Whether you know him for being famous as MC FRESHCO, or as SHAWN CONRAD, there's certainly no doubting this man's qualifications. He was winner of the 1989 New Music Seminar MC Battle for World Supremacy, United States Regional Racquetball Champion 2008-2010, City-wide Doubles Handball Champion 2001, ProMax Award Winner for Sound Design 2006, a Tommy Boy recording artist, a Sound Engineer for Tyler Perry shows and projects like The Matrix and King Of The Hill, a voice-over artist for radio and television commercials nationally, and has rhymed with none other than Jay-Z and Notorious BIG amongst many others. Believe me when I say there's even more achievements I could list here.
(FRESHCO and MIZ below both sporting their individual NMS BATTLE FOR WORLD SUPREMACY winners belts.)
To put it bluntly, Shawn Conrad is inspiring to anyone who reads about his life, and it's easy to see why he leaves an impression on those that have met him or know his story. As an emcee he homed his talents and took them to the absolute pinnacle by winning the NMS World Supremacy title, and in life he generally sets goals and then goes all out to achieve them. And on TOP of all this, he now spends time helping others achieve their goals and realise their dreams. And who says "rap" has a negative effect on society? I don't think you could find a more positive role model than Shawn Conrad.
The story of MC FRESHCO is a long and very interesting one, and I really encourage you to check out the FRESHCO & MIZ website where you can read the full facts from the man himself (see links at the end of this post). I'm not here to re-gurgitate those facts, but instead delve a little deeper and pose a few more questions to the man himself. I will however give you a quick resume of how FRESHCO entered the hip hop history books...
Known for being a lyrical genius and a man who studied the art of emceeing, FRESHCO was already an established recording artist before being paired with World Champion DJ MIZ from Philly. Both of these guys were known for their skills and for their individual abilities to rock a crowd to fever pitch. This was the first time a World Champ MC had joined a World Champ DJ to form a crew, and the results were some incredible performances and a page in the hip hop history books. Back in 1983 Shawn Conrad was a Brooklyn graffiti artist using the name "BLAS" and was given the the name FRESHCO by his homeboy "DELK" (TST). Back then FRESHCO would go to the Roxy in New York and regularly to rap concerts at Madison Square Garden. In late 1988 FRESHCO signed to TOMMY BOY RECORDS as a solo artist and released "4 At A Time" (one of my fave '88 records - the rhymes are hilarious) although FRESHCO would himself have preferred to put out a song that more so displayed his freestyle skills.
He first met the Philly resident and well-known turntable ripper DJ MIZ at one of his first shows at Philly's YMCA WEST (see photo below) at which point neither of the two knew they would eventually become a duo.
DJ CLARK KENT had persuaded FRESHCO to enter the NEW MUSIC SEMINAR BATTLE, and his victory over MC SERGE became legendary - the crowd was jumping out of their seats as the punchlines rained down and FRESHCO stole the show with his flow. Philly resident DJ MIZ won the DJ battle and the two joined up to become a force to be reckoned with. Underground hits "We Don't Play", "Ain't U Freshco" and "Now Ya Know" followed and these records were instant classics amongst those in the know, plus sought after amongst collectors even to this day.
FRESHCO & MIZ were let down by poor promotion budgets and lack of adequate management at TOMMY BOY RECORDS, and an LP unfortunately never came to fruition. They were later on the brink of a deal with RUSH MANAGEMENT although the success of EPMD and the forthcoming REDMAN meant LEOR COHEN's hands were too busy. In the following years several projects came and went in the background for FRESHCO, and he then began to produce beats and released a quality 3-track 12" on his own label STREET LEVEL RECORDS in 1995 (seek this out if you don't own it). This release included the underground and highly dope "Planet Brooklyn". Just before that release he would rhyme with BIGGIE SMALLS at a freestyle session at DJ ENUFF's lab to be broadcast on HOT 97 in NYC. Appearances on ORIGINAL FLAVOR's track "Many Styles" kept him en vogue as he and Jay-Z verbally displayed what was brewing in New York. His hip hop credentials are unquestionable, and as you read on you will see this man sets goals and then gives 100% until he passes the finish line.
