By Luke Fox
Something decidedly un-screwface has happened in Toronto.
Six individual solo artists have put egos aside and let ideas take centre stage for the better of the whole, establishing a super collective of sword-sharp wordsmiths. The Freedom Writers’ beats are thick, their concepts are varied and their standards are high.
Now is more than solid, intricate rap record; it’s a statement about community and talent and ideas. “When we formed this, we could’ve picked anybody from the whole city. I don’t think anybody would’ve said no,” says producer Big Sproxx, who provides a varied palette for five MCs (plus guests) to spill their thoughts and stories and punch lines.
Theo 3, Tona, Adam Bomb, Frankie Payne and Progress — all regarded solo rappers, each with their own strengths — sit in an empty room on the ground floor of a west side apartment building and discuss their collaboration, taking a break from rehearsing their new songs. They talk about process and late-night eating and, most importantly, truth. Which is what they’re searching for with open ears.
As Frankie says, “The truth can come from an activist or an asshole.”
With so many different voices and opinions, how did you make the LP sound so cohesive?
Progress: Because everyone gives their raw opinion, what makes it cohesive is the honesty. Politically speaking, people don’t think wildly different on this team. There are differences in opinion, but we’re close enough that if everyone’s just honest, it’ll sound cohesive. We didn’t have to put energy into making the album conceptually cohesive; it just happened.
Do you write solo or together?
Theo 3: At least four of five songs were written right on the spot.
Tona: We’re all in different sections of the city. It’s rare that when we had sessions, certain individuals didn’t show up. When we were all together, we made sure we used that time to create music.
Adam Bomb: If somebody has [a concept] going, it’s easy for the rest of the team to bounce off what’s already there. We don’t take a record and say, “OK, everybody go home and write about this.” Whoever’s on the spot, if you have something, cool. If you don’t have something, we’ll just stick with what we got.
Tona: And if somebody couldn’t make it that day? You weren’t on the record.
Big Sproxx: I’d say half the songs, it was just me and Tona. The first song we did, no one else was there. He had a hook already done for his solo thing, but then he thought it would better suit what we were doing. So he was the first to lay [down his vocals], then other guys would come in sporadically on different days and fill theirs in. So some songs did get built in a staggered way, but it still has the cohesiveness you’re talking about.
Frankie Payne: We all have a silent agreement to keep things as natural as possible. It all comes down to timing and circumstances. Even with “Soldier,” I had an idea for a hook, and then man after man came and jumped on it and started adding their ideas. There is no forced creativity; it’s all organic.
Adam Bomb: That’s the best thing about the team. There’s no script, there’s no demand; it’s just six ideas in a room, and we come up with whatever we come up with.
Theo: No one takes offence to their idea being shot down. Before you came, we were rehearsing for the show. If someone said, “Lets try this…,” [another might say] “No. Shut the fuck up. That’s horrible.” And that’s OK. He’ll fall back.
Frankie Payne: There is no filter.
Adam Bomb: There are a lot of records on there where it’s like, “Who’s going to do this song the most justice? Let’s let them do their thing.” To be able to add to a record is cool, but it’s also good to back off a record.