Talent Show

The Legendary Fritz makes his point: "No more weak MCs."
Mark Graham

The man known as The Legendary Fritz sits on a concrete slab next to the makeshift parking lot beneath the Dallas Observer office on Commerce Street, explaining what happened between a week ago and today. To kick-start the story he's about to tell, he laughs a little, sighs a little more. Just last week, he stopped by the office to say that he was finally finished with his album, a record he'd been working on for the better part of two years--a record that, with 42 songs, is more than two albums long. Fritz was done with it, ready to drop it off at the manufacturing plant so he would have it back in time for the release party he'd set up at the Red Blood Club on July 21.

Except the album wasn't quite finished with him. Over the weekend, he explains, a few choice comments from "another legendary figure" in Dallas hip-hop suddenly left him with unfinished business and forced him to pick up a microphone one last time before he was ready to let the record go, before he'd be completely happy with it. That's why he started recording in the first place: to satisfy himself. He was more than happy with what he'd already recorded, sure, but that didn't mean he was ready to sit back and let those songs do all of his talking for him, even though they did plenty of that. Fritz had a new score to settle, and the best way to settle it, he figured, was to fall back on hip-hop tradition and match those words with a few more of his own. Someone wanted to question his talent? Well, he'd answer those questions and prove his skills at the same time. It's the way things are done.

With that in mind, on the Sunday morning before he was scheduled to deliver his debut double album, Greatest Hits, Fritz went into his home studio and recorded "What's Up Doc," a song that's tacked on to the end of Greatest Hits as a hidden track. If two discs of material didn't get his point across, "What's Up Doc" would: "If I may make one thing perfectly clear/The barometer between my skills and yours is non-comparison/My rhymes touched down at the Hobby of Houston, you thought it was the flood of Allison."

"Just wanted to address a couple of people in this city, you know," he begins, explaining the last-minute trip to the studio. "Me, basically, I look at it like...I don't know. I'm real hyped about the album, and with a comment that came my way this weekend, it just shocked me. Another legendary figure in this city, and he made a comment of"--he pauses--"I was pretty good. OK? I heard this Friday, and then Saturday, this man was like, 'Hey, you don't need to drop a double LP.' Why? You know, he couldn't give me a reason, and that didn't rub me well. I've known this guy for about almost four years. I've went into studios, freestyles and everything, so I just wanted to show him I've got skills also."

Moral of the story? You don't name yourself The Legendary Fritz expecting anyone--not friends or foes, not fans or peers--to refer to you as merely "pretty good." And if they do, you prove them wrong.

A few minutes later, Fritz is sitting in his wife's car, stereo cranked, showing off the late addition to Greatest Hits. His head nods along to the beat as his recorded rhymes fill the car, battling an unnamed opponent. Though his target isn't explicitly spelled out, given the song's title and the general lack of legendary hip-hop figures in this city, a good guess would be The D.O.C., known once upon a time as Dr. Tray, and before that, Tracy Curry. The D.O.C.'s reputation rests on his 1989 solo debut, the Dr. Dre-produced No One Can Do It Better, and his writing credits on N.W.A.'s 1988 Straight Outta Compton. Fritz will only say, "The parties involved know," so a guess is as good as it gets.

Whomever it is, Fritz knows he's better than pretty good--and judging by Greatest Hits, he's right--so he won't back down, not from anyone who questions why he's putting out a double album or why he's titled it Greatest Hits. Is it boasting? Of course, but he can back it up and then some. Is it ambitious to debut with a 42-song, two-disc set? Yes, but it's necessary; there's no filler on Greatest Hits, no songs that feel out of place or expendable. It's a double album because it has to be and called Greatest Hits because it's Fritz at his very best. Since he's got the songs and the talent, there's no reason why he should hold back, and Fritz doesn't understand why anyone would want him to. So he doesn't bother trying to understand. He just wants to know who wouldn't do exactly what he's doing if they were in the same situation.  

"You don't have a lot of hip-hop out here, and Greatest Hits is my interpretation of my greatest hits," he says. "It's not an industry album. Later on down the road, say I've put out three or four albums, the industry might come in and say, 'Hey, you wanna do a greatest hits album now?' They're not gonna be able to take that away from me, because I've done that. They might do the best of the greatest hits, but they're not going to do that. There's no rules; the rules have already been broken. So to tell me what I can and cannot do, no. People that tell me it's too many songs, I just gotta wonder. I just gotta wonder."

