Interview: Gavin Godfrey
You can’t help but feel infinitely cooler than you deserve when you’re hanging out with the +Fresh.I.Am+ crew. Not that the trio of Tunde, Oni, and C. Will are cliquish or quiz you on all things hip before they let you into their 2,000- square foot studio. It’s actually quite the opposite. Oni offers up beers from the fridge while Tunde’s tinkering with the playlist blasting on the speakers, and C. Will’s mostly cracking jokes about the latter.
They’re all kind, thoughtful even and you’re so caught up in their hospitality you forget to realize they’re the best-dressed folks in the room without even trying. Essentially, they’re fresh personified. Hailing from Nigeria, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, the minds behind +Fresh.i.Am+ let me into their world as seen through their arrival in, current influence on and future hopes for Atlanta.
So before +Fresh.i.Am+, you were all...
Tunde: ...I was born in Nigeria. Lived there till ’97, came here. I’ve lived in Georgia and all parts of Georgia so I’ve learned a lot about the state and I’ve built a relationship. You can say it’s been my “Coming to America” experience.
C. Will: He actually did work at a McDonald’s.
Tunde: I actually did not work at McDonald’s. Actually McDonald’s was Wal-Mart.
Oni: Originally, I’m from Puerto Rico, born there. Military brat. Ended up in North Fulton County and grew up there. Left to go to college, went to London for a year, got homesick, came back and just kind of like took the skills that I learned as far as production was concerned and kept those going, so at least that way I could have a trade since the economy was crashing all around. People are going to need their clothes mended or something so I kept that up.
C. Will: I’m originally from Jamaica, moved around a little bit. I grew up in Columbus, graduated from school, moved to the UK studied a while there. When I moved to Atlanta I didn’t really know where to go but I found this amazing place called the Royal. They were having a party called Sloppy Seconds, ran into Dossa Kim who I met at an art show a week earlier. Dossa was like, “Hey I need a favor, let me use your ID.” He was like, “It’s for a friend,” for my friend and he brings up Tunde and Tunde used my ID from that point on for about six to seven months before it got taken from him at Graveyard.
So how did the name come about?
Tunde: The name...
C. Will: Can I do this one?
Tunde: Nah, I’m going to say it because it’s going to come out some time. The name came from college.
Where did you go to college?
Tunde: Georgia Southern. I was in the boonies. It was awesome though because it gave me... being out there was kind of like...it helped just think. It wasn’t like I was meeting new people everyday but I couldn’t stop thinking about these things so it was like always in there. At that time I was really struggling, I couldn’t do much and really just out of nowhere [came up with term] +Fresh.i.Am+. I am fresh. And it I was kind of like a constant reminder for me to be like that’s not the goal for me to always be. Each one us are individuals. That was its infancy. After school it was like whatever. I had the website with my portfolio. We were thinking of all these cool names like Vintage Drugs. It was dope for what it was. The name was +Fresh.i.Am+ and it felt very slangy too, but we didn’t see as that. We saw it as...
C. Will: ...a rendition of fresh.
Tunde: Yea. The whole writing of it came from turning it into a math equation the “+” at the beginning of it +Fresh.i.Am+ adding to what’s been done.
C. Will: “I” is the individual.
As artists how has Atlanta influenced you artistically?
C. Will: Our whole reasoning behind this was that we’ve got to show people Atlanta’s actually cool. You get caught up in the whole guise of Black Hollywood, like that’s all you see for Atlanta, and at the same time we have this like huge underground culture of thriving artists, really good parties, DJ’s and kids that skate, like do all sorts of cool shit that you never hear about from Atlanta because all we focus on...
Tunde: ...Trap shit. New level trap shit.
C. Will: Hood trap shit. Everything’s looked at as this whole hood Hollywood situation. We wanted to create +Fresh.i.Am+ to show people our Atlanta, what WE were doing. We started out throwing the parties, showing the art and became more incorporated into what the city was doing then it turned into well we’re the ones putting this stuff on now, so let’s show them what we’re doing. It moved into physical objects and that’s just when it got really kind of weird because we went from the whole digital to the physical and Oni was super big in us being able to do that. Me and Tunde can put something on a computer screen or a piece of paper all day, but Oni was the one to say if you want incorporate this then you need to do this and this and this and then it just got like really kind of complicated. (laughs)
Tunde: It did get complicated!
