When I meet up with producer Fredwreck at his Northridge home on Cinco de Mayo, he looks like he’s been up since 4 a.m. recording: uncombed hair all over the place, scruffy facial hair, wrinkled T-shirt and sweat pants. He is working the cell phone, talking to B-Real of Cypress Hill, fiddling with a laptop in front of him, strumming Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” on his acoustic guitar and grubbing on some doughnuts, all at the same time. Fredwreck reminds me of a mad scientist, a producer who could conceivably break down the periodic table of elements just as easily as he computes a record’s breakbeat.
There are a few producers who are synonymous with West Coast rap: Dr. Dre, Battlecat and DJ Quik. They are black and from South L.A. Then there’s Fredwreck, the Palestinian-American producer.
Thirty-two-year-old Farid Nassar was born and raised in Flint, Michigan (the region with the largest Arab community in the U.S.), to Palestinian parents who came to the U.S. after the Six Day War of 1967. The Nassar family moved to San Jose, California, when Fred was 11, after his father, who worked for General Motors, hurt his back.
Back around 1983, Nassar began breakdancing and making breakdance tapes on borrowed DJ equipment. His mother bought him a keyboard, and he made mixtapes with keyboards over them. While in high school he worked on a reel-to-reel “mega-mix” for five straight days and sent it to the Bay Area’s hip-hop radio station 106.1 KMEL. The station liked it so much it hired him, and he joined super-DJs like Japanese Theo Mizuhara. “Our mixes were mega-mixes. No turntables, just reel-to-reel. Those mixes blew away anything that they play now,” Nassar says. While mixing he would ask how sounds were made and where samples came from.
“I became a sponge for music, anything that made a sound, I wanted to know what it was,” he says. With the encouragement of his good friend KDAY DJ Julio G., who was about to co-host Ruthless Radio with Eazy-E on L.A.’s new hip-hop station 92.3 The Beat, Fred came down to L.A. and worked on The Wake-up Show along with one of its founders, Joe Quixx. “I’d make the beats, Biggie Smalls would come by and drop eight bars, and I’d make the drops for the show,” he says. After a DJ battle that Fred won, Quixx said, “Yo, Fred was catching Wreck!” The name Fredwreck stuck.
He began passing out beat CDs, and one of them got into the hands of O.G. rapper King T, who was working in the studio with Dr. Dre’s engineer Segal. He soon got a call at his house: “ ‘Hey, what’s up, Fred? This is Dr. Dre.’ I was like, ‘Dr. Dre, yeah, right, who the fuck is this?’ ‘Na, man, this is for real Dre. Your shit is tight. I was wondering if I could use a couple of beats.’ ” Fredwreck would later hook up with Dr. Dre on the multiplatinum Chronic 2001.
Fredwreck met rapper Soopafly through Xzibit, to whom Fredwreck was renting a room. Soopafly took one of Fredwreck’s beat CDs and invited him to the studio where they were using Fredwreck’s beats for Kurupt’s Tha Streetz Iz a Mutha. Snoop Dogg was there and, says Fredwreck, “was like, ‘Hey, cuz, this beat harder than a muthafuck, you got some more shit, I need to holla at you.’ ”
A few days later, Fredwreck was invited to Snoop’s house. As Fredwreck tells it, Snoop was getting his hair braided and told him, “ ‘That beat was hot, cuz. I just wanted to holler at you. I’m starting a label, DoggHouse records. I’m gonna need some producers. Fuck with me and I’ll make you a rich man.’ From then on, we’ve had a best-friend relationship.”
Since Fredwreck hung out with Julio G., everyone, including Snoop, assumed he was Mexican. In fact, as a Palestinian-American producer, he's a rarity. “I don’t think there is another Arab producer in the [American] music business. I don’t know of any other,” says Fredwreck. At tattoo artist Cartoon’s recent art auction and benefit event at Union Station, Fred outbid everyone by paying $2,000 for a painting by a local artist that read, “VIVA PALESTINA LIBRE! LONG LIVE FREE PALESTINE!”
