Fire Starter: Free Sol
We usually like to put our Fire Starter out a little later in the week, but this is a special edition. We have Justin Timberlake giving a major co-sign to a new mixtape. You've seen JT present artists from his burgeoning Tennman Records, such as Esmee Denters and Matt Morris. Next up under the Grammy winner's wing are FreeSol, a group from his hometown of Memphis that fuses rock, hip-hop and a little R&B.
"They're rock stars," Justin said of the group at February's William Rast fashion show in New York, where they also performed. "It's nice to work them organically and not feel like, 'Hey, you gotta listen to this band!' I'm trying to find cool ways to implement them into the culture of what it is we already do."
"It's like a school, it's like a classroom," frontman Free said earlier this year of working with Timberlake. "He's a genius. A lot of people think he's [just] that dude from 'NSYNC, but really, he's a baby Quincy [Jones]. We learn a lot."
Along with Free, the group consists of Premo D'Anger on keys and bass, "Kickman" Teddy on the drums and guitarist Elliott Ives. The collective has already recorded more than 100 songs for their debut album — some of them with Timberlake — and they just dropped their mixtape, RockNRolla, with DJ Benzi.
"The mixtape was an idea to paint a picture of what we're trying to do," Free said. "A lot of people, whenever they describe us, they say 'rock/rap.' So immediately you may think of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Linkin Park, something you've heard before. I think that what we do is something extremely different, original. I think the mixtape was an idea to kind of create the picture of what we're trying to do. We took a lot of older [songs], whether it be AC/DC or Smashing Pumpkins, and make them our own. Live bands, live musicians. We approached the mixtape concept through the eyes of a band."
"I got a call from Free saying, 'Let's do this mixtape,' " Ives recalled. " 'Can you take some samples of some rock stuff that you're a fan of and dice them up? Make some beats and let's make some songs. We're gonna call it RockNRolla.' "
Teddy said the most liberating thing about the project is that the group worked on its own. "Having a free will of our own to do it, without working with any producers," he described. "Not having somebody be like, 'Do it this way' or 'Do it that way.' Taking everything we've learned up to this point and say, 'Look at us and what we have to offer. We can do this on our own,' and put it out there and be like, 'What you think about it?' "
With talent like FreeSol on his roster, Timberlake hasn't been rushing back into the solo spotlight, instead overseeing the production of his acts' debut albums.
"Right now, I'm enjoying working with new artists," Timberlake told MTV News earlier this year.