FRESHCO is also an all-round sportsman winning the city-wide Handball championship of New York with partner Ray Lopez in 2001. He is also a top level Racquetball player and Tennis player. His rap career lead to becoming a post-production audio engineer. His company EAR FX specializes in post-production sound for broadcast including TV commercials, TV series, documentaries, movie trailers, films, radio spots and audio books.
Via his website www.shawnconrad.com he now finds the time to help others to identify their goals in life, set their route and stay focused until they achieve their own dreams. This guy really is inspiring to read about and speak to, so there's no surprise he also is very active as a motivational speaker. It seems a lot to cram into one lifetime but Shawn seems to be the ultimate achiever himself. His contribution to hip hop alone is legendary!
So let's speak to the man himself, the F to the R to the ....
KID DYNO: Firstly and most obviously, please can we take it back to the NMS Seminar battle in 1989? How did you prepare for that competition?
FRESHCO: It was burned in my mind by what Kool Moe Dee (see photo) did to Busy Bee back in the day, that the way to destroy your opponent is to be lethal with every line (or at least every other line or bar) in your verse. I was prepared for any kind of attack on me, my family, my crew, my clothes, my girl, whatever. Male MC or female MC, I was ready. Even after my last round and winning the competition, I actually could have kept going for several more rounds! I remember a friend of mine asking me if I was ready for it and I answered "well, who ever beats me would have to be very good!
KID DYNO: What got you started in Hip Hop? And which records influenced you in the early days?
FRESHCO: In junior high school a guy they called Dee-Ski actually got me to take it up and join him as a partner. I believe the first person I heard rap live was DJ Professor Paul, my mentor at the time. Actually a cusin of mine from Queens gave me a tape of hime rapping and I used his rap to win a contest at United Skates of America in Brooklyn, N.Y. very early on. However, you asked about getting started in Hip Hop so that would have been in 7th grade writing graffiti as "Blas One". From there it was popping in the Brooklyn Body Mechanics at United Skates of America. I rapped with Dee-Ski and went by the name of Shawn-Ski (lol). Dee introduced me to Freedom B from Red Hook projects in Brooklyn and we started to do shows at John Jay high school and all around in Red Hook as The Enchanted Two (Freedom B and Freshco). Later on Professor Paul introduced me to producer Jerry Calendar (the producer of "Doin' It" by LaShawn - later redone by L.L. Cool J) and from there I grew as a soloist. He got me the Tommy Boy deal via Dante' Ross.
Records of influence was I Need A Beat, Criminal Minded, I Know You Go Soul and others. But mostly, my influences came from watching Hip Hop at the Roxy and shows at Madison Square Garden like the Fresh Fest.
KID DYNO: Apart from having the goal of winning the NMS, what plans did you have previous to that time for releasing a record?
FRESHCO: My goals were very simple; to have my music coming out of the car without my tape being in it! I finally heard my music blasting out of cars that were driving up the street and knew those people did not have my cassette in there. Finally, I was on 98.7 Kiss and WBLS everywhere in city!!!!
KID DYNO: How did the MIZ hook-up occur, and who were the parties involved in that deal, I know Dante Ross had a hand in that?
FRESHCO: After being signed to Tommy Boy, Rod Houston of Tommy Boy took me to Phili for a promo show. There I met Miz. Cool dude but I knew NOTHING about who he already was. NOTHING. It was after we both won the world championship that DJ Clark Kent (see photo) and a few others said we should consider joining forces - it's never been done before! We thought about it and then was happy to make it happen!
KID DYNO: Was the chemistry instantly there when you were put together as a duo?
FRESHCO: Instant! We were both all about skill, technique and the "wow factor"! We did We Don't Play on our first go at it - in one night! We were dying to get the energy out. More importantly, we had so much fun doing it all! We truly enjoyed ourselves during that time.
KID DYNO: Please describe how things blew up for you in NYC following the defeat of Serge..?
