After nearly 40 years of rocking crowds and entertaining fans all over the globe, Doug E. Fresh is regarded as one of Hip-Hop’s greatest ambassadors. The proud Harlem native, who burst onto the rap scene alongside the Get Fresh Crew in the ’80s with hits like “The Show” and “La Di Da Di,” has spent a career touching souls through the art of live performance.
While he hadn’t released a full-length studio album in over a quarter-century, Doug E. Fresh returned to the long play format in September with This One’s For Chuck Brown: Doug E. Fresh Salutes The Godfather of Go-Go. Comprised of a mix of new and previously released Doug E. Fresh jams revamped in the mold of Go-Go, the project was born out of Fresh’s respect and admiration for the late musical legend and Washington D.C. icon.
“This album is very important,” Fresh tells VIBE of his decision to honor Chuck Brown with his new project, “because it celebrates Go-Go music. And while I was producing the album, Prince, before he passed, he was going to produce my new album.”
“[Prince] wanted me to do a live album,” Fresh continues, “so, this is kind of like a combination of honoring what he wanted me to do and at the same time celebrating Chuck Brown. And it’s a beautiful vibe. It’s taking people on a journey to make them have a good time and celebrate life. That’s what it’s all about, man.”
With Fresh’s relationship with Prince dating almost as far back as his relationship with Brown—he began touring with Prince in the late-90s after first performing with Brown in the mid-80s—This One’s For Chuck Brown is a culmination of showmanship. Including a guest spot from the late Biz Markie, another legendary performer whom Fresh also shared a close bond with, the album contains influences from some of the most prolific entertainers to bless the stage.
Below, the man who dubbed himself The World’s Greatest Entertainer regales VIBE with tales of touring with Chuck Brown, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, and, perhaps most surprisingly, Prince and The New Power Generation.
VIBE: Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One recently participated in a Verzuz battle. What did you think of the show?
Doug E. Fresh: [It was] an authentic show with all of the elements of Hip-Hop at its highest level, because KRS-One is an incredible Hip-Hop historian as well as an artist and MC. And I use the word MC specifically [for him] as well as [for] Big Daddy Kane. Great performers, great lyricists… I think that it’s probably one of the best Verzuz [battles] ever.
Being that you were one of the biggest stars of that era, too, what are your memories of touring with them? Or just crossing paths in general?
KRS one was on one of my first tours and he was a guy that would always strive to be better, do better. And he was just like that dude that will come out there and lay it out. I used to tell him that I didn’t like the way he put his records in the order that he put them. And then he just went back and I think he took that information and said, “You’ll never say that again.”
And he started putting them in orders where it made it like every time you hear his music, it just bangs. And then with Big Daddy Kane, he used to come to my house and I used to give him different pointers and stuff like that that would give him a little bit more direction in what I thought could make him an overall artist. You know, something that would make him special, instead of just a lyricist. Something that gives him more dimension. So, I think that both of them are great, man.
You recently dropped your new album, This One’s For Chuck Brown, and it celebrates the late Go-Go legend. How did that project come about?
That project came about because something spiritually gave me the notion to make a record about Chuck Brown. Now, Chuck Brown and me go back to 1985, when I performed at an arena called Capitol Center. When I performed there, Run from Run-DMC told me about him and told me about his show. I knew his music because we used to play it in Harlem. We used to play “Bustin’ Loose.” But when I seen him, it was a whole ‘nother story.
From that moment, I fell in love with Go-Go and me and Chuck Brown was just tighter than anything. I performed with him throughout the years… And something spiritually made me feel like the man needed to be acknowledged for his creation of Go-Go music. Because me as a creator of the beatbox and the things that I have created, I feel like people who create things need to be acknowledged. And a lot of times we [aren’t].
The Grammy’s just announced Go-Go music as an eligible subcategory. Can you speak on the impact of Go-Go and how it’s influenced some of music’s greatest hits?
Well, it’s a great thing, brother. I didn’t even know that was gonna happen. So, I gotta acknowledge the Grammys and thank them for doing it because when I came up with this spiritual message that came to me about writing a song about Chuck Brown, I didn’t know it was gonna be an opportunity for us to win a Grammy for this project. So, I think it’s great because I’d love to take the Grammy home to his family.
You’re known as one of the greatest live performers of all time. Are there any artists from this new era that have caught your eye with their stage presence?
That’s definitely a difficult question. You know, the reason why it’s difficult for me… I think that a lot of them are concentrating more on [their] records. They concentrate more on that, [or] they concentrate on their videos. But when it comes to the live show, some of them be lip syncing and that’s not really what we do. I’ve seen one dude on the mic talking while his joint was rapping in the back and I was like, “Yo, this is crazy. I’ve never seen nothing like this.” So, I think that a lot of the artists of this generation have to start thinking about their performance a little bit more because I think that’s also the number one source of income. You can get a hundred million streams, but you could get on stage two nights and make that same money if your joint’s on fire, you know what I mean?
I think Big Daddy Kane’s a great performer. I think KRS-One is [a great performer]. I think Busta Rhymes is definitely a great performer. Wyclef [Jean] is definitely a great performer… I like the way Kanye [West] does it. I like that he pushed the bar a little bit, he makes you think about it. Method Man and Redman, I like that combination. And I like the energy of homeboy that made “Panda,” [Desiigner]. I like his energy. I like how he’s just wild. His energy is on a million, but I just think it’s great. It’s good to put a show around that.
