Fresh Daily Profile
Michael Richardson, a.k.a. Fresh Daily, stepped confidently into the vocal booth. The gray and turquoise Nike RT1 Highs came off. The socks came off. The dark indigo Levi’s 511 skinny jeans came off. The vintage Brooklyn Cyclones Starter cap came off. The T-shirt with a graphic of A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders cover art came off. The Hanes Tank came off. Finally, the Hanes boxer briefs came off. “Let’s get cracking,” he says. It’s time to record as usual.
“I like to bare my soul to the beat, no pun intended…well maybe a little bit,” said Richardson. “Seriously though, I can’t fully express myself with labels on me that have their own messages and agendas. The way I dress speaks loudly, and I don’t want that interfering with my music.”
In Richardson’s world, music is ever-present both literally and figuratively. Whether it is pumping through his headphones (which are almost a permanent appendage attached to his ears), scribbled in the form of lyrics in his pocket-sized Moleskin notepad, worn proudly on t-shirts and hats alluding to his favorite emcees and bands, or interjected awkwardly into conversation after some non-sequitur connection to lyrics he has made in his head.
Speaking of the music of Miles Davis, he says, “I like his stuff because it’s so moody and vibrant,” Then he broke out melodically in a chorus of Q-Tip’s “Vibrant Thing.” “It’s such a vibrant thing/vibrant thing, a vibrant thing. Q-Tip said hip hop reminded his pops of bebop. I see that clearer than ever now.”
Hailing from Fort Greene, Brooklyn well before the Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets, Target, Best Buy, and Pathmark, and others from corporate America popped up, Richardson, now age 30, and his mother struggled with poverty in a single room of a brownstone apartment. The community was ravaged by the influx of crack cocaine and the crime that accompanies addiction. Richardson credits his mother, who worked as a saleswoman in the men’s fragrance department at Macy’s for 18 years, with instilling the values that prevented him from being swallowed alive by the beasts of the concrete jungle. He credits hip hop music for providing the escape he needed when reality seemed too much to handle.
“I owe my mom pretty much everything,” said the 30-year-old emcee. “My pops is the stupidest motherfucker alive for leaving her and leaving me, but I’ve made my peace with it. My mom gave me damn near everything and what she couldn’t give me I got through music.”
Richardson’s father, who left the family when his son was a toddler, tried to contact him through the email address listed on freshdailymc.com in 2009. Richardson dismissed it immediately and never told his mother. “The timing was too convenient,” the Fort Greene native said nonchalantly. “He wasn’t about to come in and have a relationship with me when he contributed nothing to my success. I don’t know if he wanted a piece or not, but I don’t care.”
Hip hop was filled with artists who were telling similar stories. He could relate to Biggie Smalls, Tupac, and Nas resonated with Richardson coming from single-mom households aspiring for something greater than their current conditions. “I could throw [Smalls’ album] Ready to Die in my Walkman, put my headphones on and leave Brooklyn, hell, leave the whole planet,” said Richardson.
The need to listen to hip hop music turned quickly into the need to create it, as Richardson began writing what he calls “nursery rhymes” at the age of 11. In the eighth grade he began freestyling with his friends at lunch and continued to scrawl lyrics during class. During his junior year of high school, Herb Williams, Richardson’s band teacher, introduced him to an engineer he knew at Complete Music Studios. Richardson began to learn the craft of recording, mixing, and mastering audio, and recorded early demos. Williams recalls when he first saw Richardson rhyme.
“His talent was apparent from the very start,” said Williams. “I put him on the drums because it seemed like percussive rhythms spoke to him. I thought he was picking up the drums fairly quickly and playing decently, but I realized one day that he was mouthing lyrics while he played. I thought that was amazing…it’s hard enough to learn drums by themselves, but to be able to think of lyrics and recite them while playing is phenomenal.
After graduating from high school in 2002, Richardson began work on his first full-length mixtape under the moniker Ill Tarzan and continued to build upon the foundation of the musical network he has today at Complete Music. At 21, he became fast friends with intern, Benamin Rodriguez, who is now a freelance producer and engineer. Richardson has collaborated with Rodriguez on at least one track from each of the six projects he has released to date. Rodriguez recalls a passionate, brazen kid who had a lot to say on and off the beat.
“The first time we vibed at Complete, I remember playing him six or seven of my beats,” said Rodriguez, mimicking pressing the play button just as he had that day in the studio. “He had rhymes for every single beat and they were all good. Then the beats stopped and he went through his rhyme book a capella for about an hr. I knew he was special then.”
Richardson’s skill has only improved since the earlier days. He worked as an engineer at Complete mixing and mastering projects for other up-and-coming artists while continuing to hone his own sound. Now as he readies his latest mixtape, which is yet to be titled, other artists featured on the project are excited to work with him and know that they have to bring their best material to keep up with him.
Richardson held a meeting at his apartment in November to discuss the concept for the new mixtape and invited all of the producers and artists featured to attend. This is not a common practice in hip hop, but he has the advantage of being a local artist who knows how to tap into the resources in his community. The other artists featured on the project have around the same small following as Richardson, so they are not juggling complicated schedules to fit in meetings.
Richardson’s small apartment, which barely fits him and his girlfriend (more on her later), is filled with 10 people. They all brought their own chairs to sit in, along with their eccentric personalities. Surrounded by Richardson’s massive vinyl collection, DVDs, action figures, and boxes of sneakers, he is set to call the meeting to order.
