Doug. E. Fresh The Legend, ‘The Show’ & 5th Element Of Hip-Hop (Q&A)


Doug E. Fresh is one of the greatest entertainers in hip-hop history. While the four elements of hip-hop are DJing, MC’ing, breaking & graffiti. Doug created the fifth element, the human beatbox, which he used to create “The Show” and “La Di Da Di,” two stone-cold hip-hop classics. Pollstar caught up with Doug just after he returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he is a Global Ambassador for Hip-Hop.

Pollstar: You’ve maintained such a level of consistency in hip-hop that not everybody’s been able to do. What does that date, Aug. 11, 1973 mean to you? We know Herc played a major role in the organization, but talk to me a bit about the history before ‘73.
Doug E. Fresh: DJ Hollywood supersedes Herc in regards to MC’ing because Hollywood was the MC. He wasn’t the kind of DJ that would be considered a hip-hop DJ at that time. His twist, his main thing that made him different, was the way that he was able to command the microphone and DJ at the same time.

Rappers Slick Rick (L) and Doug E. Fresh perform onstage at the Soul Train Awards 2013 at the Orleans Arena on Nov. 8, 2013, in Las Vegas.
Photo by Ethan Miller / BET / Getty Images / BET

When does young Doug E. Fresh arrive on the scene?
I’m like the first child of the first generation… And because of my relationship to hip-hop, we grew up understanding components about hip-hop that other people did not, really. I am the final element, which is the beatbox that came in ’82. I created it in ’81 but I presented it in ’82.

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How do you say, “Boom! I’m gonna use my mouth as an instrument to create this new sound that’s going to compliment what’s already going on?”
Barry Bee took the idea from that particular thing (beatbox) because we knew what that was. So he said, you should call it “the human beatbox.” And when he said, “Call it the human beatbox,” I said, “I’m not doing that. You should do it out in the big park.” The big park was in Lincoln Projects and it was a group of promoters named Mike and Dave. They had a sound system called the Sasquatch. So when they had a sound system, Barry DJ’d for them, because he was a house DJ for Mike and Dave parties.
Like Grandmaster Flash built his name and his reputation, the DJ was always the one that was the most important. That’s why it was Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, the Cold Crush Four, it was Grandwizard Theodore & the Fantastic Five; it was crazy. Eddie and OC and the Fearless Four.

When did The MC start to get the top billing?
Everybody gave respect to the DJ, it changed when I came out, which is Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew. That’s when everything shifted because I’m the first guy to ever have two DJs in his group that DJ’ed at the same time. Nobody ever had two DJs. DJ is the first element of hip-hop. I was the first of my kind because my element was so strong, you can’t put the DJ in front of me. You gotta let me go first because I am that element. You see what I’m saying?

Rick was the new style that was coming from one generation to the next. Rick was the transition of the MC style changing. Rick, he was coming in with a different flow. The combination is what made it so strong, because nobody rhymed like Slick Rick. I’m giving it to you in a way where you could see from Hollywood to Herc and Flash.

Rappers Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh perform onstage at the Old School Hip-Hop New Year’s Eve Festival at Philips Arena on Dec. 31, 2016, in Atlanta.
Photo by Paras Griffin / Getty Images

You and Rick are being creative, you’re beatboxing. Where does the genius of “The Show” and “La Di Da Di” come from?
I told Rick about the idea called “The Show.” And it was because I was doing a lot of shows around the city. And that’s how I basically built my name and reputation. The way we learned hip-hop is that you had to become a live performer and then you made records. You had to build your name and reputation and MC contests and things like that.
“Rick we’re gonna do ‘La Di Da Di.’ I’m gonna put a whole different arrangement to it with the beatbox. I’m gonna come in there with words at different points to highlight different things, jokes and things like that.” When it became a tape, the tape started to circulate through New York. ’Cause that’s how we normally heard what was the hottest hip-hop stuff before it went to record.

But we didn’t expect “La Di Da Di” to be that … We knew people would love it, but we never thought in 2023 it would become one of the most sampled songs of all time.

That is an amazing history of classic records that are still in heavy rotation in 2023. You made a name for yourself as The Entertainer. What are your favorite past, present venues?
My first start was at Harlem World. Harlem World was the mecca for hip-hop at that time. Playing the Apollo was very important for me. To sell out Madison Square Garden was a very big accomplishment. I think one of the best places that I performed that I really loved was a place called the Capital Center in Washington, D.C., because I love go-go music. The last one is probably New Orleans at the Superdome when me and Prince performed there.

Doug E. Fresh spitting fire pat the U.I.C. Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois in 1985. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

In the future where do you see yourself touring?
I want to continue on the journey to do more stuff on an international level. I like to perform at clubs and little concert halls and city wineries and all of that because your skills are different. Like you have to show deeper skills when the audience is more intimate. I went overseas with Prince and we did Brixton, London, Manchester. It doesn’t even have to be the biggest stadium, I think it’s important for me to go over there to represent a kind of hip-hop that I don’t think they’ve ever gotten before.

Interview conducted by Geoff Walker
Geoff Walker is the guest editor of Pollstar’s 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop special issue and will moderate a panel on the topic at the Pollstar Live! Conference on Feb. 22. He is also the founder of Kickstand World, LLC and a consultant for the Warner Music Group.

Walker is moderating the Pollstar Live! keynote panel “THROW YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR: 50 YEARS OF HIP-HOP,” which takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 22 from 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm at the Beverly Hilton. The panel features Lionel Bea (co-founder & Director of Operations of Bay Area Productions), Darryll Brooks (co-owner of C D Enterprises, and hip-hop legends Doug E. Fresh, Big Daddy Kane and DJ Quik.