We’re in an age where we are all obsessed with appearing busy. Our social media accounts are littered with snapshots that attempt to portray busy-ness, because that’s what equals success, right? Rarely do our online identities reflect reality, but Fredo is the exception. He is most certainly as busy as he appears in his online persona. He’s a difficult man to pin down, and our proposed interview is spread over three separate meetings. The first is at his Rolling Stone UK photoshoot, where Fredo seems at ease sporting a range of different designer outfits, culminating in a tracksuit he designed himself.
Fashion has always set West London rappers apart from their contemporaries. As any proud citizen from this part of the capital will tell you, Global Sports – the iconic streetwear shop located in Shepherd’s Bush Market – was the driving force behind a lot of 90s and early 00s trends. Fredo is no different, attributing his love of style to the aspirational stock he would see on the shop floor. Today, fashion has become a business venture as well as a form of self-expression for him. With prudent investments in high-end clothing and trainer store Kick Game, and a clothing line of his own called PG (short for parental guidance), it’s little wonder that Fredo’s life embodies the title of his fourth studio album so well.
Unfinished Business is his first release on his own imprint (PG Records), although he insists nothing has changed. “I was independent even when I was signed. All them other albums you heard, bro, I think maybe the label got me one beat; my label has never got me a feature or nothing. I’ve always been real self-sufficient,” he says of his rich discography. The logistical processes may be the same, but Fredo is certainly covering new ground on the album, and after six years in the spotlight, it’s refreshing to hear a rapper talk about some of the pitfalls that come with success, rather than deliver empty braggadocio.
Time is now in short supply, and by his own admission Fredo often struggles to balance the music with the businesses and the responsibilities that come with fatherhood. The latter is what motivated him to start broadening his horizons. “Becoming a father put a lot more pressure on me,” he says. “I had my daughter in 2020. That’s the same time I invested in Kick Game, it’s the same time I started designing PG Clothing. So, it was a mad little time, I had to build more – I still gotta build more,” Fredo says, clearly in awe of the joy his daughter has brought to his world. In his Rolling Stone UK YouTube video interview, he beams widely as he recounts how her arrival changed his life. And his focus ever since has been on making her life the best it can be.
The ambition is palpable, and even at his most still, during our second (virtual) meeting while he’s in transit, Fredo’s mind constantly wanders. Like a shark, it’s as if pausing for a second would be the death of him; he’s constantly thinking about the next milestone, never resting on his laurels. In a relatively short time, Fredo has already reached many, most notably a number-one single and a number-two album, but diversification is something that Fredo has alluded to throughout his career, frequently referencing quitting rap in his lyrics (there’s even a track on the new album entitled ‘Quit Rapping’). He’s always seemed acutely aware of the ephemeral nature of success in a fickle industry like music. “I feel like there are different reasons why I feel to quit rapping, because I know it’s not gonna last forever anyway,” he says. “I can’t put all my eggs in that basket, and sometimes just the stuff that comes with it can get tiring.”
This fatigue would manifest itself as a two-year gap between releases. The first-hand experience of the constantly revolving cycle of life with the birth of his daughter, and the death of two close friends in 2020, was enough to give even Fredo pause. “I just needed a break, I just needed to live, bro, and two of my friends had passed away, so yeah I just needed a break and just to go and enjoy life for a bit,” he says, reflecting on a year of emotional upheaval.
Keeping the memory of his friends alive is something that is an enduring part of the music, as are the threats of retaliation for past transgressions. But Fredo really is at his lyrical best when he’s exploring the existential crises that inevitably arise when you’re faced with the impermanence of life. It’s something that has weighed heavy on him ever since his friends passed away. Fredo describes how these events have challenged his world view in unexpected ways. “They make me question religion,” he explains. “They make me wonder about heaven and hell and stuff like that. Why does God do the things he does? And where my friends are and shit like that.”
These tales of loss and vengeance form the bedrock of Unfinished Business. ‘To The Max’ is a track that best captures Fredo’s meditative thoughts on this with lines like “’Cos nothing now ain’t ever last / Except all the chasing, the running and the heavy hearts”. So, despite all the success that Fredo has had, it’s clear he still longs for the simpler times of yesteryear: “I miss schooldays, when we were all just together, before life started affecting us.” So, although Unfinished Business may be devoid of any artistic risks, it’s certainly something that will sate the appetite of Fredo fans.