Fredwreck has helped Snoop learn about the Palestinian cause. Says Fredwreck, “He calls me on tour: ‘Hey, cuz, what does this mean when muthafuckers going up to the Temple Mount, what is that shit all about, cuz, why they be tripping?’ or he’ll be like, ‘Why they building a wall around y’alls people’s shit. That’s fucked up, cuz.’ ”
When Snoop asked about suicide bombers, Fredwreck explained, “They don’t got weapons; if someone pushes you back to the wall, all you got to fight with is yourself. If muthafuckers came to Long Beach and took Long Beach, and kicked your mama from her house and said you can’t leave your house at 5, because there is a checkpoint, and when you go from Long Beach to Compton to visit your auntie, you gotta go through 25 checkpoints, you gonna get turned away, get your ass beat, or get shot and killed because you were considered a terrorist, you be fighting back too, dog.”
Fredwreck has been to Palestine twice, and he’s gotten the ill treatment he talks about. But he says, “Not all the Jewish people think like this, it’s the extremists. It’s the Israeli Zionist movement.” In fact, Fredwreck’s father was born in Jerusalem and speaks Hebrew.
“At the end of the day, that country is going to have to be what it was meant to be from God, a mixed country, Jewish people, Muslim people, Christian people, all living together. Or else it will never work,” he says.
Much of Fredwreck’s energy lately has been devoted to stopping the war in Iraq. On his Greatest Hits Episode 1 CD, droppin’ June 14, which includes killer cuts by Kurupt, the Eastsidaz, Westside Connection, Xzibit, Cypress Hill, KRS One, and Snoop Dogg, he has two exclusive S.T.O.P. (Stop the Oppressive Politics) productions that criticize the war in Iraq and the Bush administration. The first of the protest tracks, “Down With Us,” features Daz, Tray Dee, RBX, Bad Azz, Dilated Peoples and more. The second, “Dear Mr. President,” features Everlast, Mobb Deep, Alchemist, Defari, B-Real, KRS One, W.C and Mack 10, rapping Fredwreck’s flaming lyrics: “It didn’t have nothing to do with no Damu and Crippin’/them dudes lost their lives overseas pistol grippin’/sending youngsters to Iraq to leave blood drippin’/and you want to lock up my homies for set trippin’.”
Fred compares the war in Iraq with the Frida Kahlo painting titled Unos Cuantos Piquetitos, framed above his huge fish tank.
“Frida is lying on the bed, and Diego Rivera with scissors is taking a few nips at a time, she’s like dying slowly. That’s what this war is like. Our generation has to make a difference, to stop this madness!” he says.
Fredwreck is as passionate about records as he is about politics — his genre-spanning collection is up around 75,000! “In hip-hop, you have to know rock, jazz, funk, soul, R&B, classical, pop, all that music is in hip-hop,” he says.
He also likes to collect old keyboards and organs; he has about 75 of those, including a Gibson Kalamazoo organ used by Ray Manzarek of the Doors. On Westside Connection’s hit “Gangsta Nation,” that’s the Wreck playing his Kalamazoo throughout the song. Fred also has about 25 guitars and basses, and he plays every instrument he lays down on a beat.
“Music is something to relate to,” says Fredwreck, as he works on his soundboard, like a scientist in a lab, on his next project, the appropriately titled The Atoms.
The Doctor Is Always In
Fredwreck on his hero, Dr. Dre
“Dr. Dre would have to be my top inspiration because of all the shit he went through, all the times he fell and came back up again. Musically I grew up listening to his sound from day one — the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, to N.W.A, Death Row to now. Musically, how he has grown, stayed with the times, I hope that I will be able to do that, too. There’s a lot of producers between the time he started and now that are long gone, that were real successful at one time, and now what are they doing? But he’s someone I look up to, because he’s not afraid to experiment with different sounds; that’s what I like to do, not be afraid to do new things. There’s no limits, no boundaries to what you can learn from him, no limits and no boundaries to music, especially hip-hop. You have to know James Brown, you have to know who Billy Squier is, you have to know Parliament, you have to know Zapp, and you have to know Elvis. All that shit is in hip-hop.”