It’s weird how things work out sometimes. When we first heard Rockie Fresh, it was back in 2010. He had a track sampling the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and even more surprising: Rich Hil was singing on the chorus. The song was called “Otherside.” Fast forward almost two years and here we are talking about Rockie Fresh as the newest member of Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group.

The funniest thing is that back in 2010 when we got the email for that first Rockie Fresh song we ever heard, it came with a message that read, “Here’s your chance to say you knew him when…” Well damn, he called that, huh? He’s come a long way since then, but besides being taken in by one of the biggest names in hip-hop, he insists that not much has changed. It’s hard to believe until you start talking to him and realize that signing to MMG doesn’t turn you into a larger-than-life rap character overnight. He’s still that young, hungry artist from Chicago. He’s just about to be a lot more famous.

Interview by Brendan Klinkenberg 

I’m sure you know that the first thing that everyone’s going to ask about is the Maybach Music signing.
Right.

Congratulations, by the way.
Thank you very much, I appreciate you guys holding me down, too. You were posting my music well before that was even in the works.

Oh, no problem [Laughs]. How long was that deal in the works before it ended up being official?
I would say about a month. It was in the works for like a month.

That seems pretty quick.
Yeah. I just kept it real low key, though, ’cause I didn’t really want to put anyone else that was involved with it at the time on the spot, [and] because there were a lot of other labels that were reaching out to me at the time that Rick Ross hit me up. I didn’t want to damage any relationships with anybody and keep things smooth and, you know, not make the situation bigger than it needed to be.

But me and him had been working it out for about a month. We had been really talking, going back and forth for that time frame and yeah, we just came to that common ground. Plus, we developed a real kind of friendship, which made doing business really easy. So yeah, we just made it happen.

How did he find out about you?
Oh, I had dropped this video, “Into The Future,” and the A&R for Maybach Music saw that – I forgot what website he saw it on exactly – and he played it for Ross. Ross watched it and after he saw it, he was like, “Yo, I feel like this kid is next, and I want to fly him out and meet him.”

So he flew me out to L.A. where he was shooting the video for “Take It To The Head,” and we just linked and started hanging out then. And it’s been going ever since.

How hands-on does Ross get with you and the rest of the team?
Well, me and him have worked on a lot of music since I’ve been signed already, but he’s just really encouraging all of us to be ourselves. He’s hands-on as far as being the big bro for the situation and always giving the insight, but at the same time he trusts us and that’s why he signed us.

You mentioned you’ve been working with him; have you been working with any of the rest of the team?
Not yet, but I definitely feel like in the near future that’s going to happen.

Which MMG member are you most excited to get on a track with?
Man, that’s a tough question because everyone is equally as dope at bringing different stuff to the table. I feel like any track I could make with any of them guys would be super crazy, especially like Meek or even Omarion. Everyone’s style is just so different that any record with them would be crazy.

What’s changed for you since signing?
I mean, outside of the money, nothing, really. I’m still super hungry and I’ve got huge goals with rap. I really want to win several Grammys and things like that, so my work ethic has only intensified because I’m just one step closer to making that happen. Outside of that, I still stay in the same crib, hang out with the same people. I’m in Chicago walking right now as I’m talking to you.

It’s just a lot more people that know me. But my brand and the music that I make is about day-to-day life, living a regular life, and the struggles that come with that. I just want to keep myself in that element so I can stay relatable to the people that got me here. So, not too much has changed.

You’re still in Chicago, and the scene here is blowing up right now. Where do you position yourself within Chicago hip-hop?
I just feel like I make that real music, chill music that’s more reflective. I’ve been doing my style of work before a lot of these guys started popping and it’s just real dope to see different sides of the music come up. It shows that we represent everything that Chicago is about. Chicago has its hoods, Chicago has its nice parts. Chicago has those people in the streets and it has those people that made it out. I know people that were around that and didn’t get into it, so we’re all representing what Chicago is about right now. I just feel like I’ve got that south suburban, young, college student type of vibe. That’s what I represent: the young, hungry individuals.

Do you think there are any rappers in the city that haven’t blown up but should have?
I feel like everyone is really getting what they deserve right now. Slowly but surely. And that’s even with me and my own career; I may have felt that I should have been getting more recognition outside of Chicago sooner than I did. But God works in his own way, and I think we would all be ungrateful if we weren’t thankful for the progress we are making as a city. All the faces that are getting on right now are the ones that are supposed to be getting on right now, and the ones that are not, their time is going to come and keep making the city bigger and better.

What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?
That’s a good one. I’m gonna have to say… damn. I don’t eat out too much; I’m starting to now. I’m a Harold’s fan, really. It’s kinda ratchet, but…

Just asking ’cause I’m from Chicago. Always good to hear about other people’s spots.
That’s what’s up. We gotta get some Harold’s one day, man.

