Madison native F.Stokes has lived in New York City for the better part of a decade, but you wouldn't know it from his online presence - not immediately, anyhow. The globetrotting hip-hop artist isn't wallpapering his Facebook account with cheeseheads or tipping cows on YouTube, but he does mention Madison a lot, especially in his music. Sometimes these references are oblique, as in "Madison West High School," a song that name-checks the Regents but doesn't seem to be about them at all. Other times, they're blatant, like on "My Simple," with its music video featuring local landmarks, or on "Basement," a new track recorded with U.K.-based rock band Bastille.
I asked him about stomping grounds old and new before his seventh annual Day After Christmas Show at the Frequency.
How has your career changed since moving away from Madison?
A town like New York or Paris or London provides a better palette for me. You can walk through neighborhoods and see all white people in Madison, but it's not like that in New York. I want to surround myself with a diverse group of people so I can serve a diverse group.
How has your songwriting process evolved since moving to New York?
I still go back to the places I grew up - Madison and the south side of Chicago - to write certain songs. "My Simple" was written and recorded in Madison because I wanted Madison in the studio with me spiritually.
You're dealing with some really raw memories in songs like "Basement." How do you tap into those memories and create something meaningful without getting overwhelmed?
Sometimes I cry in the studio when I go back to those memories. During the recording process, I turn myself inside out emotionally and spiritualy, and I invite people into these painful moments in my life. I relive those moments over and over in performance. It's difficult, but I'm excited to be an ambassador of the ghetto. It's my journey to be able to convey those messages to the world. That gives me the strength to keep things going. Nothing about me is bubblegum or simple. I just can't not make emotional songs. My life at this point is public domain.
Can you drop any hints about your in-the-works album, Fearless Beauty?
Every piece I put out has a story behind it. It would be my Graceland. The idea of putting together producers and musicians from all over the world I have cats from London, Paris, Denmark. To have a song like "Basement," where you take the crust of the ghetto and some white kids in London and create a song that fits my story so well, it shows how universal music is. This album will be a reflection of that.
You work Madison references into your songs fairly often, like on "Basement." How did that song come together?
Then their manager reached out to me to do a remix of a song they put out about a year ago and brought me to London to record with them. "Basement" was one of the songs out of that bundle, and an EP with Bastille will drop sometime in 2013. "Basement" pretty much gives my story top to bottom, with my mom moving my family to Madison from Chicago on a Greyhound bus and trying to keep it together while living on almost nothing. That song was made to inspire, like most of my music, but it's one of my more personal songs to this day.
What do you miss the most about Madison's music community?
Mostly it's the people, and not just musicians. My mom and most of the rest of my family still there. For musicians, I have to say Radish and Vinnie Toma. I am so proud to take them on trips with me, and its so good to see those guys grow.
What do you miss the least?
How hard it was. It was a tough process to really make it as a musician. It's cool to be viewed as a local artist, but it's truly hard to make it in your own hometown. I had to do basement shows and shows at the King Club that got shut down by cops. I try to stay focused on where I'm going and how I'm getting there. Turning a bus ride into a spaceship: that's what it's all about.