In a different universe, Oakland’s Mistah F.A.B. might have had a very different career. Despite a burgeoning indie buzz and a cosign from Bay Area legend Mac Dre himself, the Ghostbusters theme song-sampling hit “Ghost Ride It” from 2007 could have defined him, especially after his deal with Atlantic flamed out. But Fabby stuck to his guns and kept on rapping. A decade later, he has a lengthy discography, a healthy rep in the battle circuit, and platinum songwriting credits on Chris Brown’s “Loyal” and B.O.B.’s “Headband.” His third official album, Son Of A Pimp 2, is out today.
F.A.B.’s also developed a reputation for his devotion to his city. He holds several charity events there (February 8, 2014 was officially declared Mistah F.A.B. Day in Oakland), and is active in fighting for the rights of his community. In the wake of the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant by a BART police officer, he was a strong voice both in interviews and in his lyrics. Here he speaks about Oakland history, the Black Panthers, police, and politics. Plus there’s an appearance from Uncle Em.
Why is the protest culture and activism so healthy in Oakland?
Oakland is one of the Meccas of activism and social reform. When we speak on social reform, we talk about the Black Panthers, we talk about the Brown Berets, and many of these other social movements that were influential in creating that culture across the United States and across the world. We’ve always had a history of that, not just in the last five or 10 years, but since the existence of the true identity of Oakland. Not just Oakland, but the Bay Area in general. Look at what’s going on right now with the Frisco Five in San Francisco, they are protesting against the Chief of Police and he’s out! [Mayor] Ed Lee was forced to put him out. Three of those guys are friends of mine. It was wonderful. it goes to show you when people address the politics that affect the people, they can make a change.
Activism is, for lack of a better term, having a moment in the country right now. Has this led to more activity in Oakland or is it just business as usual?
It’s the way it’s always been, we’ve just stood up against whoever done us wrong. It’s something that’s been in our DNA. Our parents and our relatives were Panthers or had some form of political representation on the front lines, so they’ve always taught us to address the injustices. Look at Occupy Oakland. Of all the Occupy movements going on around the nation, one of the most significant ones was Oakland.
You’ve been around the country a few times. Are there other cities you feel have that baked into the culture like Oakland does?
Harlem, Baltimore (unfortunately, the officer who assassinated Freddie Gray was cleared of all charges, which was unfortunate because it was a blatant murder), Los Angeles most definitely.
“Right now, to this day, the most strung out dope fiend in Oakland is still hella smart, because when he was brought up in the city, the consciousness level was at red.”
Does Los Angeles have the same historical precedent as Oakland?
Yeah. There were several Black Panther chapters in LA. You had Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Bobby Hutton in the Bay; then in Los Angeles you had Eldridge Cleaver, Bunchy [Carter], and others leading the Black Panthers. When you look at the Bloods and Crips, they started as politically righteous groups. The whole cultivation of the Crips, the gang-like thing was to protect blacks against the police brutality and the injustice in the community. Over time it got lost in a red or blue thing, but initially it was a group for furthering blackness and the black community.
You speak openly and candidly about how your parents were in the streets, so it’s interesting how the lessons of the Black Panthers reached you without them taking a proactive role.
It was the community! Right now, to this day, the most strung out dope fiend in Oakland is still hella smart, because when he was brought up in the city, the consciousness level was at red. You had to be informed about what was going on. Imagine being young and seeing the Black Panthers marching down the street, or going to the breakfast programs where they were feeding hundreds of kids on a daily basis. If you were a young black man at the time, racism was still very prevalent in America, and it was in your face! They still lynchin’ niggas in the ’60s! So you got a young black man in the ’70s having rifles, going to the state capital building, talkin’ about, “We have the right to do this. We got the right to carry guns!” These young dudes was like, “Damn, they serious!” And I’m young. Unc, how old are you?
Uncle Ern: I’m 45. It was the Black Panthers that had the most notoriety, but there was other organizations that was following the party act, standing up for blacks and trying to create opportunities for blacks. So to see your father come home knowing that he was involved in that, he was always preaching to you to keep you focused on education, like, “I’m not telling you to go to school because I want you to go to school, I’m telling you to go to school because your peoples fought for the rights for you to go to school.”
Is that still part of the culture for kids coming up today?
Nope. The majority of these young cats don’t even know who Huey Newton is, or they have bits and pieces of his tarnished legacy. They know about the drug addict Huey Newton who died over a drug deal gone bad. And that’s the legacy they get left with.
