Burning strong: reminiscing with Freestyle of The Arsonists
Six years ago, parcel service dropped off a package from Canada at my house: inside was Freestyle’s ‘Etched in Stone’ LP, his first record without fellow members of underground legends The Arsonists. I played it lots, and lots…and a little more. Having been in touch with Free on and off ever since, I’ve been following his releases over the past few years. One thing I can say for sure: this man operates internationally, networking like a conference…he’s non-stop when it comes to touring and getting his message out there. In the process, this Brooklyn native has done shows and worked with everyone from Wu Tang, James Brown, The Roots, Kraftwerk…shit, even with Ozzy Osborne.
It’s not just because I’m biased that I say this: he’s a versatile lyricist who’s jumped on battle joints, done meaningful tracks, or more upbeat party bangers. Hear it, believe it – Freestyle’s done it all. He’s the MCs MC, the man who’ll carry on doing a dope acapella show, even though the sound system got sparked…
But enough of the bigging up: this is the conversation we had inside the Beat Bungalow.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us how you got into making music?
Wdup wdup! The name’s Freestyle, and I’m part of a family called The Arsonists. I didn’t get into music…Music got into me! I’ve been singing & rapping since I was a child. It just came to me naturally and I’ve been doing it ever since. Living in Brooklyn made it impossible to not be influenced by hiphop music. Friends of mine were Deejays, MCs, breakers, graff writers, etc… So it was only natural that I did my thing as well.
Music first hit me when my parents used to play records in the house on our old school record player. I explored the records and began playing them myself. I must have been 2 years old when this started. Reggae, salsa, merengue, soul, r&b, disco, etc… My parents had it all! Michael Jackson was the first big influence on me as a kid, then after that Rakim came into the picture and that made me decide to start rhyming.
How did you get started with the Arsonists? What kind of experience was that for you all as hip hop heads in the 1990s?
I met D-Stroy at an event in the Bushwick / Ridgewood area of Brooklyn on Myrtle Avenue. He was hosting and I was rapping. DJ Evil Dee & Tony Touch were there as well if I remember correctly. I must have been around 16-18 years old or so. Then D-Stroy was dating a girl and I just so happened to be dating her cousin, and we met again that way. At that time he was trying to start a crew of mcs, breakers, and friends, so he asked me if I wanted to be a part of it.
So I joined Bushwick Bomb Squad, and from there we took the core members and formed a hiphop group called The Arsonists. The early 90s were some really good times. We were trying to preserve the fun because we could feel it slipping away. So we danced and rapped in the park, on the block, on the train, etc… We maintained that as long as we could and in the meantime we recorded demos. Then came “The Session”, and the rest is history…
You’re from Brooklyn. What was it like growing up in New York at time when Hip Hop started to get big and was still in its raw form?
BK ALL DAY, BABY! Hiphop was EVERYWHERE. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing it or being a part of it. It was in the streets, in the clubs, on the radio, on TV, on the walls… EVERYWHERE! Those were the days… So much fun. Hiphop kept a lot of us out of trouble, kept us entertained, brought out talents we didn’t know we had, etc… etc… It did a lot for us and it continues to do so.
It was amazing. Shabazz the Disciple brought me on the GZA tour and we linked up with the rest of the Wu along the way. This was right after the Wu album, “36 Chambers”, came out and then GZA’s album, “Liquid Swords” was coming out as well. So things were HECTIC! The fans were amazing, the stages were overwhelming, and the lifestyle engulfed my soul. I never looked back from that time on. I swore to tour as hard as I could.
Tell us more about your next album: what’s it called, what are some of the songs about? When’s it out?
I actually don’t know the name of my new solo album yet. I had a name for it, but I’m changing that because the music is going in a different direction than what the title conveyed. The name of my greek group album is “I AM HIPHOP”. My partner in that, his name is Logos Apeilh. He’s one of the illest MCs in Greece at the moment. We just released a new video for the album intro, called “Countdown”. You can see it here. Keep an eye out for my solo album. I’ll be posting news & updates about it on my website. It should be released around the end of this year.
How big of an influence was Biggie Smalls on you as one of the most famous MCs from Brooklyn?
Biggie was an influence on hiphop, not just Brooklyn MCs. I’d say he influenced me very little. He showed me that someone like him could make it, so that gave me that little push. My style and rhymes don’t come from him at all… I’m influenced by Rakim, Public Enemy, Michael Jackson, Kenneth ‘Babyface” Edmonds, other music genres, movies, life, etc…
I know you’ve travelled a lot and taken your music to new places, Europe etc. What are some of your favourite places?
