Hip-Hop Duo FreshProduce Keeps It 'Fresh, Local & Equitable'

click to enlarge EMANUEL WALLACE
Emanuel Wallace
On a calm Tuesday evening in the Westside's Hingetown neighborhood, local artists Brittany "DJ Red-I" and Samantha "Playne Jayne" Flowers are working on sprucing up their newly acquired record shop, Young Kingz.

Playne Jayne hangs up album covers on the wall as Red-I completes some tasks behind the desk and provides the sounds in the atmosphere. Collectively, the duo is known as FreshProduce. The women have seen success in the past, Red-I is one of the more popular deejays in the city and Playne Jayne is a member of hip-hop crew LMNTL.

The record shop is the latest in a string of achievements for the ladies who have only been functioning as a group for less than two years but have already seen their talents take them across the pond to Europe and back to Cleveland.

In addition to the store and their other achievements, FreshProduce is part of a organization that was awarded a grant by the Kresge Foundation in an effort to contribute to the strengthening of economic vitality, cultural expression and health in the Garden Valley neighborhood through a program called FreshLo, which is short for Fresh, Local & Equitable.

The ladies decided to work with each other earlier this year at Muamin Collective's annual RBG Christmas show at Grog Shop, and they haven't looked back.

"[The local hip-hop act] LMNTL was performing on stage, and I went up to Sam, and I said, 'You and me should link up,'" Red-I says. "She thought I was crazy, but I had a vision and I saw something in her. I knew I had some interesting beats that I could pair well with her vocal style. By the following February we started doing some collaboration efforts. We just had sessions at my house and we were only supposed to do one or two things just to see what would happen, but we ended up making our first project, We Are FreshProduce."

The group's unique name is a representation of how healthy its music is for the mind, body and soul.

"FreshProduce came from basically talking in the kitchen and we were talking about what's good for the body as far as music goes," Jayne says. "It's organic. Brittany said that these other people out here are like McDonald's and we're like the fresh produce, and I said that's it!"

"McDonald's meaning that everyone is prefabricated, put together, trying to be something that they're not or people are always looking for a quick fix or a shortcut to making good stuff,” Red-I adds. "Not saying that it takes forever to make good music, but you can hear that a lot of people don't take the time to dig deep and make something that pulls feeling from people. For example, you eat something and it tastes great, but if you can activate smell or you feel something, that's how you know when it's good. When you hear a song that you really like, it makes you see certain colors or gives you chills. These things you don't hear, but it opens your other senses. That's what we prided ourselves on. They have a fast food, Mickey D's approach to their art and ours is all organic. We give it time to grow, we water it, you put it in good soil, you give it enough sunlight and we don't try to force anything."

As far as influences, in the beginning, the duo looked at the early hip-hop groups like EPMD and Gang Starr, but they also find themselves inspired by the do-it-yourself element and also life itself. The cover for the group's first album was an homage to EPMD's Strictly Business.

"I really liked Gang Starr and the synergy that was created with Guru on the mic and Premier having free reign over the production," Red-I says. "I feel like that was our dynamic early on. I also like some of the newer indie soul groups who do a lot of the work themselves. So I like the production relationships of a lot of groups from the past but also the marketing, promotion and approach of the newer artists. It's like the Wild Wild West and now. If you can market, promote and do your own thing then you don't have to go to the traditional music industry route that everyone says you need to take."

Jayne agrees.

"I feel like we've evolved to a point where we're like how can we be more like FreshProduce instead of anyone else," she says. "I'm more inspired by life now. The third album, we just made especially. It is just inspired by what we saw and the things we heard. He just translated that into lyrics and sound. To me, that's what every artist should strive to get to — just taking all the stimulus from life and making it into music. That's what I'm excited to do because I think we're entering that zone right now where we can just make music from whatever we hear"

In some circles, people think women rappers aren't as good as their male counterparts. While they acknowledge that the stigma exists, the women in FreshProduce aren't necessarily fazed by that school of thought.

"When I was 15 and first started in a group with two guys, I got looked at as cute and probably not being able to write," Jayne says. "So I've naturally always had a chip on my shoulder, just because everyone expected me to be bad. But now I really don't. I just feel like I have to prove myself just like any other rapper, guy or girl. I know it exists, but that's just not my approach. My approach is just to be a good artist. Like how do Sam and Brittany become legendary, period? That's the new focus."

"For me, I've always been out of place to a lot of people," Red-I adds. "Whether I was the only Black kid somewhere or the only woman DJ. I guess I've become used to pleasantly surprising people, because they always underestimate what I'm capable of. They say music is a male-dominated industry and you think, 'Why?' It's not like a certain amount of testosterone makes you a better musician. You look up the word music and it comes from the word muse. The muses were women who inspired and could hypnotize you with what they were capable of. As some point that got lost in translation. Being a woman never occurs to me unless someone brings it up in conversation."

While not looking to be the torchbearers for women emcees and women in general, both Red-I and Playne Jayne understand and appreciate the impact that their music has on some of their fans.

