Local Rapper C-Ro Del-Fresco Inspired by Lifelong Passion for Hip-hop

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Cleveland rapper C-Ro Del Fresco is one of the more prolific local artists. He even admits he’s not sure how many singles and mixtapes he’s released over the past few years. His new album, The Loudness War, shows off his ability to veer from rapid-fire rhymes to smooth grooves, sometimes within the same song. At a time when local rappers come and go, Fresco has been a consistent player on an ever-changing landscape.

Growing up on the East side of Cleveland, he remembers listening to music all day long as a youth.

“Those memories made a huge impression on me and just stuck,” he says. “When I got to 10 or 11, I wanted to be like some of my favorite musicians at the time. I thought, ‘What better way to meet this person than to do what he does?’ I wanted to try to rapping. I wrote my first song at the age of 10. From there, it progressed. The passion just built from there.”

While in seventh grade, he started 3 Kingz, a hip-hop group, in 2003.

“We didn’t get anything done,” he admits. “I was more into the music and the other members were more into sports. When I was trying to set up studio time, they went to practice. They encouraged me to go on and start a solo career.”

His first release, Mr. Del-Fresco, came out in 2009. He then put the Forget Me Not mixtape, the first of his projects to be featured on Livemixtapes, a wesbsite devoted to breaking new rappers. He put out two more mixtapes and started to pick up some traction with his 2011 EP Visible Thoughts, which received favorable reviews from the local press. Upon its release, a review in Scene noted, “C-Ro's rhymes are clean and his topics broad, touching on everything from mainstream rap — something he obviously isn't too keen on in ‘H.E.R.,’ a music-industry parable about a lost girl — to family troubles (daddy issues come up in ‘Lonely Dreams’).”

Del-Fresco is a mixtape master. The Voice, a mixtape he released last year, starts strong with "True," a song that allows Del-Fresco to show off his rapid-fire delivery. Featuring guest vocals from rapper Phaze Jackson, the song alternates between hip-hop and R&B. Other highlights include the carnivalesque "Let the Beat Ride" and the defiant "Real Niggas Only." He displays his verbal skills in the rowdy "Supa Flow," a song that concludes with something that sounds like a skirmish. Subtitled "vent session," the jazzy "Say Yes" has a narrative at its core as Del-Fresco talks about the importance of making music before concluding, "show respect."

All of which brings us to The Loudness War. The album commences with “The War,” a poignant intro that finds a contemplative Del-Fresco wondering "is this life really made for us?" The intro is inspired by Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap mixtape and aims to sum up the album. “It’s meditative,” he says of the intro. “It digs a little deeper. Production-wise, I wanted to make it more mellow and melodic.”

The album doesn’t entirely follow a concept, even though its title would suggest otherwise.

“In audio terms, the engineer is trying to get the track as loud as he can without it peaking,” Del-Fresco says of the album’s title. “I wanted to apply that to life and to music. As an artist, you’re trying to make as much noise as possible without becoming distorted and losing the quality. It’s a fight to find some type of common ground or some kind of peace.”

With its percolating beats and bouncy rhythms, “Flavors” hearkens back to the days of Tupac and Biggie.

“I was at work one day in the grocery section with the coffee and stuff,” he says. “It’s an ode to all women, no matter what type of color or size. I like all types of women. I put it out the summer of last year as a prelude to the project. I think I was able to get the message across.”

“10 Gold Chains” starts with a big bass riff before the Mike Jones-like vocals kick in.

“I was listening to another artist that had the same feel,” says Del-Fresco when asked about the song’s inspiration. “I started producing that in 2013. I remember growing up and getting into rapping and music, the moment you got your first gold chain was when you knew you made it. We have gotten away from that. There’s so much other material stuff — much worse stuff — that people get into when they finally get on. But this is an ode to that time, the olden days when you knew you made it and you were in a decent place.”

Del-Fresco initially had plans to tour but he’s instead going to focus on “gigging” in and around town. He plays a free show at the Grog Shop on Sunday, May 10.

“We’re taking things as they come,” he says. “I’m hoping to get the opportunity to deliver the album to a larger platform. I want to showcase it for millions of people. This is a project that I feel is my best one. I took so much time on it. It shows my growth and progression. I think it’s pretty good Cleveland music. I just want all the hard work to pay off.”

C-Ro Del Fresco, Referee, Okay'Che, Captain 216, Big Merl, Tracii Haze X Tino, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 10, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216-321-5588. Tickets: Free, grogshop.gs.
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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