New Wave is back with another installment of our “Get To Know:” series, and today we introduce you to Fred Jones.
Fred Jones, born and bred out of the talent-rich pools of Newham – is an artist who combines a future punk trap style with cloud rap melodies and Newham grime patterns. He came to the scene via songs like ‘Car Crash’ (produced by Zest, the Blaack Hippy and FloTheProducer): rap reportage detailing his near-fatal experience being run over, and the feeling of waking back into reality following trauma. As well as this, he’s part of NFLM - a ‘collective cosmos of musical and visual artists from the underbellies of London’ - who just put out a tape together. Fred has a background in poetry that gives an abstract sleekness to his storytelling, but it is the intentionality and philosophy behind his songs that really make him stand out.
His EP Wake Up Freddy has range. ‘Marcus Garvey’ kicks it off, a song that champions Black ownership and collective consciousness, introducing us too to FloTheProducer’s guitar breaks and energetic vocal transpositions. Then we move through to the attic pop of ‘Anunnaki Arcade’ that gets us knowing Fred Jones if we don’t already, enhanced by Flo’s ease with constructing plenty of neon sound rooms. Anthemic tracks like ‘Cardi B’ use muscly rock patterns, and the hook on ‘Ralph Lauren’ has a pause-eyed dreaminess to it. Fred also uses a lot of folk rhythms and scales in his voice, which he mentions is often organic. It’s really unusual, and a bit shoegaze-y, something that is heightened by the end of the project, on the orchestral switch of ‘Melancholic Symphony’.
Asked to sum up how he feels about the EP, he leans in and says ‘Wake Up Freddy is literally one long series with episodes that highlight the past, all the years, through these songs I understand my story even more and what I’m meant to be doing.’ It’s this reclamation of identity and spirit that threads together the project.
A lot of people will come to Fred Jones’ work through his conceptual visuals too, such as the music video for ‘Madea’. He tells me that ‘Madea’ was an easy ride for him, he wrote something that he wanted to be able to dance to. His loved ones and himself put the visuals together, with creative consultation from Nich Rowe and direction from his friend Faith Aylward. Faith approached him to express her love for the song and to make a video for it, which came as a pleasant but welcome surprise. On a whiteboard, they all wrote tons of ideas, with concepts as ambitious as jumping from space ships before coming to something slightly more earthly. A 90s baby WWF aesthetic informs ‘Madea’, along with Fred in racing clothes (which seems to speak to his relationship with cars). He mentions that this is something unintentional, but that he has an eclectic style to help him express the many different and changing aspects of himself. To Fred, the outfit changes in the video to ‘Madea’ show his story. From him in restricting clothes to represent a time in his life where he was stuck in an old idea of who he was meant to be, to his rockstar self; to the more performative dance-actor type. He cites the Tyler Perry character of the same name as an inspiration behind this, informed by the way Tyler Perry transforms into someone else.
Before his car crash he was rigid, trying to block out all of his consciousness with alcohol and partying, ‘I was living like a superstar but for nothing’. He was battling depression but beginning to find a light in the tunnel, but things changed forever after his accident, ‘I had to get hit by a car to realize that I was living someone else’s life, someone else’s dream, someone else’s idea of what I was meant to be doing.’ The comparison that Fred Jones makes to Madea evolves into him expressing how in life, you can pick your reality:
You’re that person. You’re that character. You can pick yourself in any reality you want to be in, you just have to name it. Tyler Perry calls it ‘Madea’, I call it Fred Jones. These are all versions of ourselves and we have the right to claim them.
From an early age, you’re doing things that everyone around you does before you navigate towards discovering those things that you want as a kid – shooting people on GTA, kicking rock. In adulthood, we pick characters, put on their masks and go out and talk to people, and operate in this world. Some people call that the ego: that we all have an ego, our idea of who we are in this world. Ultimately, I think we’re all born here to be creators. I can create my life and my world. You pick your reality.
You would think that the title for his EP ‘Wake Up Freddy’ came from the experience he had getting called back around in hospital from the crash, but uncannily, the idea came shortly before the incident. He’d been through a spiritual awakening, getting into reading philosophy and anthropological studies (reading fiction scares him because of the possibility of getting trapped in another person’s world).
