To work with the best, you have to be the best… and that’s exactly the mentality Fresh carries. Driven and focused, the Brooklyn, New York native comes from true humble beginnings, stating “knowing when you don’t have options, you learn to create them. I’m not trying to be deep in thought, I’m a thinker.”
Growing up in Brownsville Brooklyn, New York, real name Akil King compares his upbringing to the Lion King, when Simba is told about the Elephant’s Graveyard: “what goes there never comes out.” Under the guidance of his grandparents, because his parents weren’t around, Fresh was fortunate enough to beat the system and defy all odds that were against him.
Being bicoastal for nearly 4 years, Fresh recalls spending 8 months out of the year working hard in LA and almost 4 months out the year in New York for nothing. The minute he would leave LA, Scott Storch would hit him asking “you left? I had this play for you.” On that note, Fresh moved to Los Angeles full-time and has since worked with everyone from Jessie Reyez to Brandy to Mary J Blige to Beyoncé, even winning a Grammy for his work on Queen Bey’s LEMONADE.
Flaunt met with Fresh in downtown Los Angeles, who was dressed in clean fit with a beanie, capris, and matching sneakers. Read below as we discuss his roots in Brooklyn, biggest influences, how he met Scott Storch, takeaways from working with Brandy, vibing with Ari Lennox, how he got in with Beyoncé, being a visionary above all else, and more!
How did you make it out of Brownsville, Brooklyn?
Having two grandparents that were disciplined, both hard workers. They love me and they love me hard. They put up with a lot of shit when I thought it was anger I was dealing with, but it was really pain and I didn’t know how to channel it. Obviously you do mental health work now and look back at yourself, you realize you were calling out for help. Using that energy to realize… look, the name of my company is King With A Dream. My last name’s King. Even though I came up in this area, I always saw myself as bigger than the block. That’s where the whole WorldwideFresh came from, I always felt one day I’ma travel the world. I’m gonna do something! World wide, At the time, I didn’t know what that was gon’ be.
Biggest influences coming up in New York?
Mike Jordan, Kobe, Mike Jackson, Mike Tyson, Prince, Stevie, Biggie, the fucking legends. The unfortunate part is all the people I came up with that I dreamt of working with, a lot of them aren’t here right now in terms of music. Us losing Kobe, his drive was something I can look at. I see a lot of myself in that knowing he didn’t accept ‘no’ or ‘it ain’t gon’ work out.’ Three words stick to me when I think of myself and I look at the great ones: ‘figure it out.’ In order to be great we need to see it sometimes instead of thinking we the shit all the time. Even coming to LA, I didn’t have one contact. Flew myself out, put my money up for myself and built a relationship that now my phone’s contact are crazy.
How did you get into producing?
Funny thing is, I was a really good ball player. My mom, even when she was in my life, she’d play music and we’d sing. I didn’t know I had a gift, I’m making up words. Fast forward years later, one of my homies is Foxy Brown’s first cousin. He respected me for playing ball, I was that guy in my hood. He said “yo, take a ride with me.” This was when Barclay’s Center wasn’t Barclay’s Center, it was an empty train route. She lived around the corner from me what we now know as the Barclays center and her family still has that house.
We knew her as Inga. Going over there, I’d pull up sometimes and see Nas and AZ sitting on her stoop. I’d go to sessions and see beats being made by track masters at the hit factory studios. I remember saying to myself ‘Yo, this music shit is for real!’ I thought it was TV. I didn’t think it was attainable. You gonna be rich from the hood? Nah, that shit’s cap. One day this kid named D said ‘you’re good with words and melodies, have you ever thought about making music?’ I said ‘real talk, I don’t know.’ He said you should try it. I remember taking some money, me and lil bro bought a Triton Keyboard, two monitors, our pop filter was a washcloth on a microphone. We started making beats and writing songs.
What were you doing before music?
Like any other normal 18, 19, 20-year-old, I was confused. Going to college and don’t want to be there, taking courses to pass time, moving in the streets. Looking back, was I lost or was I on a path I didn’t know I was on?
How did you meet Scott Storch?
My dawg Rick Steele is a brother to me, executive producer of French Montana and has done endless amounts of work. He’s working with a young lady he wanted me to work with. One day, they went to Scott’s house. They had a mutual friend. I couldn’t make that session, I had another session. He went over there and at the time, Scott had this name that we looked up to but then I was on the fence cuz I didn’t know if he still had it like ‘damn, I don’t know.’ This my dawg, I never told him this story. He’s always been a legend to me and on my list to work with, but I was confused. Was he in a good head space to work with?
This is what taught me about no judgement. As much as we go up in this shit, there’s ebbs and flow. We could be low too. Don’t ever think you’re above anyone cuz you’ll be humbled quick by life. Rick said ‘as long as he has that piano man, Scott’s a God.’ I said ‘you know Rick, you’re right.’ I remember I was supposed to do this session, it got canceled and my day opened up. I said ‘Rick, hit Scott.’ Pulled up on Scott, we knocked out a song. Real shit, this is all facts. He got a call that day he’s going in with a young homie from Atlanta named TK Kravitz. He said ‘yo, I want you to stay.’ The first day we met, he said ‘I want you to go in on this artist with me.’ I said ‘you sure dawg? It’s your play.’ He said ‘nah, you’re dope.’ We ended up creating two songs with TK that day.
Did they ever come out?
