There’s something of the Renaissance man about Fred Brathwaite, AKA Fab 5 Freddy. A graffiti artist turned film-maker, producer and curator, Brathwaite spent much of the 80s speeding from downtown to uptown New York, connecting the punk scene with hip-hop DJs and graffiti crews like his Fabulous Five. He worked with everyone from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Nas, Blondie and the Clash. With his signature Kangol hat and oval shades, he became a torchbearer for hip-hop in the late 80s and early 90s, fronting MTV’s flagship rap show and conducting formative interviews with a fresh-faced Tupac and a typically spaced-out Tribe Called Quest.
Upgrading the Kangol for a fedora and the shades for thick-rimmed reading glasses, Brathwaite now has the calmly authoritative air of an elder statesman. So much so that he has moved into Alan Yentob territory, making a film for the BBC about the hidden representations of black figures in Italian Renaissance art, under the painfully alliterative title A Fresh Guide to Florence with Fab 5 Freddy. He even opens the show on horseback, trotting outside the Uffizi like a feudal lord. Where other hip-hop luminaries like Wu Tang Clan have their obsessions with shaolin kung fu, OutKast with aliens and MF Doom with comic-book villains, it seems Braithwaite’s cultural touchstones are rather more academic.
Read the feature in the Guardian.
[This piece was published on 22/07/19]