FRESHCO: My close friends always knew my capabilities lyrically but winning the championship put the icing on the cake especially after Tommy Boy had me release "4 At A Time" as my first single - which to me was just an album cut at the most. After winning, I walked around with the belt all around lower Manhattan. People thought I was the next boxing champ of the world or something. People could not stop talking about the way I went through each MC! P Diddy asked for a copy of the battle and ended up keeping it - telling me that Andre Harrell never gave it back to him. I remember my friend Hurricane Gloria brought this guy named Reggie over my house. He watched to battle and said I was no joke! He gave me his number and said call him at Eric Serman's house anytime. Later he released and album as Redman. Before winning, Big Daddy Kane used to call me up to hang out downtown Brooklyn with him. He would always ask me to kick something. I'd do it, he'd shake his head and say "man, how do you rhyme like that?" After winning, I saw him in front of this club. He looked at me with a proud look and said "yeah... I heard you won"! I was the underground, non-radio, buzz of the industry!
KID DYNO: Anyone can destroy a chump MC on the night, but Serge was not weak by any means on that day, so does a "kill" like that make it a sweeter victory?
FRESHCO: Actually, I loved Serge's rhyme style! Me and my friend Cory used to repeat his verses well after the seminar! That's how we were, we appreciated Hip Hop and it's detail so much that we could even admire my opponents. Just before being announced as the winner I got nervous for a second and thought "man, what if the say I lost"?! Winning that night turned out to be such a sweet part of history!
KID DYNO: How have your freestyle skills helped you in later life and career?
FRESHCO: It has helped with me producing tracks back then like the track I did the Biggie and I freestyle'd on. It also helped with having supreme timing as a professional audio designer for commercials and film work as you can see on www.EarFX.com.
KID DYNO: How is the FRESHCO & MIZ documentary going?
FRESHCO: Some of my closest colleagues have seen a rough cut of the Freshco & Miz documentary. They say they can not get up from watching it once it starts! Even when I watch the Miz sections myself, I am amazed at the info he shares about Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money... and also amazed at how incredible Miz was 20 plus years ago!!! The documentary really digs into how it all got started for us and how it all lead to World Supremacy on the mic and turntables. As you watch it you'll have to keep rewinding as you'll notice vintage footage of some of our greatest Hip Hop personalities sprinkled throughout the film. I really puts you RIGHT THERE! It features interviews from DJ Enuff, Monie Love, DJ Red Alert and many others. The footage from the battle is classic! At the time of this writing I'm in talks with a major network to get it on television. After that we'll look to go to DVD. You can watch the trailer and keep track of things at www.FreshcoAndMiz.com.
KID DYNO: Why didn't a FRESHCO & MIZ LP happen on wax? That's such a crying shame!
FRESHCO: The life changing events... Well, Miz and I wanted to continue to shock the world with our gifts. At that time we were very young and didn't want to wait at all and let the fire die down! We couldn't understand why Tommy Boy didn't have us in the studio knocking out an album ASAP! So Miz and I began to do our best on our own roughing out songs while chatting with Puffy, Leor and others. Still, no sense of urgency from Tommy Boy even months after the seminar wins. We dropped We Don't Play, went on tour with Cube and Too Short but never got that push campaign going from our label. Just 8 and 1/2 by 11 promo pictures and 4 grand for another single was about it. Guess what happens without proper promotion? The results remain street supremacy with no radio dominance! Eventually we were dropped from the label. We remained the illest artist out within the industry but on the radio, it seemed it was over (at least to me). Later Damon Dash signed me along with Jiv-Pos, Cory Know-The-Story and Miz (the No!ze) after I ripped a quick verse on a song called Many Styles featuring Jay-Z. But Damon couldn't get anyone to actually sign me, Jay or Sauce Money. Plus I couldn't get with the 4-man group feel at the time so we eventually deaded it. I went to audio engineering school and got a career going so my soon coming, first child Tahbia, would be all good. At the time I didn't know to just grind it out for years and we'd be fine (like Gaga, Wayne, T.I. or many others). I wish I would have checked around to Internet to see how fans were looking for us all over other parts of the world. I totally didn't realize that!
KID DYNO: I believe you have a poignant story about meeting Kane and offering him a ride? Please share with us.
