Biography

A self-styled renaissance man, Fab 5 Freddy arguably qualifies as one of the most colorful figures in rap music history and certainly one of the most diverse, juggling successful stints as not merely a rapper, but a Hollywood scriptwriter, thespian, graffiti artist, painter (with his work displayed in prestigious galleries) and MTV host. Through it all, Freddy exhibited an infectious zeal and enthusiasm that lifted him above the pack. Born Fred Braithwaite in 1959, in the tough-as-nails Bed Stuy section of New York, Freddy began his career as a graffiti artist, with the imprimaturs "Fred Fab 5" and "Bull 99." The work quickly netted such popularity that it gained iconic stature in Manhattan and seemed to predestine Freddy for a successful and lucrative career as a painter. Following suit, he graduated from high school in the late '70s and enrolled at Medgar Evans College as an art major, turning to the pop art of Andy Warhol as a stylistic inspiration and touchstone. That marked a prescient move: within the next few years, Freddy found his way into the exclusive avant-garde of early-'80s New York, alongside Warhol, Deborah Harry, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and others, even turning up in Edo Bertoglio's long-lost feature film about that community, Downtown 81. Freddy broke into these cliques courtesy of his friendship with music journalist Glenn O'Brien (frequently appearing on O'Brien's local access talk show and operating camera on it). As time rolled on, however, Freddy became increasingly interested in various then-nascent aspects of black culture, such as rap, breakdancing, and hip-hop. That led him to star in the 1983 film Wild Style and produce the soundtrack, as well. By the late '80s, Freddy began producing rap videos for artists including Queen Latifah, KRS-One, and Shabba Ranks, and accepted the gifted young MTV producer Ted Demme's invitation to host Yo! MTV Raps, an assignment that established his image as one of the godfathers of the hip-hop scene (as did his publication of a dictionary of hip-hop slang). Freddy subsequently moved into features as a producer (New Jack City, 1991), occasional actor, and documentary contributor. Projects in which he participated include Juice (1992), Who's the Man? (1993), Just For Kicks (2005), and The Universe of Keith Haring (2007). ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi