The minute I was asked about doing this interview, I was confused because I knew that the rapper in question doesn’t do many interviews, my perception is that he is a tough talking, young street rapper who prefers to let his music do the talking. Who is the subject in question you ask? Marvin Bailey, better known to the public as Fredo.
At 23 years old and following a stint in prison, he has been traversing through the UK music scene, making waves and good business decisions simultaneously. With Sincere as his manager and BBC Radio 1’s Tiffany Calver serving as his official tour DJ, he has put out a retail mixtape (Tables Turn), announced a soon to be sold out UK tour and even bagged a #1 single by featuring on ‘Funky Friday’ – a no frills rap song backed by an EDM instrumental co-produced by Dave and 169. On a frosty afternoon at the Sony Music headquarters, I got to meet the main man and chop it up briefly about getting a #1 on the charts, his current taste in music and of course his debut album ‘Third Avenue’.
As every good interviewer will tell you, it’s always a good idea to keep punctuality in mind and it’s better to wait on someone than to be waited on. “Rappers!” – as I say to myself, are worth waiting for, while I sit in the foyer, observing my surroundings. Of course I’m early and with Fredo being in high demand – before today he’s regularly denied interview requests – is running late. After 20 minutes or so, I finally meet the man himself. Fredo, standing at around 6 foot, wearing a Givenchy dog t-shirt, exudes a calm aura and is relaxed in his speech and demeanour. As we’re led into a private room, he makes himself comfortable and places his phone on the opposite sofa and then we lock in. Telling him I wasn’t sure if this would go ahead I ask if it’s a deliberate choice to stay away from the press and media? “Yeah, I’ve always denied them until today.”
Picturing his album cover – an image of Fredo holding up a Third Avenue street sign in front of a red backdrop – I ask him why it was important for him to name his debut ‘Third Avenue’. After a short pause he tells me, “I learned a lot there. I grew up there. Me and my people, we all came up on the avenue. And I just felt like it helped me get here, so why not call it what it is?”
The title track on his debut album gives us an insight into how life growing up on the Avenue was. It’s much slower than his usual output, but with the help of a harmonious sample (I’ll figure it out at some point), he paints a vivid picture of that stage without being super lyrical. I’m curious what the recording process was like for ‘Third Avenue’, “I’ll be real, I’ve always got songs and shit in the vault. I’m always writing so when I realised that I wanted to drop the album, I had a lot of songs to pick from. I’ve been working, I don’t stop. There was never a time where I sat down and was like ‘its album time’ because I’ve got joints. It was more like ‘let’s put something together’ and I had about 20 songs and said maybe 8 to 11 out of those were album worthy so I just kept going from there.” His response lets me know that there’s an element of quality control to Fredo’s method.
It’s my first album, I don’t wanna fill it up with a bag of man before… If there’s bare man on the album and someone don’t like it, can I really take that in?
At times, artists can be too eager to impress or gain streams via needless features by using super old songs and a bloated track list. At 13 songs and with only two features in Lil Dotz and Dave, the album sounds like a concise and carefully considered project. With the lack of features on his album, I’m curious if it was a deliberate ploy. “Nah, it just felt right [to have only two features]. I still feel like I have a point to prove… it’s my first album, I don’t wanna fill it up with a bag of man before… If there’s bare man on the album and someone don’t like it, can I really take that in? Because there’s bare man. At least if it’s just me then I’ll know [that the feedback is valid].” So what was the whittling down process, as he did say he had 20 songs ready? Jokingly, he laughs a little and replies “it was easy. If it’s not a banger it can’t come [on the album]. It wasn’t too hard between me and my dargs.”
One of his ‘dargs’ in question is JB, a producer that Fredo has previously worked with. His productions were featured on several tracks off of his 2018 retail mixtape ‘Tables Turn’ including ‘Rapping & Trapping’, and Fredo opted to link up with his main man once again. He alludes to other producers, “[I’ve got] Naz, a 16 year old yute form Birmingham. And a couple others but I’m not too good with the producers’ names. The names just confuse me and it’s different for me as an artist. I know the beat names but not always the producers.”
Fredo doesn’t come across as someone who wears his heart on his sleeve but he certainly owns his vices in the booth. Frequent hedonistic references to women and a penchant for good weed (particularly gelato) are synonymous with his raps. Because of this, I feel compelled enough to ask what his favourite strain is, not knowing the conversation would take an interesting turn. “I cut all the gelato and that out you know, I cut it all out.” When pressed on why, he explains “I smoke, I still do but it’s like I’m tryna stop. I’ve tried to stop a couple of times. I just feel like weed holds me back. Weed holds back everyone, you might not realise. You might still be doing alright for yourself and not know, but I know weed is holding me back.”