FRESHCO: Like I mentioned before, Kane was very nice to me! He was a great example of being out there as a Hip Hop star but being able to just be good people. The story about me giving him at ride is best told at www.ShawnConrad.com in the "Tips" section but how we met may be of more interest here! One of my first shows as a Tommy Boy artist (before the seminar) was at a place called the Armory in lower Manhattan. In my show I did a section where I took Kane's verse from "The Wrath of Kane" and flipped it. Pretty much saying "I'm even better than Big Daddy so watch out"! After the show Kane had someone call me over and introduce us. He asked me "have I ever did something to you?" I said "no, not at all. It was just a play on words using your verse". Kane told me I was "nice!" and gave me his number. From there on we were friends.
KID DYNO: It sounds as though you would have succeeded at whatever you turned your hand to, but if you hadn't become an MC, what would you have been doing instead?
FRESHCO: Ha! Well, I have a degree in Art & Advertising Design because of my drawing skills throughout my young years. Before Damon Dash signed me to the Rockafella management contract I was back in school to become a Physical Therapist! When I was younger I was able to do tricks on skate boards, tricks on bike ramps and I was very good at Hockey. Seriously... I once won so many trophies on award night that they gave me the boxes that they came in to take mine home! I remember learning how to ride a dang unicyle in 7 hours around the corner from the house! I may have been a bit short for pro basketball but I was able to dunk and shot from 3 point land with ease. Unfortunately, those skills developed after I already left college. I acted in one of the first Red Bull commercials back in 1994. I had two big New York agents - but of course I found something else I was fascinated by and moved on to try to master it. That's what I do and it's all I've known to do for my whole life... find something cool and perfect it (handball, Tennis, whatever). It has nothing to do with making money. Pure love and desire.
KID DYNO: The un-released FRESHCO & MIZ tracks were well received by hip hop connoisseurs so are there any plans for a vinyl release?
FRESHCO: Yep! See, many of those songs should have been re-recorded, mixed and released back then by Tommy Boy! But instead they only remained ideas of Miz and I, which I kept.
I so appreciate the Freshco & Miz fans who tell me what our story and music has meant to them since back in 89'. I remember Keith Murray telling me he started rapping because of me during a session where I was the editing engineer for the El Nino album. Guys like Busta, LL and others have been so honest even with their great success to share the impact Miz and I had on them. The vinyl will happen very soon. I'd love to time it with the documentary release. There is also a slight possibility of a collab involving Special Ed and Chubb Rock among others. Now that's a BIG MAYBE but Howie Tee holds a central connection between all of us from back before any of us had records out and many people don't know that. You'd have to go back to the group E.S.P. from Select Records and trace the linkage that Howie has with all of us. I already kicked my verse over the Howie track so we'll see if the collab concept ever gets legs.
KID DYNO: Please describe what effect hip hop has had on your life? Your speaking role now very much mirrors your MC upbringing - whichever way you look at it you are still inspiring a crowd. So how does it compare?
FRESHCO: There's a lot. Like I said before, I really didn't realize my impact in the game back then! So it's amazing to me when people outside of New York practically whorship my old friends like Jay, Busta, Enuff, etc. I'm thinking "wow... that was my crew".
I should be being watched on TV right now with the rest of these guys! Instead I'm only known as Shawn Conrad the handball or racquetball champ. Whenever people happen to find out that I am Freshco via youtube or Google, they are shocked!!! It's hard on me sometimes because people always ask "what happened, you were the sh*t"? But I really like that I'm very approachable and can shed some true in-sight on the game and what to do to write a new "successful" chapter in your life. If I was a super star it would be harder for regular folks to kick with me in most cases. So I love that shock factor and the double shock factor of being very down to earth. That being said it's very important for me to help people via speaking events and a very informative website like www.ShawnConrad.com. The feedback has been phenomenal and life changing for many!
F to the R to the....
peep the FRESHCO & MIZ STORY trailer
So let's all hope the full version of THE FRESHCO & MIZ STORY gets aired sooner rather than later. Get yourselves over to www.freshcoandmiz.com and show your support. I would like to say a huge thanks to SHAWN CONRAD aka FRESHCO for taking the time out to do this interview and for being a true gentleman throughout. You're not just a dope Brooklyn MC but an real inspiring character!
I also wanna say a super duty tough thanks to BENNY without whom this interview would simply not have happened.