C. Will: Well because it became one of these things where like yea I want to give this to my friends, but it was like well we have to pay to make this so now we need figure out....
Oni: ...how we’re going to make money.
C. Will: But being in Atlanta, it inspired our aesthetic a lot because we don’t do stuff the same as people in New York, we don’t do stuff the same as people in L.A.... And what we had been seeing in Atlanta for a long time was like a real consumer market as opposed to creating stuff. We weren’t producing our own shit. So we were like let’s produce the Atlanta look, let’s make our own style. And that’s kind of where it went with. We already hung out with a bunch of cool kids and you’d see us all show up some- where and you’d be like are they a street gang or something. There always this low-lying semblance between us all, so we wanted to put that out to the masses in a sense and that’s really what we’ve been doing with the past few collections where it’s like I would wear this even if it wasn’t ours.
Oni: I guess my perspective came from traveling as a military family. I never really had a connection with the city until recently just because I’m kind of used to moving and what not and just that mentality of...
C. Will: ... “It will be over soon!” (laughs).
Oni: Not that it will be over soon, but I never felt the need to fit in because I kind of was just like, “Oh, we’re going to leave anyway.” I had that idea growing up and my parents were really big on individuality and creativity and let us think freely. I did go to the art schools. I went to North Springs Art Magnet High School. I always had this disconnect that was in my own mind and when the internet happened, because I’m that old, it was like hey I don’t really need to connect with these people anyway. Let me dive in here. I was coming of age at the same time Atlanta was still 24/7. I don’t know if anybody remembers that Atlanta was 24/7. I kind of have had this idea of what [Atlanta] has been, what it can be and I’m always striving for that and I’ve never been really satisfied with what there has been. Raves we were happening for people who liked going and dressing up. I was like making costumes and shit. I was into costuming and that was kind of taken away and it was like what do we have? Then Sloppy Seconds started happening and they kind of had the fashion thing incorporated into it and then just kind of like grew from there. In the beginning it was literally Tunde and I cutting and pasting, sewing, boxing, packaging and I had a day job.
C. Will: Everybody had a day job. Wait, did Tunde have a day job?
So how did everyone support themselves in the process of building this?
Tunde: I was homeless for most of the time.
C. Will: I was just throwing parties at the time.
Tunde: This guy had the oasis in the middle of the hood.
C. Will: Yea, I basically was running a halfway house for hipsters.
Tunde: I slept on his couch too!
C. Will: There was like a setup design studio in my living room. It was just like a fold out table with like 10 Mac Books around it and a projector on.
Oni: I worked at Spelman bookstore.
Technically, none of you are actually from Atlanta, so why make this the base?
C. Will Its super important for us to be in Atlanta. From the jump that’s been one of the main things because we watched a lot of our friends who were doing cool shit in Atlanta leave. It was like if we leave it’s just going to be this barren wasteland. I don’t want to say that nobody else would have stepped up to the plate but who was going to the events at MJQ? What was going to happen in East Atlanta? What was going to happen to the city if there wasn’t a group of kids doing shit? Even outside of +Fresh.i.Am+ as a culture, we decided that we needed to be in Atlanta. We have to stay here.
Oni: And we also have a different perspective.
We always had this world perspective. It seems like Atlanta has a very local perspective about if you make it in Atlanta you’re going to make in the world. Like that’s the opposite. Aside from everybody leaving it was like we’ll just go out and bring people in and bring the attention and help the homies. Once we get paid everybody’s going to get paid, but also to offer a different perspective.
Tunde: I think another part of it is about influencing culture. One of the things that we strive to do is influence culture. Honestly I don’t think that New York or L.A. is influencing culture the way Atlanta is. New York, L.A., Paris, Tokyo – they’ve created these independent structures that are pretty much you can go there and get lost and be there. The truth is you start seeing a formula for all of these places and it kind of gets stale and boring. Here I feel like we’re actually doing something new.
Oni: Atlanta offers you room to breathe. If you go to any other city, you’re going to be like working and starting from the bottom, just working to pay the rent, pay the bills. Here, you actually have the opportunity to hear yourself.
Tunde: Yes, I could probably create something awesome in New York, but it wouldn’t feel the same. Here it feels different, it feels coming of age in a certain way and I feel like the city is coming of age and we’re playing a real integral part in that.