"I like that people can identify," Red-I says. "People approach me and say, ‘I'm glad you're doing this for womankind,’ and I don't want that kind of pressure. It's a thing where you never asked to be a role model, but so many people are touched by what you do that you at least feel the responsibility to be grateful when they hold you in such high regard that you make things that speak to entire communities. I don't write or make beats trying to represent an entire community, it's all from my own core but at the same time it's the best feeling in the world when someone comes up and says you're an inspiration to all the women in my office or something like that."

"There was the guy who brought his four-year-old daughter to our show because he didn't know when they would have the chance to see Black women doing something positive again," Jayne recalls. "He said felt he had to make sure his daughter was there. This was all the way in the south of France. So you feel the magnitude, but my message to that little girl or whoever is that I'm not afraid to be myself. Go find whatever it is you like to do for yourself, you don't have to be a rapper. If you're the best headphone maker, be the best headphone maker."

Shortly after the release of their first album, FreshProduce toured for a few weeks in France. While they leaped at the opportunity, the women found themselves in the middle of some serious drama.

"We basically told our tour manager, Florence Lago, that she couldn't steal our money and she's like, ‘I'm definitely taking the money,’” Red-I says. "It was weird though because she basically threw ass out of her apartment after we told her that we weren't going to do any more shows if she was handling the money. She threatened to call the police on us. She assumed that because we were black, from the United States and made hip-hop that we were poor. So after that, we booked a room and rented a car because we wanted to finish the tour. While she was sending us threats, we contacted every venue left on the tour and let them know what was going on and told them that it they'd still have us we will make it to wherever the events were and do our thing. Every venue said they wanted us to come because they saw we packed the previous venues and killed every performance and basically [the tour manager] got blackballed."

FreshProduce's third album, 4080, is slated for release on Monday, Dec. 12. Fresh Produce hosts a listening session at Young Kingz that day from 6 to 9 p.m. They’ll also host a pop-up shop and spin records at the Ugly Sweater Night and Holiday Record Shop event that takes place at Mahall’s at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16.

"We were listening to A Tribe Called Quest just a couple days after Phife Dawg had died and there's the line ‘industry rule 4080, record company people are shady,’" Playne Jayne says. "We agreed and then it clicked like that's the name, 4080. A couple days later, I wrote a lot of the project based on what we have been through. The album's first song, 'We Always Finish,' we wrote that the morning I found out Phife had passed. I remember we were watching House Party. We watched a lot of '90s hood movies. DJ Candi Fresca brought them all with her. That was two nights after we got kicked out."

The ladies feel as if their third album is their best and most grown up effort to date and that it's a testament to their time spent together and how they better understand each other now when compared to when they first decided to link up.

"When we came back, I thought about what is it like to be a woman in her late twenties in Cleveland, dealing with life, relationships, businesses, growth and what can we pull from our experience in France," Red-I says. "I wanted to pull something that was not necessarily softer because the music's as hard as it's ever been, but something that was more adult. We still bring funky, groovy beats and serious lyrical content but there's more songs that sounds like this beat was made for this verse instead of this verse fits with this beat. Our first two albums were like that, but after our experience, I kind of know what Sam needs. It's like Sam is Naomi Campbell and I'm Gianni Versace. I've got the perfect outfit for her versus having a model you know she'll fit something that you have. Now we were creating stuff specifically for each other."

"I've never heard myself like this," Jayne admits. "I really dedicated a lot of time making sure my delivery was better. I basically relearned myself if that makes any sense to anybody. I just wanted to level up all the way around. Brittany also has way more verses this time and don't count her out as a writer as well. We write together and you can hear the chemistry.

The album features performances from Chelsea Pastel and Candi Fresca with some outside production courtesy of Muamin Collective's A-Live and Amani.Cove.

"A-Live has been huge," Red-I says. "He mixed all of the project and produced the song 'Tug of War.' Amani contributed production on 'No Fux.' He also did 'God Only Really Knows,' which is a very important song because it's a shoutout to GORK, and he did 'Gotta Keep Movin’' which has a Phil Collins feel to it. The theme of this whole album is perseverance to keep pushing despite adversity."

Over Thanksgiving weekend, the ladies opened the doors of the Young Kingz record shop. They are grateful and although the business is a very new venture, it feels right for FreshProduce.

"[Local writer and musician] Ra Washington approached us and asked us to take over ownership and operation of the store," Red-I says. "We definitely jumped at the opportunity. As a producer/DJ, I spin vinyl, I listen to vinyl, I sample vinyl and I collect vinyl. So for me, I understand the importance of a record shop. No. 1, we love Cleveland. This is where we were born and raised. Number two, we love music. Number three, we love the culture behind it. We want Young Kingz to be the record shop for the DJs, musicians and beatmakers."

"To add to that, there's so many musicians who tour internationally nationally or whatever and you really can't find any of their music or merch anywhere," Jayne says. "It's exciting that we have the platform here to sell not only our music but the music of other legitimate artists that are out here in Cleveland pressing vinyl and pressing cassettes and pressing CDs and making T-shirts. They need to make a living too, so we have a shelf for that."
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