For 30 years, Mr. Funky Fresh has helped guide Boston’s still-growing rap scene.
When he was a teenager, the Roxbury hip-hopper born Rusty Pendleton was known by another handle: Rusti the Toejammer, a moniker he earned for his unique ability to DJ with his feet. But for the past 20 years he’s gone by the same name as the landmark Funky Fresh Records shop he owns in Dudley Square.
Now, with the music retail business shrinking day by day, Fresh is emerging as a front-line player, in endeavors including his radio show on Touch 106.1-FM, an ambitious management company and a series of Boston Marathon musical showcases, including one Thursday night at the Middle East in Cambridge.
“I’m not new school or old school,” Fresh said at the posh Kendall Square headquarters of his new company, PSG Entertainment Management Group. “I’m all school. You have to pay attention to what’s happening in this game if you want to survive.”
Despite dwindling CD sales, Fresh doesn’t regret his retail experience. His record shop established him as a hip-hop muse in his community, and gave him a perspective on the music scene that fans and artists might not see from across the counter.
“I look at this whole thing from a retail perspective,” he said. “I look at what sells. This music business is not about the music, it’s about the business.”
What doesn’t sell at Funky Fresh?
Boston artists. So to boost local talent, Fresh has launched a number of projects to help local rappers and producers learn to succeed. Last year, he hosted a workshop titled “Everything You Need to Know About the Music Business” at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury. Recently, he switched the format of his radio show; now he spins five straight hours of Boston-only hip-hop every Friday and Saturday night.
“There are 100,000 rappers now,” Fresh said. “Every kid who comes into my store is a rapper. Don’t get me wrong. Some cats out here make beautiful, great music. But after that, once they walk out of their studio, they’re stuck.”
Fresh’s latest and largest attempt to lift the bar in Boston is PSG, which he operates from Cambridge with longtime associates Kirt Gaines and Steven Smith. Guiding acts such as Beantown duo Scoe & Magnum, the PSG partners hope to instill the professionalism too many local artists lack.
“We’re using our energy and resources to develop artists and bring them from the ground level all the way to record deals,” Smith said.
According to Fresh, success is as simple as hustling and sticking out.
“The problem is that when someone like Soulja Boy pops up, people think it just happened that minute,” he said. “Everyone thinks that you can win overnight and you can’t. It took a lot of work for him to get 4 million people doing the dumbest dance on the planet.
“I’ve been around since the New Kids on the Block were still kids,” Fresh said. “Forget the decline in record sales. I don’t know anything besides music, and when this is all you know, you have to make it right.”
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