Before the discussion begins, Melo-X, a fellow artist from nearby Flatbush had something to say. “Okay Fresh,” he started earnestly. “If you just spazzed out on every track let us know now so we can just go home. I’m not trying to follow up behind any verses you killed, it’s impossible to come off as dope as you do.”
Many of the other artists agree, offering “yeahs” and head nods for a bit, and then the room quiets as they await Richardson’s answer. Obviously in his element, he is king, well respected and highly regarded. “I left some of the beats intact so y’all can do your thing,” Richardson joked. Everyone laughed and Richardson quieted them to being the meeting for the mixtape he calls his best yet, “a monster among boys.”
Yet, with clear talent, drive, and ambition, Richardson’s music career does not support him well financially. He has resorted to GoFundMe campaigns to raise money for everything from new equipment to airplane tickets to do shows overseas. He also does graphic design for other hip hop artists, but charges them meagerly as he feels it is his duty help out others in situations similar to his.
“I just don’t know why it hasn’t panned out. I thought everything was butter, you know,” said Richardson frustrated. “My rhymes are nice, my beats are dope, I haven’t had anyone respond to my music negatively, I just don’t understand.”
It is clear that he is doing what he loves for a living, but it doesn’t seem to love him back, and that living may include a wife and child soon. Jenna Dorcé, Richardson’s girlfriend of six years, is ready to take their relationship to the next level. At 32, she is ready for more stability and possibly a family.
As Richardson’s musical prowess grew, Dorcé was with him every step of the way. When his projects were released to critical acclaim from hip hop blogs and respected publications, and when his projects simply did not pick up any momentum in the press at all, Dorcé was there, his first choice in celebration and dejection.
Dorcé, a graduate of St. Johns University in 2005 in Queens, New York, met Richardson during her senior year after he performed at a club that was a popular hangout for students. Richardson approached her after his show and asked her out on a date. She remembered being impressed by his performance, particularly the honesty in his lyrics, but was more curious about the person she saw through the music. “I think Michael is a special soul, and that’s what makes him a special artist,” Dorcé said in the couple’s small Bedford Stuyvesant brownstone apartment. “I think he could have been great at anything, and still can be great at anything because he is a great person. He chose music, but I personally think he could be great at anything. He captivated me as a person before an artist.”
Dorcé has been Richardson’s most staunch supporter for the six years they have been together exclusively, but with no sign of gaining any traction for a contract from major labels or even smaller independent labels, she is concerned that there may not be a viable future to start a family. Dorcé is a social worker at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and while she loves her job, it is not the most lucrative position at $40,000 a year. Coupled with Richardson’s varied salary that hit its peak in 2010 at $20,000 in music and $5,000 in graphic design, this leaves Dorcé wary of not being able to support a child the way she would like to.
“I just wanted so much more for my children than I had,” said Dorcé, the youngest of three siblings. “I grew up in the Queensbridge projects in a tiny one bedroom apartment with four other people. Granted we wouldn’t be in the projects, but a tiny brownstone apartment is no place to raise a child.”
Neither Richardson nor Dorcé will consider leaving New York for a city with a lower cost of living, so Dorcé gently and intermittently proposes that Richardson go back to school for graphic design and try to land a job at a design firm or try to land a gig as a soundboard engineer in a music studio. Both of these jobs will not pay very well either, but they are stable and provide benefits that do not come with being an underground rapper.
“I know I can’t just give him an ultimatum,” says Dorcé, her fingers interlocked while her thumbs twirled around each other. “Honestly, I’m afraid of what would happen if I did, and I don’t want to see him give up his dream any more than he does. But how long do I have to wait to live out my dreams? Which are more simple and easier to achieve and maybe just as fulfilling.”
Richardson is also afraid of having to make a choice between the love of his girlfriend and his love for hip hop music. He credits Dorcé’s support, both morally and financially, with much of the success and acclaim he has had. However, he is reluctant to get a day job and do music when he can find the time. He would also like to have a child and be the father that he never had, but in his mind that signifies the end of his music career.
“I wish there was a way I could have it all,” said Richardson. “I don’t want to give anything or anyone up. I can’t give up my dreams or my dream girl. Sometimes I wish I could rewind the clock 10 years and start from there. I feel horrible that I can’t provide the type of life that she wants. I’ll figure something out though. I have to. I wish I could see what my life is like a year from now.
Therefore, after deep contemplation, without any conversations with those close to him, Richardson made the decision to retire after his next mixtape is released. He announced his retirement on his good friend and radio DJ, Ski Beatz’s XM radio show “Underground Sound” on December, 13, 2014. The two-hour show featured a 40-minute segment where Richardson was allowed to pick his favorite 10 tracks to play, and field questions and comments from fans. Call after call lauded Richardson for his music, and fans mostly expressed their appreciation of his strict adherence to the principles of golden-age rap: dexterous lyrics, social commentary within those lyrics, beats using precisely cut samples, and the swagger to do it all with style.
Richardson was humbled. “I put out music for so long not knowing if it actually reached anybody,” said Richardson earnestly. “It’s a shame that it took me leaving the game to find out, but I’m so glad to know that my work didn’t fall on deaf ears. Thank you all so much for listening and rocking with me for so many years.”
It is unclear what Richardson will decide to do with his time from here on out, or even what he will do for the next step of his life, but hip hop will undoubtedly be present. In the way he walks, the way he talks, and how he dresses – especially with no reason for his clothes to come off.