ABOVE: ROCKIE FRESH
If there's anything Rockie Fresh isn't afraid of, it's the unexpected. Whether recording with the likes of Good Charlotte, sidestepping the question of Chief Keef and Chicago gang violence altogether, or turning down Sean Combs last July to sign with Rick Ross, it's well worth noting that Rockie—born Donald Pullen—has a penchant for doing things differently.
"I'm doing me instead of chasing singles and hit records," Rockie explains. Electric Highway, out this week courtesy of Maybach Music Group, marks his first offering for the prolific, Rozay-curated (and Warner Bros. affiliated) label. Embellished with twinkling, atmospheric production from Lunice and guest spots from hip-hop's rising underground scene rather than its hallmark emcees (fellow Chicagoan Sasha Go Hard makes an appearance), Highway plateaus Rockie as the most progressive member in MMG's increasingly diverse crew. In his own words? "I got a different take on rap."
Interview connected with Rockie on a tour bus in North Carolina, where he was on a way to a performance. We touched on getting drinks with John Mayer, touring, hanging out with Rick Ross, and living in the moment.
JOHN TAYLOR: Is it true that you weren't allowed to listen to rap music when you were younger?
ROCKIE FRESH: Yeah, I wasn't really allowed to listen to it. Once I got into eighth grade, I explained to [my parents] that I wouldn't be negatively influenced by it. So they warmed up to rap music. And then, artists like Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, Common, who had more of a positive message, they made it easier for me to explain.
TAYLOR: Common... I love that record, Be.
FRESH: Yeah, Be was a crazy album.
TAYLOR: Especially that track that John Mayer guests on. Speaking of which, what was it like meeting him?
FRESH: I met him at a bar, and he's a super cool dude. We had a drink. I didn't really like, talk to him too much about doing records or nothing, because I just wanted to go party. We just chilled out. It was dope.
TAYLOR: What was John Mayer drinking?
FRESH: I think it was whiskey; I'm not sure what kind, though. I was pretty smashed.
TAYLOR: [laughs] Do you remember what you guys talked about?
FRESH: He was just asking me about my different inspirations. He said it was cool to meet a dope young rapper. It was real casual, from what I remember. Nothing too awkward, too deep. We were just on some artist-to-artist type shit. Even then, I wasn't real big or anything, so I think he respected me on a different level. He didn't really, like, give me the fan treatment.
TAYLOR: Mayer has worked with Taylor Swift. Are you cool with admitting that you're a fan?
FRESH: She's dope. When her song comes on the radio, I don't turn the knob or nothing.
TAYLOR: Do you know all the words to "You Belong To Me"?
FRESH: I know more words than I should to it. [laughs]
TAYLOR: How's the tour been so far?
FRESH: Touring's been good. Crowds have been cool, I'm meeting a lot of new people, a lot of people that's helping me make my dreams happen.
TAYLOR: What's the most fun you've had on tour?
FRESH: Everywhere is dope. I haven't been so many places. I saw Boston for the first time. North Carolina for the first time. Every place is dope, just for specific reasons. I like to find the good in every place. It's a blessing to be able to go everywhere. It won't beat Chicago.
TAYLOR: I'm calling from Chicago, by the way.
FRESH: That's what's up.
TAYLOR: Does your home city stay on your mind as you travel abroad?
FRESH: I'm always thinking about my city. My mom is there. My dad is there. My whole family is there.
TAYLOR: Do you feel more confident with Rick Ross by your side?
FRESH: I'm doing better than I ever have. Things are coming a lot easier.
TAYLOR: How'd you two meet?
FRESH: We hung out in L.A. It was great. Real organic. We went to a video shoot for this song he has with Birdman. I was at the video shoot all day, and they got me some new sneakers and stuff. The next day, it was real chill. Real normal rapper stuff. Respect.
TAYLOR: It's pretty funny looking at those pictures of you on Instagram hanging out with Rozay.
FRESH: It's crazy, man. I think it's pretty funny too. Like, that's the cool thing about life. The unexpected happens. I'm enjoying it. I don't think about it too much. I take it as a blessing. It's not something that I want to abuse, or change myself up off of. I just appreciate the moment, and, you know, making the best out of it.
ROCKIE FRESH WILL PLAY TONIGHT AT S.O.B.'S IN NEW YORK. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, VISIT HIS WEBSITE. DOWNLOAD HIS MIXTAPE, ELECTRIC HIGHWAY, HERE.