Published Jun 25, 2015Canadian rapper, producer and Bakers Club collective co-founder Raz Fresco is readying the release of his self-produced debut, Pablo Frescobar, on July 1 under his recently launched indie label Black Light, paired with distribution by New York City-based label Duck Down Music Inc. With hopes of successfully breaking into the U.S. market — following years of major placements, mixtapes and independent legwork in Canada — features from Chuck Inglish and Raekwon will certainly aid the transition for the 20-year-old hip-hop artist.
But it seems more likely that Raz's personal growth and creative evolution will be the key to his breakout success. "This project is me at a more realized state," Fresco tells Exclaim! "Through the process of self-discovery, I'm being exposed to my own uniqueness. If I'm able to express that thoroughly, and reflect that to someone, you are seeing something completely unique. As long as I stay true to myself, I will always have self-styled wisdom. No one can do you better than you. On this album, I did me."
At a young age, Raz recognized other's acknowledgement of certain qualities in him that conveyed intelligence. But when he began writing raps in the second grade, followed by a knack for beat production, the Brampton, ON artist realized how rap reflected on him. Early releases like the single "OG Raptor 7s," and a habit of solely sporting retro Tommy Hilfiger and Polo gear, abetted his youthful Bakers Club brand but steered him away from the reputation as the young theorist he and others outside of music knew him as.
"I always had this thing where I was like, 'Damn, it sucks that people can listen to my music and not know how intelligent I am.' I could always kick it on an intellectual level and I can kick it with my homies. I've always been universal with it in that sense. But it hasn't always been that way in my music," he says.
On Pablo Frescobar, Raz Fresco is more assertive and mature than he's been on past projects like Welcome to the Bakers Club and the 2012 DJ-Holiday hosted, Cakey Pocket$ — a comprehensible shift considering he released his first mixtape at 15 years old. But five years later, following production placements for Tyga, Big Sean and Wale, a tour with Joey Bada$$ and a library of Bakers Club mixtapes, Raz Fresco — born Rasquiz Johnson — has found his creative, sonic and personal locus.
"On my album, I have a joint called 'New Pablo' and at the beginning is my mom talking about how she got my name. Ras is an Ethiopian word for a title. Ras means 'head' or 'chief' and quiz means 'question.' So my mom got that name in a dream and she told my dad. The head of questions. So my whole life, I've always had questions. I questioned why we weren't being taught our real history," he says.
The answers to Raz's questions came with self-teaching and self-styled wisdom. Themes of black history, knowledge and peace streamline throughout the upcoming release with singles like the Raekwon-assisted "Influenza" and Bishop Nehru-featured "Equinox," over grimy self-produced beats, as the young rap artist plans to dispense his developed capacity to teach through narration. "I'm doing this so people can look back and say 'Damn, that was someone who was trying to push this shit forward in a positive direction,'" he says.
"With this project, I feel like it's the most solid as far as telling stories and production-wise. It's on a higher level."