In America, as a black man, they’ll let you live as much as possible, but you won’t die without blemishes on your name. Any black man in America that has had any kind of significance to people—Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, Richard Pryor, Elijah Muhammed, Dr. Yusef Bay—these were black men that had such an influence in black lives that before they died, some blemish was put on their name. Magic Johnson, what muhfucker get AIDS and get fatter? It had to be some bet or something gone wrong, like that dude wasn’t supposed to go to game 7 or something. “You got to say you got AIDS nigga!” That’s just how it is.
“Even in the midst of all my righteousness and consciousness, I’m still ratchet as fuck. We try our best to find that balance.”
How do you decide how much “knowledge” to put in your music?
“Nigga you wanna die? Keep talkin this shit, they gonna kill yo ass. Say one more thing to uplift these blacks, Fab, I swear to God we banning your shit.”
Has anyone actually said that to you in so many words?
I definitely have had police officers pull up on me like, “So, uh, with that last song, what did you mean by that?”
But not label people.
Nah, I never been a slave to a label! But there comes a time when the youth don’t wanna be preached to, and you don’t want to seem preachy, because even in the midst of all my righteousness and consciousness, I’m still ratchet as fuck. I still have a life that I’m living. We try our best to find that balance.
As a high profile citizen of Oakland, what’s your relationship with the police?
I think your relationship with the police is always as an individual. My relationship with the police is based on me being Mistah F.A.B. So something that I would be doing, they would ride by like, “That’s just F.A.B. fuckin’ around.” But I can’t be ignorant to the fact that racial profiling is still going on and it’s prominent in our communities. Percentage-wise, the average police officer who’s patrolling the inner cities is not from that city. They don’t understand the lifestyle, the culture, what the natural habits of the people in that area are. When you’re dealing with a city that has a high crime rate, it makes you scared. A random traffic stop where someone may just be not riding with their seatbelt, [the police] get out so scared because they heard about all the murders that are going on in the city, so they pull their gun out. [I’m] getting pulled over for a seatbelt, you pulled a gun on me?
I think to meet the requirement to be a police officer you [should] have to be from the city that you’re patrolling, or there has to be at least one arresting officer that is, because nine out of 10 times, they will know these individuals. And you are much more relaxed when you respond to someone that you know. The tension is gone. I know several cops on the OPD that’s my friends outside of me having my profession and them having their profession, like “That’s the homie AJ from the hood! That’s Lance! That’s Armstrong, Armstrong the sheriff! That’s the homie, he used to give us rides to school, he funded our basketball program when I was young.” They come by events I have in the community and that creates dialogue.
We’re talking policy, do you have any political aspirations?
Why you tryna get me killed, brah? Honestly, it’s a dream of mine one day, give running for mayor a shot or something. City council? That’s easy. I damn near coulda won that last year if I ran. I made my sister do it, she got crazy votes. We put a whole campaign together.
Your sister is on the city council?
She almost won, but she’s very active in the community with the council, going to board meetings. Our area, North Oakland, has one of the highest rates of gentrification. And that area is the primary spot of where I do all my charity events.
Tell me about your charity events.
Backpack giveaways every year, turkey drives for Thanksgiving, toy drives for Christmas, Easter egg hunts, creating a change movement where we take the kids to amusement parks and Monster Jam…And there’s neighbors that have the audacity to call the police on us when we have these kids out lining up to get free toys, like “They’re making excessive noise in the community.” Because of the relationships I’ve established with patrolling officers in those areas, they be like, “Lady that’s Fab, he’s doing stuff for these kids. These would be the same kids that would be robbing your ass.”
Your cousin is Marshawn Lynch. How involved are you with what he’s doing for Oakland?
Super involved. Football programs, scholarships, clothing lines…I’m hella mad that I couldn’t go to Haiti with him a couple weeks ago. He was building affordable homes. Port Au Prince is still devastated from the earthquake. The money that the Red Cross collected never goes to the people, so he went out there with his own money, building houses, shit that the media doesn’t cover. He was over in Egypt. Dude is a Robin Hood.
Do you still have faith in the political process?
I think the power lies in the philosophies of the people who are in that position, so to answer your question: Yes, if you feel like dealing with the heartbreak and letdown of a political system that was never intended to help us. When we look at America, America was built off of corruption. We built this land off removing Indians from their land and using Africans to plant the plantations, and so on and so forth. But if we can put those who represent the people in positions of power, then things can change.
People say whatever they wanna say about Obama, but there are moves that he made that helped a lot of people. True enough, there are certain situations that may have been very detrimental, but it’s better than what we had with Clinton. When Clinton was in office, the number of blacks that were incarcerated was higher than it’s ever been. We can talk about incarceration. We can talk lower levels of college graduates. We can talk about the funds that’s allocated for school. We can talk about how many more prisons were built during that time.
So if we put those who represent the people in position, I do believe in change. I do believe that things do change and do evolve. But if I get shot after this interview, I’ma fuck you up!