I’ve been everywhere except Africa, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, China, Russia, and most of South America and the Middle East. People think I’ve been everywhere, but as you can see I have a bunch on my list that I still need to touch. My favourite places was Brazil. My favourite places in Europe are Sweden & Switzerland. Brazil is AMAZING… If you haven’t been there, I recommend you visit it at least once in your life. The people, the beaches, the food, etc… It’s GREAT.
What does Hip Hop mean to you, are you into other aspects of the culture as well?
I started as a breaker, MC, then graff writer. I tried to DJ, but I wasn’t good at it, so I stuck to rapping. Hiphop means everything to me. I’d die for hiphop. It’s the voice of the youth. There’s no such thing as a world without hiphop now that it exists. It has too much to offer, therefore there’s no way it could disappear or die. It will continue to evolve and expand. There’s no other genre as diverse as hiphop.
What do you make of US Hip Hop at the moment, the tracks that make it big in terms of sales and the development that’s seen Hip Hop become a multi-million industry?
Hiphop in the states is kinda fucked up right now… I mean, it’s good that it’s doing well as far as sales and stuff like that goes. But the fact that really good stuff doesn’t get to see the light of day is sad. That’s the part I hate the most. A lot of people complain about what makes it commercially, but I personally think that can be blamed on the labels and the fans. The majority of the masses are ignorant, so they rather digest stuff that doesn’t take any effort to swallow.
The labels know this, so it’s basically supplying the demand. It only makes sense… We just need these labels to put money into real music, music that has real talent behind it, so the masses can get accustomed to eating healthy music. I’m glad hiphop is now a multi-million dollar industry though. Without that, it wouldn’t have survived.
It’s ironic that a few years ago Nas made an album called ‘Hip Hop is Dead’. Would you agree: is it a dying art form, or not? Is there too much media hype with some artists?
Na… It isn’t dying AT ALL! It’s strong and growing. What Nas meant is the 4 elements part of hiphop, the real side of hiphop, lost its steam in the states. Otherwise, you see real hiphop flourishing in places like Europe. Hiphop’s tentacles are long and wild. They’re everywhere and there’s no stopping it. There’s definitely too much media hype on some artists, but that’s due to the labels paying for this promotion. Once they’re promoted like this, the fans eat it up and it becomes its own monster.
What music are you feeling at the moment, any peeps that you think are good listening to?
D-Stroy, Jise, Q-Unique, Shabazz the Disciple, Snowgoons, Eternia, Looptroop, Ludacris, Diamond District, Ill Bill, Little Brother, Lupe Fiasco, Fabolous, Eminem, Slaughterhouse, Drake, etc… As you can see, I’m pretty much not too limited and I keep an open mind and ear. Some people may hate on some of the names I’ve said here and others might not have heard of some…
What about Battle Axe Records, the label you’ve been working with? It’s based in Canada and they’ve released some great music in the past. What’s it been like working with them?
The Axe released my first album, “Etched in Stone”. It was dope releasing my album with them. I respect what they’re about and they had some really good artists on their roster. I was honoured to release my album through them! It was a good experience.
It’s too bad that they stopped releasing other artists, besides Swollen Members. I hope they come back! I’ve linked with too many mcs/producers to list… If you really would like to know, you can see the entire list here
To name some names: Arsonists, Looptroop, Shabazz, RZA, Gravediggaz, Papoose, Ma Barker (Kool G. Rap’s wife), Omen (Flatlinerz), Curse, Torch, IAM, Logos Apeilh, etc…
What do you do to chill out and in your spare time, do you get much spare time?
Of course I get spare time! I’m a PC gamer, so that takes a lot of my spare time. I fix, build, and maintain computers. Been into computers since the mid 80s, and on the internet since the early 90s. Yes, I am a dinosaur! I love world travel. I love the great outdoors, so I do things like camping, hiking, etc… I love helicopter rides. That’s my new hobby when I travel to new places. I’m big on movies, so I’m always watching something when I find the time to, be it in the theatre, on my laptop, or on the nice HD flat screen in Big Lou’s crib. (Big Lou is my best friend. Wdup, Lou!)
What else are you planning for the near future, any new projects coming up?
Album in Greece, new solo album, and another group album which will be a surprise…Then another 2 albums next year as well. Busy, busy, busy!
Anything else you would like to say to people?
Make sure you stay tuned. I have a lot coming up…and tune into Arsonists Radio
If you’re trying to book me or contact me for a collaboration, hit me at email@example.com.
Feel free to comment on my pages. I respond to everybody!