Christopher Wong Won, a.k.a. Fresh Kid Ice, the pioneering Asian rapper and co-founder of the influential Miami hip-hop group 2 Live Crew, died Tuesday at the age of 53. 2 Live Crew’s longtime manager Debo confirmed Wong Won’s death to Rolling Stone. According to Debo, the cause of death was a “medical condition,” but the rep declined to elaborate.
Fellow 2 Live Crew member Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell wrote on Twitter, “My condolence goes out to the family Chris Wong Won Fresh Kid Ice of the 2 Live Crew who just passed away people we lost a legend.”
“I just got the word that my long time friend and rap legend Fresh Kid Ice the Chinaman has passed away,” said member Brother Marquis (via Vibe). “I would like to say that I love him and extend my condolences to his family. He truly loved all of his fans. I’ll always remember and cherish all of the good times we had together and all of the history we made. I would like to express my true love for him.”
2 Live Crew rose to prominence in the late Eighties with a rumbling Miami bass sound packed with samples and hyper-sexualized lyrics that helped them sell millions of records and earn the ire of politicians and family advocacy groups. Their 1989 album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, was so controversial, a Florida judge ruled it obscene, leading to both the arrest of a record store owner who refused to stop selling the album and Campbell and Won after a live show. Eventually, the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the obscenity ruling and the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.
In 1994, however, 2 Live Crew did make it to the Supreme Court, though not on obscenity charges. On the clean version of As Nasty As They Wanna Be, the group added a track, “Pretty Woman,” with an unapproved sample of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman.” That track’s publisher, Acuff-Rose, sued 2 Live Crew, but the Supreme Court deemed “Pretty Woman” parody, which qualified it for fair use.
Wong Won co-founded 2 Live Crew with DJ Mr. Mixx (David Hobbs) and Amazing Vee (Yuri Vielot) while still living in California. However, their 1984 debut single “The Revelation” became a surprise hit in Florida and the group relocated with the help of Campbell (but without Vielot). In Florida, Fresh Kid Ice served as the group’s de facto leader on singles like “Throw the Dick” and “What I Like.” 2 Live Crew would add rapper Brother Marquis to their lineup and in 1986, Campbell’s Luke Records released the outfit’s debut LP, The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are.
Campbell would eventually join 2 Live Crew as an official member and the group’s success and infamy grew with their next record, 1987’s Move Somethin‘. Even before the controversy over As Nasty As they Wanna Be, authorities were cracking down on record store clerks for selling 2 Live Crew albums, although the charges never stuck. After the platinum-selling As Nasty As They Wanna Be, Campbell took full control of 2 Live Crew and released their next LP, Banned In the U.S.A., essentially as a solo record (it also became the first record to bear the black-and-white parental advisory sticker).
While Wong Won continued to record with 2 Live Crew, he released his debut solo album, The Chinaman, in 1992. Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Wong Won’s family was of Trinidadian and Chinese descent, and Fresh Kid Ice is often credited with being the first prominent Asian rapper.
“When we first started, a lot of people didn’t know I was Asian,” Fresh Kid Ice told Vice in 2016. “But when the videos came out, it basically crossed the group over. Other people could be like, ‘Damn, that could be me. I didn’t know an Asian dude was rapping like that!'”
2 Live Crew underwent various lineup changes during the Nineties and in 1994, the group even re-billed themselves as “the new 2 Live Crew” for their LP, Back at Your Ass for the Nine-4. Despite the shifts, Fresh Kid Ice remained with the outfit until they officially split after 1998’s The Real One. He continued to perform as a solo artist and launched his own label, Chinaman Records. In 2004, he released Freaky Chinese, which notably featured several appearances from a pre-fame Flo Rida.
Fresh Kid Ice suffered his first stroke in 2008 and then another in 2010. Though the incidents impaired his ability to speak and move, he retaught himself how to talk and walk and eventually reunited with Uncle Luke and Brother Marquis in 2012. Last year, he published his memoir, My Rise 2 Fame, while in January, the rapper released a Chinaman Records compilation, Breaking Glass Ceilings.