I’m down. If Google’s correct, you just turned 21?
Yes sir, just turned 21 this year.

Yeah, same.
Word? That’s crazy. You’re a player. That means you’re a player.

What’d you do for your 21st?
I can’t really remember, honestly. Can’t even remember. I got so… you know. I had a good time [Laughs].

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What are the advantages and disadvantages to being a younger artist in mainstream hip-hop?
The biggest disadvantage is that people just have this expectation that you’re going to just be talking about the same old shit that every other young rapper is talking about. But then the advantage is when you don’t [talk about the same topics], because that just intrigues people more. I feel like the new mixtape that I’m working on right now, Electric Highway, people are going to see a lot more mature content than from anyone in my age group right now.

I feel like they’re going to take that in an even better way. In hip-hop, people keep saying that the younger generation is losing it. I don’t feel that way. I want to be someone that represents some positivity and the storytelling elements that people fell in love with when they first heard rap music, and still doing it in a fun way and a new style while keeping that content. Me being young allows me to do that in a lot more cool a way.

Where do you want to be in five or 10 years?
Man, in five years I want to have at least a number one album. I want to have gone platinum. I want a Grammy under my belt, and I want a label under me so I can help other young artists that want to get their message out and be able to give them a platform to do that. So yeah, that’s what I want in the next five to 10 years.

That’s some serious ambition.
Yeah, it’s going to take a lot of hard work.

Do you worry about setting goals that high?
I used to worry about it, honestly. But this Rick Ross situation and hearing from guys like Diddy, who I’ve been looking up to since I first knew what rap music was, for those guys to be interested in what I’m doing to the point where they want me to be a part of their empires? That was an eye-opener for me. And me being able to stay true to what I know and not lose that relatability, there’s no way that I can’t win.

What’s been your favorite album in the past year?
Let me see, I’m trying to think. Actually, it’s a non-rap album. It’s this artist, her name is Kimbra. She was on that song with Gotye, called, um…

“Somebody That I Used To Know.”
Yeah, “Somebody That I Used To Know.” So I found out about her through that record and my cameraman actually found her album for me. He got me the album and it just felt like when I heard Eryka Badu for the first time, almost, but on a more 2012 type of vibe. That album just blew everything away for me.

Kanye’s albums, you know they’re always good. Jay-Z albums are always good. But in this past year, it really gave me a lot of confidence to go my own way in my music and I liked that.

You two going to collaborate?
That would be dope. We’re on the same label now, so I’m going to try to make that happen [Laughs].

The next mixtape, Electric Highway: what should we expect to hear when it drops?
It’s going to be a real fun project. At the same time, it will have a real classic feel to it. It’s a lot of storytelling. I feel like a lot of young kids are curious to see how I even got to this point with MMG and you know, people from different states don’t know the work I put in in Chicago, they feel like they’re just looking at this random kid. I feel like I’ve got this platform to show everything I’ve been through, share everything I’ve seen and showing love to the people that told me I could do this.

It’s recent enough in my mind to the point that it won’t mess up the things that I’ve been planning for my first album as well. So you’re going to see the TV show version of the movie that will be the album,… that’s what you’ll get on Electric Highway.

Are you working with any particular producers?
I’m working with a lot of the people that I’ve been working with. I worked with a lot of young producers in the cut that are around my age group and with me getting better as a rapper, they’re getting better as producers. I would rather work with the people that really understand my sound and where I’m going versus what everybody expects me to do, which is work with these crazy producers. We don’t have the time or connection for me to pull out what I want to pull out, so rather than mess with some extra experimentation when I can work with the people I’ve been with and build it from there.

Is this going to be a free project?
Yes, sir. I really wanted to make sure that my first project with MMG is something that’s free for the fans, because I wouldn’t be in this position if so many people hadn’t supported me to this point. It’s fair to give them something that’s really classic, just for the support that they gave me and not make them pay for that.

What’s going to define the difference between a mixtape and an album for you?
Really the musicality of it and how deep into my story I go. I’m in a situation where a lot of people are looking towards me and I’m going to be going on my first headlining tour at the end of this month. I’m going to have a lot on my plate, and not just the rap stuff but the instrumentation and arrangements I wanted to have on the album, I’m just not going to have the time to be able to do that like I wanted to. But, when I go to work on the album I’m going to really take the time to make sure I have the music to create the soundtrack that I want to make what I’m talking about make sense on a whole different level and give people something special, even outside of hip-hop.

I guess that goes back into why I like Kimbra’s album too, because the production in it makes you feel like you’re going on an emotional ride with the situation, and that’s what I want people to do with my first album. Mixtape – you’re going to be able to feel it too. But I want to take the time on that album.

So the difference is the detail and preparation that goes into each project?
Exactly. The mixtape is more of an introduction.

Pigeons or Planes?
Planes. Definitely planes. Last time I was a pigeon, but I’m a plane now. I’m feeling fly.