Fritz, a native of New York who relocated to Dallas in the early '90s, didn't start recording with the intention of breaking the already broken rules, debuting with a double album. He didn't even think he was making an album period. Not at first. The first song he recorded, "No Sunshine," showed up on the local hip-hop collection KNON-FM (89.3) DJ EZ Eddie D put together, 1998's Down By Sound: KNON Hip-Hop Compilation, but it was "basically a song just for me, to satisfy me," Fritz says.

Soon enough, however, Fritz caught the recording bug for real. Once he did, he spent a year and a half in the studio, recording mainly with WIZ, who produced more than half of Greatest Hits and performs all of the set's cuts and scratches. To finish the job, Fritz also enlisted several other local producers, including EZ Eddie D, Norby, Skins and Reuben from Hydroponic Sound System, Ghetto Fame-Us and V.E., beat creators he felt didn't get enough respect for their skills. Still, with all the time he was spending in the studio and even as the cast expanded, Fritz didn't know how big the project was becoming; it happened while no one was paying attention. "It just kinda grew into an album," Fritz says, holding back the punch line. "And then it grew into a double album." He laughs.

The double album Greatest Hits grew into, however, demands your attention, not allowing you to turn away from the stereo, to ignore it. Fritz sets his agenda two songs into Disc No. 1, when "No Bullshit" hits its chorus: "No more weak MCs/No more wack-ass beats/No more weak-ass flows/No more shows/Y'all can't even kick it." Later, over WIZ's skittering drum pattern, he gives more clues to his approach: "I'm short-tempered, long-winded," he rhymes on "Closing Arguments," and the rest of Greatest Hits backs him up. What makes him short-tempered? For one thing, looking at the current state of hip-hop and asking himself, "Who's Not Rhyming?" To him, everyone is--hustlers, thugs, killers, pimps, players, haters, NBA players, ballers, producers, kids, "my next-door neighbor's best friend's cousin's baby sitter's nephew"--and something needs to be done about it. Someone needs to save hip-hop. And that just might be Fritz.

Greatest Hits, which Fritz promises to sell for only $13, is the kind of hip-hop album you don't hear very often. Meaning: It's the total package, with beats that defy easy classification ("Every Man for His Self" lifts a string sample from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and makes you forget where it came from) and rhymes that don't get caught up in easy jokes and shock politics. (Eminem, I'm looking in your direction.) What makes Greatest Hits work--and part of why Fritz lives up to his name--is that he's aware of what hip-hop was, what it is and what it could be. More than that, he knows who's listening. For instance, his kids.

"I realize now that my kids are getting to the age that they listen to music," he says of his children, a 6-year-old son and two daughters, ages 8 and 11. "If I've got the talent to rhyme, I'm gonna give them the option--instead of just listening to all that bullshit--they're gonna have the option of listening to my music. So when it's all said and done, when they can understand the words, they'll be like, 'Daddy wasn't down for that bullshit.'"

Part of the bullshit he's not down with is signing to a label, at least not right now. Doing that means becoming part of someone else's time line, believing strangers' promises. A few labels became interested as he was finishing Greatest Hits, but Fritz backed off once he heard their sales pitches. For now, he's happy standing alone.

"I heard from a couple of labels in New York, and for me to sign, my material wouldn't see the light of day until the last part of 2002, maybe in 2003," he says. "That's based on whether their artists can do a successful song for me to get on the remix. There's one way to remix work: The first one has to be a hit. So I can't bank on that, and that's too long for me to wait."  

He's putting out Greatest Hits on his own, with some financial help from a friend in South Carolina, and he already has two more releases planned in the next year or so: a five-song Christmas EP, as well as another double album, tentatively scheduled for next fall. If he has to do it all by himself, if he has to prove he's more than "pretty good" without anyone footing the bill, Fritz is ready for that. But he also believes that if he's as good as he thinks he is (and you'll get no argument here) that people will come to where he is. Fritz doesn't have to change his sound or move out of Dallas. All he has to do is be Fritz.

"This is my home; I've been here for almost a decade now," he says. "So, if I'm gonna make my mark, it's gonna be here. I'm not searching to go to L.A. or New York to make my mark. I'll get the vinyl out there to get spinning and get played, but if Nelly can do it out there in the Midwest, if they'll come there, I'm gonna do it right here. I'm not on no mission to put Dallas on the map--I'm not Christopher Columbus--but I'm going to do me, I'm going to do Fritz. And I think by doing Fritz, it'll reach out to who it needs to reach out to. That's how I feel."

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