His choice of words intrigue me, given how there was a period where it was impossible to catch Fredo on social media without a joint in hand. That being said, his slight introspection on the effects of weed addiction reminds me of some choice lines taken from his album opener ‘Survival of the Fittest’ where he states: “And they got some mad J’s, that I need in my system/and I’m rolling all this weed up to feed the addiction/ Yeah I tried to stop smoking, but the weed didn’t listen”. It’s not often that you hear active smokers talk about the detriment of weed or even trying to give it up; Fredo’s honesty is refreshing as he opts to not glamourise addiction.
Upon listening to ‘Third Avenue’ one of the standout tracks for me is ‘Love You For That’ a thoughtful ode to his mum and how she held him down through prison and other obstacles, despite not favouring his lifestyle. We speak briefly about the 10 year challenge and in keeping with this theme, I ask how the relationship between him and his mum has changed in the last decade. “So much, it’s like the complete opposite [of what it was previously]. I used to not get on with my mum. I used to think she was just in my way but now I know she was trying to do the right thing.” I speak to him about the similarities between his and my older brother’s situation, he nods in amusement as we both see how common it is to have a fictitious relationship with your parents. “My mum weren’t tryna let me do my thing, that’s why I had to leave [home] early.” Speaking a little on the family references spread across the album our conversation is guided towards how family oriented he is, “I’m not really [a family man]. I take care of my brother and my mum but I wouldn’t say I’m a family man like that. Like I don’t have kids, but I take care of my family. And my niggas too!” That last statement rings true as I meet his right hand man Mouth on the shoot, him and Fredo are practically inseparable.
Going back to his album, I revisit one of the two features on the album in David Omoregie, better known to fans as just Dave. He appears on ‘All I Ever Wanted’ and drops a solid verse which keeps the intensity from other guest verses on Headie One’s ’18HUNNA’, Giggs’ ‘Peligro’ and Avelino’s ‘U Can Stand Up/Royal’. I comment on his and Dave’s clear rapport and query how they made ‘All I Ever Wanted’. “You know what it was? I made that song, like I had the chorus and my 32 bars and thought this song is cold but let me put someone on it. Sometimes I get in my zone when I’m writing and before you know it there’s no…” At this point Sincere walks in and greets us, but not before jokingly reminding Fredo that he left his phone on the opposite sofa. Fredo doesn’t look fazed as he tries to recall his train of thought. As I prompt him, he finds a small burst of energy before resuming. “Before I even wrote my next 32, I just hit Dave like I got something. So I sent him the track and he just jumped on it from there.”
We briefly discuss ‘Funky Friday’ and his perception of having a No.1 song where his aggressive rapping style and trap references are displayed. As we discuss his take on the track, he insists that “it’s good”. Elaborating on this, he admits that he hasn’t fully grasped the magnitude of his achievement. “I don’t fully understand how good it is. Like I don’t understand the charts [and how they work]. If someone’s talking about their 3 pointer in comparison to Steph Curry, I’ll know how good they are at basketball because I understand that Curry is a serious shooter. Like I know they’re the charts, but they change every week. I’m grateful to Dave for making that happen for me.”
We revisit Sincere’s humorous cameo and his longevity in the game, from previously rapping on tracks with North London grime staple Scorcher (who is also his cousin) and bringing out a clothing line, to discussing how their partnership came about. “I came home [from prison] and thought it made sense to shoot a video. So I done one and on that shoot, Sin just came to my block. He met Morgan [Keys], them times Morgan was helping man out. He was WSTRN’s manager at the time and he was a busy guy, but he was still tryna help man out. Morgan just brought Sin and introduced us. Sin gave me some mad weed that day. He wasn’t saying anything about business, he just gave me weed and I was like “love”. The next day I was like [to Mouth], “rah who was that guy that gave man that weed?” Mouth said that it was Sincere and he wants to link you. We linked him and he just sat me down on some grown nigga shit. Told me who he is and what he wanted to do. He said for six months I can show you what I can do and you ain’t gotta pay me. At the time, we knew things were happening that we didn’t understand so we needed a manager. Like if we put out a tape, where’s the bread going? How would we tour? So just stuff we didn’t know about. Sin came along and I’ve been fucking with him and ever since he’s just been my manager.”
Our chat winds down and we discuss who he’s currently feeling within the UK music scene. He isn’t shy to show love to other artists and has a clear affinity towards trap rap. “I like J Hus. I like Tiny Boost. Headie One, K-Trap, Blade. I like a couple man, Asco and them.” I’m only surprised to hear Tiny Boost given that it’s rare to hear other rappers name drop Peckham-born rappers that aren’t Giggs. However, asking Fredo his favourite track on his new album proves to be trickier than I expected. “I ain’t got none” is the expression that makes me shout out in the private room. He laughs as he continues to justify this response “I think I like them all equally for different reasons. But I don’t have a favourite [right now].”
To wrap up, I brief him about the success he has seen since he came home from prison, the fact that all his videos have over 1 million views and his impending UK and Europe tours. His face beams with pride but his humility when I ask what his vision for Third Avenue is, is apparent. “I always want more but I just wanna keep going and naturally progressing with my music.”
‘Third Avenue’ will be released on February 1st to stream & download and is now available for pre-order here.