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Fab 5 Freddy at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

Fred Brathwaite (born 1959), more popularly known as Fab 5 Freddy, is an American Hip hop historian, Hip hop pioneer and former graffiti artist. He was active in New York City in the 1970s and early 1980s, and later hosted the first hip-hop music video show on TV, "Yo! MTV Raps".




Art/ Hip-Hop

As a young teenager in the 1970s Fab 5 Freddy was a member of the Brooklyn based graffiti group "The Fabulous 5." He got his name for consistent graffiti "bombing" of the number 5 train on the IRT. Outside of the Fabulous 5 group, in 1980, he painted a subway train with cartoon style depictions of giant Campbell's Soup cans[1], after Andy Warhol. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he was an unofficial bridge between the uptown graffiti and early rap scene and the downtown art and punk music scenes. “I was bringing the whole music, hip-hop, art, break dancing and urban cultural thing to the downtown table” he said.[2] At the end of 1980, Glenn O'Brien cast Freddy, along with fellow Lower East Side graffiti writer Lee Quinones, in the film New York Beat (later released as Downtown 81). That film showcased artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in his Lower Manhattan environment and the culture that surrounded it. Shortly after, Freddy began production along with filmmaker Charlie Ahearn on his film Wild Style (1982), which showcased artist Lee Quinones in the Uptown, Manhattan environment of the Bronx and the music that surrounded it. In April 1981, Freddy helped curate (with Futura 2000 and Keith Haring) the graffiti-related art show "Beyond Words" at the Mudd Club, which contained their own work along with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Rammellzee, Afrika Bambaataa, and others. This was the first time the many members of the Bronx hip-hop scene had appeared in a Downtown NYC art context. The following month, Freddy was booked on Henry Chalfant's "Graffiti Rock" performance with Rock Steady Crew at Common Ground gallery in SoHo (not to be confused with Holman's Graffiti Rock TV show pilot). That show was cancelled due to violence, but was rescheduled in October at another venue called "The Kitchen". After the Rock Steady Crew and Afrika Bambaataa were booked as the opening act for Bow Wow Wow at The Ritz nightclub in September 1981, Ruza Blue decided to book them at Negril and begin a night called "Wheels of Steel". That became so popular that it was closed down by the fire department for over-capacity, and Freddy helped Blue (whom he dubbed "Kool Lady Blue") find another home for the party. Together they chose The Roxy roller rink in NYC, which gained national fame once used in the film Beat Street (1984).

Though Fab Five Freddy's contributions to hip-hop culture are numerous, perhaps the most historic comes from his 1982 single entitled Change the Beat. The A-Side of the 12" single featured Freddy rapping the song in both English and French, while the B-Side was a shorter version of the same song, this time performed entirely in French by female rapper Beside, who was credited on the initial pressings of the record as "Fab 5 Betty". Freddy utilized a vocoder with a white noise carrier during the chorus and at the end of the B-Side track. When the beat stops in Beside's version of the song, Freddy says "Ahhhhh, this stuff is really fresh", a line which is quite possibly the most scratched sample in the history of hip-hop music. It was first utilized as a scratch sample on the 1983 Herbie Hancock single Rockit, featuring scratching by legendary DJ and turntablist GrandMixer D.ST, and has been used in countless hip-hop tracks ever since.

Media work

Fab 5 Freddy was referenced in Blondie's 1981 hit song "Rapture". As recounted in the 1999 TV documentary The Hip Hop Years, the "Rapture" video featured Freddy in a cameo role painting graffiti art in the background. (Grandmaster Flash, who was also name-checked in the song, did not show up on the day of the shoot, so artist Jean-Michel Basquiat took his place behind the turntables). "Rapture" was the first hip-hop video to be shown on MTV. In 1983, Fab 5 Freddy produced a hip-hop version of "Eisgekühlter Bommerlunder" called Hip Hop Bommi Bop" together with German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen which is said to be the very first co-production of Punk and Hip Hop. In 1988 Freddy became the first hip-hop VJ by hosting the MTV music video show entitled "Yo! MTV Raps." He later went on to be an associate producer on 1991 hit New Jack City and also appeared in the movie.[3] In 1994 he directed the music video "One Love" by emcee Nas. [4] Most recently credited in the movie Rachel Getting Married. He appears as a special wedding guest, along with other notable musicians, as conceived by producer Jonathan Demme to enhance the expansive and varied soundtrack and wedding members, in contrast with the normal duality of a traditional wedding.[5]


  1. ^ picture of Campbell Soup Cans train with his tag, 1980.
  2. ^ "Rapping with Fab 5 Freddy" [interview] in Deitch, O’Brien and Cortez, Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981. Milan: Charta, 2007, page 119.
  3. ^ New Jack City (1991) - Full cast and crew
  4. ^ Fab 5 Freddy
  5. ^

External links


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