Our first meeting was fleeting, and our second was at the mercy of patchy phone coverage while Fredo was on the motorway from London to Manchester. Our final rendezvous lands us in London’s Harrow Road – an area that is integral to Fredo’s origin story. His music highlights a different side to the City of Westminster, one that can be rife with gun crime and violence, but also a place with a really strong sense of community, something all of us who grew up in council housing can attest to.
Harrow Road is a neighbourhood that Fred has consistently paid homage to in his music, and in turn the community treats Fredo with the same reverence. The streets are lined with luxury cars when we meet on a Saturday afternoon, while the usual hustle and bustle of everyday life on Harrow Road is today soundtracked by various cuts of Unfinished Business blaring out from speakers. Throngs of loyal followers are outside clamouring for the opportunity to take a picture with their local hero. Inside the chicken shop playing host to Fredo, there is a strange calmness, as fans dutifully queue to give Fredo their patronage in exchange for signed CDs, free food and the much-sought-after PG merchandise. Fredo is perched in the corner, clearly comfortable and enjoying the convivial atmosphere where he is surrounded by fans and family alike.
There’s a darker side to success, which Fredo points to on various tracks throughout the album, most notably on ‘Candlelit Dinners’, where he examines how some markers of success have proved hollow and ultimately unfulfilling. The most difficult thing about adjusting to being so visibly successful around people not accustomed to it is that “a lot of people don’t understand my life. They think that I’m richer than I am, and now I have so many different responsibilities, it’s hard,” says Fredo.
He seems a million miles away from these musings as he grabs the mic and heads outside for an impromptu performance of some of his biggest hits in the middle of Harrow Road, blocking off the entire street in the process. Fans encircle the West London star, as he calmly walks into the middle of the road serenading fans and passers-by alike with street classics like ‘Change’, and his breakout hit ‘They Ain’t 100’.
Anthems like these, and his penchant for unfiltered storytelling are precisely what has put Fredo in this position. He has carved out a name for himself as one of the scene’s premier storytellers, who has released a string of successful tracks without any choruses. Apart from a brief deviation with a now-deleted track, ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’, his output has very much stuck to the script. Surprisingly, unlike many of his peers, he’s not concerned with being considered the greatest; his sole focus is catering for the people that are already tuned in. “I didn’t grow up spitting; this is all a blessing and a surprise to me,” he says. “So, I’m just grateful for however it comes, so having goals about being the greatest and all of that, I don’t care about that, because I’m just grateful that some people even like me.”
For someone who has frequently borne the brunt of the evanescence of life, it’s curious to learn that Fredo doesn’t have more of an interest in legacy either, in creating something that could potentially circumvent the finite constraints of mortality. Instead, he’s directed his energy at monetary gain, as this can make a tangible difference to his life and that of those around him who he is now responsible for due to his newfound success. “Legacy is not that important to me; money is important to me. I won’t be upset if I don’t leave a legacy behind, but I will be upset if I don’t have money at the end of this,” he says.
The recent success of Dave and Central Cee’s joint EP Split Decision has reignited conversations about some of the other most sought-after collaboration projects from UK rappers. Rumours of a Fredo and Nines joint mixtape first emerged a number of years ago, but nothing concrete has since materialised. At our last meeting, Fredo not only confirmed the existence of the fabled joint project, but he also revealed that recording is already well under way, and that the music will be released soon. “Yeah, this year for sure,” he spills. “We started recording it already.” It’s an exciting revelation, considering Fredo rarely releases newly recorded music – even Unfinished Business was mostly recorded at the end of last year. “It’s rare that you’ll hear a song from me that I’ve done recently. Proper rare, even this album, I wrote most of this at the end of last year,” he tells me.
A calculated approach to releasing music further cements Fredo’s laser-focused business acumen and proves that Unfinished Business is more than just an album title, it’s a mantra that he lives his life by. “That’s just really how I felt. I feel like I’ve got unfinished business, you know. I dropped my last album, but it was sort of during the Corona times; I never got to tour. I still got a lot of work to do. I got a lot of unfinished business, whether that’s in music, clothing, and just in my life in general.”
Words: Seth Pereira
Photography: Amzy OBR (Amran Abdi)
Creative Direction: Joseph Kocharian
Lighting and photography assistant: Kiera Simpson
On-set stylist: Kiera Liberati