Before his transition into the music business, Freddy told me that he wanted to be a model from 2013 alongside being a footballer. He didn’t realize what the modeling industry was until six years down the line, countless unpaid shoots and travel didn’t amount to enough and he felt he was molding his outer appearance to appease designers, casting agents, and the conveyor belt vibe of the industry:
You start to look at yourself and get a little self-conscious. I was wondering, what the hell is wrong with me? I’ve been doing this for time, I’ve pointed my intentions… But it was a sign. That wasn’t what I was meant to be doing. Until 2019, until I found myself after the crash, nothing was coming to me.
The crash was devastating. He broke his foot, thigh, back, and shoulder. But mentally it was devastating too because he felt like he was just getting somewhere, had ‘just started clocking things and reading’, and felt ready for the world after university and returning to Newham.
Fred shares how the culture in Newham is so beautiful and inspires everything that locals do, ‘every gift that you do has a certain style to it’, from football to music. When he started rapping, rappers from Newham mainly influenced him: Lancey Foux, Kano, Eclipse, the Kieron Boothe’s, the Maxsta's…
When asked about how these musicians shaped his current sound, Fred explains:
One of my guys, he’s like a street A&R, he’s the coldest, smoothest, funniest guy I know, and an artist too, C3llypizazz – in 2017 I was on road with him, going studio to studio. We were in some sessions with Lancey and I was like 'rah I really like this, but I don’t know where I sit in it. Am I meant to just be supportive or am I meant to be doing this?’ I started working and putting together words, writing songs, and freestyling. It wouldn’t have started if I didn’t see this was a real profession.
Informal networking has been such a part of his process, and we discuss the way that Covid and the government’s response to it have limited the way that people can progress and operate around one another and the ensuing loneliness of that. Fred also raises the politics around danger and assumed risk – how some people take risk simply by going on a bike ride outside. To an extent though, the time has allowed him to find new ways to ground himself.
Before the pandemic, he had also been in a songwriting camp with Sony, with a man called Alexis Ffrench, a classical composer. That experience in early 2020 kept him connected to what he felt he needed to be doing with his life. On what he learned most about himself during the songwriting camp he said,
Seeing people’s reactions to my hooks made me want to be a hook master. I’m going to be on songs all over the world with just hooks, leaving hooks everywhere fam. I need a hook to give to Kano. I feel like through my hooks I paint a picture of where culture is at one point. Are you in a garden? Are you walking down a road? Sprinting? I believe I have a strong gift for painting those pictures.
Early musical memories bounce off Fred as we speak:
One of my uncles used to bang the early Kanye albums, like Graduation. I remember hearing him play OutKast and I was like ‘this music is dirty but I love it’. When I say ‘dirty’, I mean the sound is dirty, because that’s my introduction to rap music. On the other side, my parents were listening to RnB, Donell Jones…and then NOW 97!, them pop CDs with Sugababes on. Musical chairs music. Even Dolly Parton. My parents are from West Africa, Guinea, and Ivory Coast – my dad loved big singers, superstars like Mary J. Blige and Celine Dion. I’ve listened to superstars my whole life. That’s where my ear goes, to someone with star quality in their voice and presence. Usher is one of my biggest inspirations, that 8701 album, crazy.
All these different types of music, but the one that stuck and that I chose for myself (not from my sister or parents) was 50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. That was the most pivotal album in hip hop for me, it’s a whole movie, it has its own video game. 50 Cent is a GOAT. When I was in my hospital bed, I finished two books ‘The Finding of the Third Eye’ by Vera Stanley Alder and ‘The 50th Law’ by 50 Cent and Robert Greene. 50 Cent changed my life at two points, so far apart from each other but full circle.
What’s next for Fred Jones? He wants to push music in the UK and beyond. His EP opened sounds to him that he hasn’t heard before that he wants to develop, and he has another tape coming by the end of the year, building even more sonic universes. Along with that, he has some hard-hitting underground raps coming, including one from NFLM. the collective he is part of, who plan to rival the biggest crews in the world like TDE, ‘we’re like aliens, you’ll see us, but in passing’. Ambition sits comfortably on Fred Jones, this very interview was carried out on the morning of his birthday, and he’s already back to the grind to bring another something special.
I came out of nowhere; no one knew that music was my calling. I was in the rooms, studying, listening, watching, observing. It took me seven or eight years to find it. The world’s open now. All of this to me is about independence and ownership of my life, and what I want to create for the people around me, and the people who will come after me.