Welcome to #TBT Mixtape, Billboard‘s series that showcases artists’ very own throwback-themed playlists exclusive to Billboard‘s Spotify account. The curated set features the artists’ favorite tracks from their youth and childhood.
This week’s spin comes from Fab 5 Freddy. Born Fred Brathwaite in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, the hip-hop pioneer, filmmaker and visual artist walked the line between New York City’s uptown graffiti and street-art movement and downtown art, punk and new-wave scenes beginning in the early ‘80s. He became a household name as the original host of Yo! MTV Raps and directed music videos for KRS-One, Snoop Dopp, Nas, Queen Latifah and more. He was even name-dropped by Debbie Harry in Blondie’s 1980 hit “Rapture,” and recently appeared with comedian Jerry Seinfeld in Vampire Weekend’s “Sunflower” video, directed by Jonah Hill.
Since the icon has widened his artistic reach on an international scale, developing a bevy of projects for film and television like his Netflix-produced documentary Grass Is Greener, which debuted at the San Francisco International Film Festival on 4/20. His directorial debut tackles cannabis’ racist history in America, using music movements from jazz to reggae and hip-hop to showcase the “devastating impact” of criminalization on Black and Latino communities.
Produced by Vikram Gandhi and Freddy, the 97-minute film features appearances by Snoop Dogg, Damian Marley, Cypress Hill’s Sen Dog, DMC, Doug E. Fresh, Chuck D, Killer Mike, and more. “My hope, as I light one up on 4/20, is that this film will entertain, educate, and enlighten people across the country and around the world about the rise of marijuana, the racially motivated reasons behind its initial criminalization, and the economic ramifications that continue to affect entire races of people,” Freddy said at the time.
To help celebrate our nation’s birth, Freddy put together this week’s #TBT Mixtape as the perfect soundtrack to holiday BBQs around the nation. “This is some 4th of July – lets have fun at the cook out music for the grown & sexy!” he says of the set, which includes cuts by Chuck Brown, The Jacksons, Tony! Toni! Toné! and more.
Give the playlist a spin and also check out some retro snaps of the artist below.
Elsewhere, Freddy serves as creative director for‘Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop,’ a photographic exhibit that opened at Los Angeles’ Annenberg Space for Photography this April. He also inked a deal with The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, who have acquired his full photographic archive, which includes personal photographs with Dr Dre, the Notorious B.I.G., Blondie, and more, as well as taped interviews with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“Fab 5 Freddy’s contributions to the worlds of art, music, and film—bringing hip-hop culture to the forefront—are certainly historically significant and almost too numerous to name,” said Schomburg Center Director Kevin Young. “It is not overstating to say that without Fab, hip-hop as we know it, graffiti as a visual art as we know it, and bridges between various musical genres would not exist. He is such an instrumental figure, not just as an innovator who steered the ship in the early days of hip-hop, but as an ambassador who continues to have enormous impact on the hip-hop world and beyond. We are so proud to preserve his history and work and give researchers an opportunity to gain new perspectives and information on the early and ongoing days of hip-hop.”
For Freddy, the deal is a full-circle return as the collection — though still being “processed” — will live as part of Schomburg’s Home to Harlem initiative that toasts Harlem’s “century-long history as a Black Cultural Capital, a city within a city, a nation within a neighborhood.”
“Growing up in Bed Stuy Brooklyn our home was full of books and periodicals, as my dad was a ferocious reader. Books by and about people like,Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, J.A. Rogers and one of my favorites as a kid, a book called Harlem On My Mind filled with photos and stories on the history of Black Americans living in Harlem,” he says. “My dad explained then ‘to learn more the Schomburg in Harlem was the place people go.’ So knowing my archive will be at the Schomburg, now and forever is both gratifying and very humbling.”
Later this summer, Freddy will host a BBC documentary A Fresh Guide to Florence, which will muse on black representation in masterworks of painting and sculpture in the 15th- and 16th-century Italian Renaissance.