He’s still holding one. It never came out, but it’s the moral of you never know how seeds are being planted. Three years later, here we are. Scott’s nominated for a Grammy with the Chloe x Halle record and I’m in the same category against him. It’s a beautiful thing to know he’s still my dawg. Fuck what his history was, he’s good to me. We make great music together. We want to figure out how we get a Grammy together because it ain’t hit yet, sometimes it be like that.
How did you get the name Fresh?
C’mon, you see the vibes. [laughs] I always loved fashion. When you’re dealing with a lot of anger and anxiety issues, I used to speak through sports which is basketball, and my clothes. Fashion is art to me, it’s a way to be creative and express myself. The homies from the hood said ‘you’re fresh on the court, fresh off the court, we fuck with you.’ It stuck from young. I’m Fresh, period.
Talk about your company, King With A Dream.
My last name is King. When I built King with a Dream, it was more about being a young kid with big dreams and not knowing where it could be headed. Understanding that you could dream, go to bed at night, wake up and chase that shit. I’m the epitome of a mothafucka that didn’t accept no’s. Being a King With A Dream, I brought it to life.
How’d you link with Jessie Reyez?
I linked with Jessie 5 or 6 years ago. I got a call from my homie who’s a producer, his name’s Rio. He called me, I was in New York at the time. He said ‘I met this young lady that I feel passionate about.’ Rio’s dope. He said ‘I want you to come out and let me know what you think, fuck with me on it.’ I remember flying to LA, they set it up. We walk in the room, here comes this young lady: cut up shorts, boots, baseball cap, guitar on her back, and a bottle of Jameson. We literally wrote song after song after song. She blossomed, she came out with ‘Figures.’ We went to Sweden together to an invite-only writers camp. Years later, they reached back and said they want to do ‘Intruders’ and ‘I Do.’ Those are the songs I wrote with her. Instagram or a phone wasn’t a thing for her. Jessie used to contact us through email, she’s from Toronto so she didn’t have an actual phone she could use to call. To see where she’s at now is amazing, her voice and talent… she’s annointed.
How was it working with such a legend like Brandy?
If you really love music and you’re about this shit, if she’s not on the soundtrack of your life you should throw your life away. It’s one of those moments where you dream some shit and you’re not sure if it’s gon’ come true, then you walk in the room with the people you dreamt about working with. Me and my dawg Kaydence did it together with DJ Camper. I wrote 95% of that album with Brandy & Kaydence. It’s wild to think I practically co-wrote the whole album.
Did you learn anything from working with her?
Be ready for what you pray for every day. In those moments, in those big types of sessions, I was arriving. Coming into me, confident. Being able to connect and vibe with the artist. Understand and set your ego aside, the artist is the vehicle. Compliment them, but stand strong on strong opinions. Don’t be so strong that you fuck the energy of the whole room up. It’s a trust thing. If I’m doing that much of the album, there had to be some trust.
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How was working with Ari Lennox?
Ari’s fire. Off top, she’s such a real queen. She gives me that Erykah Badu/ tweet energy. Voice is insane, it was a vibe. Ari’s so underrated but she overdelivers. Being able to fly to her city D.C. work with her for a couple days… I’m sure I got the next single. Creating with her is beautiful, we’re in the midst of maybe finishing the project together.
How did you guys tap in?
We tapped in with my dawg J. White. She wanted to work with him, he said “yo, I really wanna bring my dawgs Fresh & blush out.” She had never really co-written a song, that’s her first real co-write on a session with people.
How’d it feel winning a Grammy on Beyoncé’s LEMONADE?
I co-wrote ‘All Night.’ It’s funny how she works. Bey’s a queen, she’s doing 6-7 rooms at the same time. Ivy Park, all the things she’s doing. A lot of that came through a wonderful powerful woman I respect so much named Teresa LaBarbera Whites, who up until recently had managed her and A&R’ed all her albums since she was 15 or 16. I met Teresa, we built a relationship. She flew me out to a bed and breakfast, we started working, built trust . She’s the one who put the whole play together, allowed me to showcase my gifts and be a part of what Billboard named the most timeless female albums of the decade. I was blessed to be a part of that. We got snubbed because that whole urban word makes me sick with music, just say black. We won best Urban Contemporary Album and won a Grammy, one of those moments where you’re like oh shit, this ain’t a dream. This is for real.
Who’s top of your list to work with now ? Cardi B?
I’m in the kitchen cheffing, trying to land one or two on that project. There’s only a few artists I still want to work with and she’s at the top of my list. What she stands for, she still has the pulse on the streets. I love where female rap is going and I fuck with Cardi. It’s not a New York thing, I fuck with her. To be able to connect and collaborate on something with her would be one of those moments in my career.
Do you consider yourself more of a producer or songwriter?
A little bit of both, I’m a visionary. Beyond writing or producing, I see the A-Z in the room. I’m one of them people who comes in the room and understand the most important part of it all, like an orchestra. Every instrument coincides but to create the symphony, you need a visionary. The vision is a lot of the time how I see things in music. Even the engineer: ‘ah, can we fix that? Can we change that?’ The producer: ‘oh you playing the key, can we change it there in the pre-hook? Oh the song, we can challenge the hook. Write stronger lyrics!’ Whatever it is, whatever it takes for us to win. If I gotta score 40, I’ma score 40. If it’s 20 rebounds then fuck it, I’ll go get 20 rebounds. The probability lately of me walking in the room is at an all-time high when it comes to delivering and walking out with a record that makes it to the world.