it normally take you to create a track?
It doesn’t take that long. When I’m just making hip-hop beats, it ain’t gonna take that long. It’s probably going to take 10 to 15 to 20 minutes. But if I’m making trap electronic-type beats, where it’s a lot more to it, then it could take a good hour-and-a-half to two hours, because it’s a lot more intricate. It’s a lot more complex.
Break down how you don’t cater to just one particular genre with your production.
Aw yeah. I definitely don’t just limit myself to one genre. Hip-hop birthed the music but I dabble in like jazz instrumentation music, R&B, of course…I’m really a R&B producer. I’m really not a hip-hop producer. I do a lot of R&B-stylish beats but rappers just happen to wanna rap to them. Trap. I can do electronic…the EDM stuff, I can dibble and dabble into that. I even dibble and dabble into house music. I’m just a real fan of music.
I heard Return of the Mac, the project you did with Mac Mall. How’d that come about?
Mac Mall, he’s just one of those guys. I was like, ‘I gotta do something with Mac Mall.’ And after I reached out and he said he was down to do it, we did it. We knocked that out. I literally sent him the beats and we knocked it out in probably four hours. He wrote to all the beats prior hand, but we recorded it all in four to five hours, because he was prepared. And he’s been rapping forever, so it ain’t nothing for him to drop verses. He said when me and him did it, it was like a breath of fresh air to him. That’s why we called it Return of the Mac, because he said it made him feel like it was “Sic Wit Tis” again. It was Illegal Business? all over again or something.
What are some of the current projects that you have in the works right now? And what do you have slated for 2014?
I got a double-album out with J. Stalin right now called Miracle and Nightmare on 10th Street. That’s huge. That project right there is one of the hugest projects I’ve put out. It’s a milestone. It’s a classic, so definitely check that out. Me and Mac Mall, we’ve got the EP out called Return of the Mac. Check that thang out. That’s smokin’. I’ve got the Morning Show series. The first two, I’m doing with Bo Strangles, and also Blast Holiday. Them two is fire, man. The Morning Show is gonna be all about fire: raw raps and raw beats, no preservatives. You gotta check that out. And then I’ve got a compilation called The Tonite Show Sessions Volume Two. It’s got the heavyweights on there. It’s got Shady [Nate] on there. Mitchy Slick’s on there. Yukmouth is on there. The Jacka’s on there. And Chris the 5th is on there, which is one of my favorite rappers from Oakland.
Next year, I’m playing hard. I’m branching out. I’ve got The Tonite Show with Trae the Truth from Texas coming out. That’s gonna be crazy. And me and Shady Nate, we’ve got a disc called King of Da Interstate that’s going to be coming out. It’s Based on a True Story Part 3. And I’m still branching out. I’ve got The Tonite Show with Freddie Gibbs from Gary, Indiana. That’s gonna be coming out in March.
Written by @Lou4President