rockie fresh

Originally published in KICKS 16

by Tzvi Twersky / @ttwersky

The first thing you notice upon meeting Rockie Fresh is his small stature. If it wasn’t for his height—or lack thereof—Fresh might have been in the pages of SLAM years ago.

As a left-handed point guard with, as the 22-year-old explains, the tightest of handles, Isiah Thomas-like court vision and a solid little jump shot, Fresh always played up an age group as a youngster in Chicago. But while his skills grew steadily as a teen, his height stalled out well south of six bucks tall, and so did his expectations.

“The only thing that really held me back from basketball was just the height,” laughs the 5-7 Fresh. “That and the fact that I wasn’t really into working out.”

While falling short in ball might’ve been disappointing to a scrawny ’90s baby with Bull-ish hoop dreams, in retrospect life is working out pretty well for the sleepy eyed, smoked out sounding Fresh. The soulful and sharp rapper is signed to the Rick Ross-led Maybach Music Group, and after releasing a slew of ever-better mixtapes, including last year’s Driving 88 and 2013’s Electric Highway, Fresh is set to appear alongside Ross, Meek Mill, Wale and others on MMG’s next highly anticipated group album, Self Made Volume 3.

No matter how big he becomes in the coming months, though, Fresh will never forget that before rap there were Spaldings and swishes. And, as his words say and wardrobe always backs up, well before ball there were sneakers.

“I was just looking at old baby pictures,” says Fresh. “Honestly, I’ve been wearing crazy kicks since before I could even walk or talk. Sneakers have been a big part of my life since the very beginning.”

As tends to happen with a young and successful male who was introduced to the inimitable smell and feel, to the stares and jealous looks, of fresh kicks as a child, Fresh now owns a multi-brand collection that includes a lot of limited releases and numbers well over 300 pairs. Still, it’s the foundation and early days of collecting that stick out.

“By the time it came to fifth grade,” begins Fresh, jokingly, “I was way more materialistic than I needed to be. It was to the point where that was an incentive for me to get good grades, so I could get the new Jordans. It was, ‘I’m going to send you to school in Payless shoes if you don’t get good grades.’”

Of course, with name brand sneaker launches on the line, Fresh got good grades. And of course, to this day he has favorite childhood memories that took place in favorite classic pairs. The pair, the memory, that really trips him up the most though is the one that got away—literally.

“I remember getting a pair of [Air Jordan] XIVs stolen at the YMCA,” says Fresh. “They got stolen out of my locker while I was swimming. That was a real sad moment for me.”

Fresh, obviously, picked up another pair of them once he started to make some money rapping. Then he started going out and copping everything he wanted but didn’t have. Fresh didn’t just buy indiscriminately; instead he operated within a strict guideline of rules: He’d buy signature models to support certain players he respected, such as Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant, and when it came to AJs he’d only cop colorways that Mike had actually worn.

“I’ve branched out to a few other things, just kind of because the shoes were cool,” says Fresh, who has his fair share of athletic brands, like Reebok and adidas, as well as luxury brands like Balenciaga. “But a lot of the stuff that rappers have fell in line with, I don’t really think is that dope.”

Nowadays, on the eve of what could and should be his breakout year in the game, the unique Fresh has actually sort of scaled back his buying ways. Instead, he’s regaling in what he already has—and he has aligned himself with a legendary brand.

“Puma is just a brand I feel passionate about,” says Fresh, who’s been down with them officially since this past spring. “Me growing up, I’m just becoming more of a simple type of person, and a lot of things they have on deck fall into that classic, simple type of feel. Stylistically, they fit what I’m trying to do.”

Grown and simple as he is, at heart Fresh is still a baller who happens to handle a mic instead of a rock. That means whenever he gets a chance to play, he takes full advantage of it. And it means, whenever he’s on stage, he thinks of it as being on the court. The natural progression is that what Fresh wears while rocking a show has a major impact on his performance.

“For me, the kicks I wear are everything,” says Fresh. “More than just comfort, though, it’s like a mindset. I’m just somebody who focuses on shoes so much that if I don’t have the right pair on, I really can’t step out of the house [not to mention] perform.”

Fresh’s height might’ve kept him out of SLAM, but it couldn’t keep him out of KICKS.