See, energy is good, but you’ve got to put a show around that energy so that when you hit them, it’s unbelievable. That’s what makes Go-Go so interesting… If you ever go to [a Go-Go show], you’ll see that the energy that’s created in the room, from the percussionist, from the guitar, the bass, it’s just a whole ‘nother level. So, I can’t wait to perform some of this stuff, because I definitely have a whole new show that I think is going to take people to a different zone.
This One’s For Chuck Brown is your first solo album since 1995. What was the reason for the hiatus and what made this the perfect time for you to go back in the lab and drop new music?
From  all the way until this pandemic, I’ve been touring. So, I would make albums, but I would tour more. I toured with Prince from ‘99 until he transitioned. Between touring with him [and other artists] … I really didn’t concentrate on making records that much. I was just more so into going out there and performing. I mean, I was averaging anywhere between 150, 175, 200 shows a year. It was constant, so I was just more so in that zone.
[When] the pandemic hit, it gave me some time to restructure, reorganize, and focus. And I also felt that this album was important in the healing process of what’s going on in peoples’ lives. You can’t go out; you can’t do what you used to do. Either you’re vaccinated, you’re unvaccinated, you hate it. Whatever way it goes, but if you can at least hear something that takes you into that zone when you remember how much fun you would have when you went out, you feel good about it. So, that was the purpose of the album.
How did you link up with Prince?
One of the reasons how I hooked up with him is my lawyer and his lawyer was the same lawyer… That was the introduction. But how we [really] linked up is he seen me do a performance on HBO at Sinbad’s Soul Festival… HBO wasn’t supposed to tape me, but the performance was so crazy, HBO just started taping it.
Prince seen it. He was home. He said, “Yo, that’s crazy,” and after that I got a call. “Yo, can you come down to Atlanta? Prince wants you to come up there and rock with him.” I said, “Really? Okay.” Now, I met him at Paisley Park. We were cool, [the] vibe was right. We got into it a little bit, a little light play around, but he didn’t really see me just unload and go full blast, right? So, we get to Atlanta, I got my man Grandmaster Caz with me because he loved Prince… Long story short, we get there, Left Eye is there and she’s like, “I can’t believe it, it’s you and Prince in the room. This is crazy, what’s gonna happen tonight?” So, Prince turned around and looked at me and he said, “Yo, I seen you on that HBO thing. That HBO thing was crazy.” He said, “I wanna ask you, do you wanna rock with me tonight a little something?” I said, “I’m down, but I wanna know how far you want me to go?” He said, “I want you to turn this [room] out.” I said, “All right. I just wanna know because I did this same thing with Dr. Dre, Snoop, and Eminem and they were telling me, ‘Yo, just hold back a little bit, hold back,’ and it made me feel funny.” I said, “So, I’m asking you, just out of respect ‘cause I don’t want you to think I’m trying to come up.” He said, “No, no, no, no. I want you to turn this [room] out.” I said, “That’s all I needed to hear,” and I burned that joint down to the floor.
After it was over, we went up to the roof and he looked at the band and he said, “Yo, so band, what you thought of Doug E.?” They started clapping, they were like, “Oh my God, this is crazy.” He said, “So, you want to be down with the New Power Generation?” I started laughing. I looked at Caz, I said, “Yeah, he’s a funny guy right?” I said, “Yeah man, I had a good time.” He said, “Come on, do you wanna be down?” I said, “Yeah, I’m down to be down with the New Power Generation.” I thought he was playing. The next day, I got a call from our lawyer. He said, “Yo, The Artist wants you to join them on the road. He’s got maybe 30 cities and he wants to know what you want and can you come tonight?” And that’s how me and Prince started.
That’s ill. So, you’re telling me Doug E. Fresh was an official member of the New Power Generation?
Hey, man, I’m keeping it 100. And it was so crazy because I thought he was playing, you know what I mean? Because the show was so hot. See, he did his concert and he wanted me to get on there, but he already had the show structured and I think he ain’t wanna throw his band off, so he told me to come to the after party. And if you ever seen Prince perform, his after party is sometimes even more crazy than his shows. Like, it’s no telling what’s gonna happen at the after party. So, when he asked me to come, it became this thing where we just walk around and go to different people’s parties and he’d be like, “Yo, you want to rock here?” And it would just be a beautiful experience man, you know?
He was a good dude and he knew that I was a person that if I get my word on something, I’ma honor my word. One time, he wanted me to perform at the White House for the Obamas, but I already had his show in Dallas and I didn’t do the show [at the White House]. And then even with that in Dallas, they messed me up because I didn’t even get to perform on that show, but I was there. But Prince respected my position of me honoring my word. Even though it was the White House, it was Stevie Wonder, it was this one, it was that one—it was everybody there. I would have loved to experience it, but I gave my word, you know what I mean? And my word means a lot to me.
Our bond was based on our word. [Another] time, he asked me to do another show in Atlantic City and my man booked a show for me for an HBCU because they was raising money for their organization. And they was giving me short paper. It was nowhere near what I was getting with Prince. But I told him, “I got to go do this.” He came and he sent his man and said, “Yo, tell Doug that we don’t want him to do no more shows. He’s cool, go do his thing.” I said, “Well, let him know that I’m doing this for HBCU. They’re trying to raise money and this was something that was there that I didn’t know.” Then he came back and he said, “Well, I understand. Go do that for them and I’ll see you in the next city.” He knew I was real. He knew that it wasn’t about the paper… It was about my word.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.