10 Questions for Freestyle of the Arsonists
“I love the smell of danger, hearin the word Arsonist ain’t hard to figure yet / Gotta stop smokin MCs, somebody pass me the Nicorette”
If what passes for hip hop nowadays is store bought milk, then the Arsonists are that straight out of the udder, unpasteurized, unhomogenized thick milk i.e. the real shit. It’s not made for strip clubs and it’s not made for the ladies, point blank it’s made for people in the struggle to color their lives.
The Arsonists formed in 1993 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, which then was a prime example of urban blight; the streets were awash with drugs and gunplay was common. It is those conditions in which hip hop itself was born. No other type of environment could have breathed life into such a radical art form.
By the mid 90’s the Arsonists had gained local prominence with their single, “The Session.” This paved the way for their debut album, “As The World Burns” (Matador). It’s one of those albums that bumps all the way through in my opinion, just put the disc in and press play, one of those I have to clean the house discs and can’t be bothered to flip through tracks. Bottom line, if you want to listen to real hip hop, the essence type shit, the Arsonists’ music is as good as any place to start. Could they really call themselves the Arsonists if their shit wasn’t fire? Nuff said.
Recently I had the opportunity to ask Freestyle, a founding member of the Arsonists, some questions. Free has rocked the mic with the Arsonists and as a solo performer all over the globe with the likes of many hip hop heavyweights. He also is dedicated and appreciative of his fans, personally responding to every piece of fan mail he receives. He has a solo album due to drop this year.
Lupa: Can you compare and contrast hip hop from when you first started listening to it, to when the Arsonists were first putting out records, to today? What has changed and what has remained constant from your perspective?
Free: OK, that’s a 30 yr span broken into 3. It started out as an all about fun thing, in the streets and at parties, etc. Then when the Arsonists got to it, it was starting to expand worldwide and independent minded people got into it. Now there’s a big divide between commercial and underground, with underground not getting much light & respect at all. At the same time, it’s a lot easier for people to release stuff on their own, but its made things a bit over saturated. Now that anybody can release music, it doeskin take much skill or intelligence to put something out.
To me, probably the only thing that has remained consistent is the fact that hiphop will never die. Everything else has changed and is constantly changing.
Lupa: Do you think there will be a day that Bushwick will become gentrified to the extent other neighborhoods in Brooklyn have, like Williamsburg or Fort Greene?
Free: Of course, no question about that, its just a matter of time. Bushwick wasn’t always what it is now. It changed into what it is now and it’s changing again.
Lupa: What track would you choose to play for someone who has never heard the Arsonists music?
Free: It would be hard for me to play one track being that our songs all came from different angles. You can’t play one song from us that would completely show what we’re about, so I’d play the whole first album, AS THE WORLD BURNS. That would pretty much sum it up.
Lupa: What was it like when you guys signed with Matador? (Matador was and is known for its indie rock, but the Arsonists were the first hip hop group signed to the label.) Was there any apprehension or disagreement amongst the group for that decision instead of going with an established hip hop label?
Free: It was great being signed to Matador, I wish we still were. It was a perfect fit if you ask me. Matador is looked at as obscure and so were we. There were no disagreements or anything. It was all about who could put the music in the fans’ ears and hands.
Lupa: In my experience, music heads almost always have another creative outlet or art form they enjoy as much, if not more, than music. Is that the case for you?
Free: Yep. COMPUTERS! I’ve been into computers since I was a kid and that will never change. I love em both, but music comes first.
Lupa: What are some of your musical influences? What is the shit you bump today? In your opinion, who is the greatest MC and producer of all time?
Free: Soul singers, movies, and my mom. What I bump today? R&B, soul, alternative, and some reggae and Spanish music as well. Alicia Keys is one of my faves at the moment. Greatest MC of all time = Rakim. Producer = DJ Premier.
Lupa: What would someone who is very familiar with your music might be surprised to learn about you?
Free: That I’m so into computers and computer gaming. I do maintenance and fix computers. I’m big on the great outdoors & travel as well.
Lupa: Kennedy, Crown, what’s the difference or neither?
Free: haha! No difference!
Lupa: What’s the last movie you saw in the theaters and what did you think about it?
Free: Avatar, in 2D and 3D, English and French (although I had NO IDEA what they were saying). OFF THE HOOK!
Lupa: When does the new album drop and what are your thoughts on it?
Free: Not sure when, but it will be this year for sure. So far so good, I’m lovin it. I just hope the fans do too.
Many thanks to Freestyle for the interview and you can check out his music at the links below:
(*I updated the links which were non functional at the artist’s request)