With the bevy of new rappers sprouting up by the day, it's easy to get lost in the mix. Which is why when news hit yesterday that Chicago upstart Rockie Fresh inked a deal with Rick Ross's near-invincible Maybach Music Group, there was much chatter about the young MC, whose named still hadn't cracked certain circles. Whether the pundits were hip to him or not, Rockie's been buzzed about in label offices since his debut mixtape, Rockie's Modern Life, dropped in 2009, and he's been building a solid fanbase by blending the dense chords and atmosphere of alternative rock with quick-witted lyricism and an authentic Midwest twang. Having toured with artists as wide-ranging as Wale and Fall Out Boy, the 21-year-old MC is poised to make a major dent in the rap game, starting with his upcoming mixtape Electric Highway and a 20-city headlining tour.
Rolling Stone caught up with Rockie to discuss the details of the deal, his relationship with Rick Ross, his dualistic sound and the explosion of hip-hop coming out of the Chi.
The news of your deal hit like a whirlwind. What have the past 24 hours been like?
It's been a blur. When I signed it was real late, and a lot of people asked why I did it so late but me and Ross wanted to make it something real. We had hung out that night, and that was the time that we felt it was appropriate. I ended up not getting any sleep that night and flew back to Chicago that morning. When I got back to my crib, my dogs was trippin' so I didn't get any sleep. By that time my friends had already got the news, so I was catching up with all of them and seeing all of the people that helped me make it possible. Last night was a long night, too. I haven't even had the opportunity to sit down and take it all in. It definitely feels crazy.
At one point you were fielding interest from Bad Boy and Universal, and I'm sure other folks came knocking. Why Maybach?
It made sense to be on a whole 'nother level. I toured with Wale before even really meeting with Ross. I actually did a show with Ross in L.A. – I'm not sure if he even remembers that, but I opened for him before. I did some shows with Meek [Mill] before. They were always around, but I never made the connection to think that we'd be able to do business together down the line. When the opportunity arose it made me look back at the situation and decide this was the place I needed to be at.
What kind of deal is it? How many projects are we expecting?
I got a multi-album deal, you can be expecting a lot of stuff coming from me in the next few years. I've got a lot to talk about and a lot of life to experience. It's real powerful. I feel like I'm ensured to take over the game real soon.
We know Ross as the face of the label, and you mentioned you've performed with Wale and Meek. Is there anyone else in the camp that you've connected with?
Not yet. I'm a real low-key dude. When the situation arises, I'll be cool with anybody, but I haven't crossed paths with much of the crew besides Wale and Meek. The relationship I got with Ross is real dope, so I expect it to be the same across the board.
Can we expect some collaborations with those dudes on the upcoming Electric Highway?
Yeah, definitely. We're gonna work out some crazy stuff. I'm gonna be dropping a record probably within the next two weeks. I wanted to give it time to settle in first. There's lots of different reactions and stuff like that, so I wanted to give it time to calm down just so people could hear the record from me and take it in.
Let's talk about the music for a bit. You blend rock and hip-hop in really interesting ways, and you toured with Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump last year. Can you talk about that experience? What did you learn from him?
This is the cool part about every situation I'm in. People reach out because they really respect the music and the direction I'm going in. When I dropped the Otherside mixtape, Patrick reached out to me via Twitter and invited me to his crib in L.A. I always was a fan of Fall Out Boy, but just to see him working live and explaining to me certain things from an artist's perspective, that was crazy in itself. And then when I was on tour with him, I felt like it was an opportunity for me to really take rap to another level. He has a different sound, and when I was on that tour, a lot of people were not … they didn't dislike rap music, but it's not what they were used to listening to. It was a blessing to be on that type of tour. I learned a lot. He's a crazy performer, and well-rounded as an artist. He's going to be on my project, and definitely on my first album.
How did you get the musical context that you came to? Who are some of the artists you grew up listening to?
I grew up listening to Kanye, Jay-Z, Lupe, Lil Wayne, dudes who I really respected for being themselves. Even with Rick Ross, I was a huge fan of his flow patterns and the way he did hooks. I just realized, man, all the artists I really respect, they have something that makes them obviously different, whether it's the beats that they use or the flows that they use. When I started out, that was what I tried to focus on, having my own sound and my own style so that when people hear the record, they know it's a Rockie Fresh type thing.
MMG also has a very identifiable sound in hip-hop right now. How do you plan to merge those two, coming out of that crew but still having a unique identity?
I think that's the incredible thing about features. The fact that me and Meek are two different types of artists and we can collaborate on a record, it just causes us to be ourselves and do what's best for the song to make it something interesting for the people. When I'm doing my own personal records, they really stand true to my sound. These collaborations will take my sound and blend it with someone else's to create something we can all appreciate.
Who are some of the producers that you're reaching out to now? Who are you excited to get in the studio with?
I think MMG's in-house team can make great radio records, and that's something I definitely want to add to my arsenal. I'm looking forward to working with Harry Fraud – he's a dope young dude coming up right now, and me and him have been talking back and forth. He actually just send me some beats last night. And definitely people I've been working with. I definitely want to work with Pharrell and Kanye, but I'm tryin' to keep it young.
The sounds that are coming out of Chicago are so diverse, and a lot of these styles developed in isolated pockets throughout the city. Where do you think your sound fits into the Chicago hip-hop soundscape?
I've definitely been around the hood my whole life, so that gave me an appreciation for urban music. But then I had the opportunity to live in the suburbs and go to a really diverse high school, and it made me appreciate rock and alternative music. When I add that to my music, it's not too many other Chicago artists that take that approach. Instrumentally and emotionally, it causes me to go to a different place with it. I'm that more mellow, chill vibe in the Chicago scene.
This has been a crazy summer for Chicago, between Kanye and G.O.O.D Music and the ground-level stuff that's happening with Chief Keef and King Louie. What are your thoughts on what's going on in Chicago hip-hop right now?
It's amazing. I haven't met Chief Keef yet, but I got a huge respect for what he does. Louie, L.E.P, even the guys at G.O.O.D, these are guys I have respect for and they have respect for me. With all of us on the come up, doing something we all dreamed of doing, it's an amazing time.