Chatting with The Chinaman: 2 Live Crew’s Fresh Kid Ice On Trinidad + Miami Bass

October 10, 2014

Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Christopher Mitchell

Fresh Kid Ice 2 Live Crew

As one-quarter of the notoriously X-rated 2 Live Crew, Chris Wong-Won—aka Fresh Kid Ice—became a pioneer of Miami Bass music and a martyr for First Amendment rights in the 1980s. Perhaps somewhat lesser known was that before he was exhorting girls to “Pop that P” and “Move Somethin,'”Wong-Won, who was perhaps better known by his other nickname, “The Chinaman,” was born in Trinidad.

Young Chris was born in Port of Spain’s Belmont area and lived in Trinidad until age 12, when his family relocated to the heart of New York City’s Caribbean community in Flatbush, Brooklyn. After attending Tilden High School (alma mater of Rev. Al Sharpton) with members of the rap group UTFO, he joined the Air Force in Riverside, California, and co-founded 2 Live Crew with DJ Mr. Mixx and fellow rapper Amazing Vee. It was only after repeat bookings from a Miami promoter named Luther Campbell that Chris and Mr. Mixx decided to ditch the West Coast and the Air Force for the sunny beaches and booming car-speaker systems of South Florida.

Nearly three decades after that fateful cross-country move and 2 Live Crew’s brush with Tipper Gore and the Supreme Court, 2 Live Crew has reformed (minus Uncle Luke, now coaching youth football) with plans to release a new album, entitled Turn Me On, in early 2015. All these years later, however, Chris has never really discussed his background as a Trinidadian or his pioneering role as hip-hop’s first “Chinaman.” With Miami Carnival about to go down this weekend, we wanted to shine a light on some avenues of Miami Caribbean culture you might not know about. So we caught up recently with Fresh Kid Ice at Circle House, the world-renowned Miami recording studio owned by reggae legends Inner Circle  for a conversation about being Black, Chinese and Trini–and a soldier for free speech.


LargeUp:  So you were you born in Trinidad?

FKI: Yeah, Belmont, Port-of-Spain.

At what age did you come to the States?

FKI: I was there until I was 12. I came to Brooklyn back in 1977. It was the the day after the Blackout.

LU: 2 Live Crew were pioneers for explicit music. In Trinidad, the old calypso could be pretty dirty, if you read between the lines. Did you pick up on those lyrics as a kid? Was easier for you to say shocking things because it was part of the culture in Trinidad?

FKI: I remember all the Sparrow songs. So that’s one of the things I gotta use to my advantage, knowing about wining and all that stuff. It was that, and growing up in Brooklyn. It was like an evolution. There were things I’d seen and picked up in those days that I used later on.

LU: What was it like moving to Brooklyn from the Caribbean?

FKI: It was a culture shock at first. When we came up, it was the era of Son of Sam. I was still around Caribbean culture. It was a bunch of us that came over. I’m from a family of 10 kids, and we had a lot of cousins in the area.

LU: I understand you were a medic in the Air Force. Were you planning to be a doctor?

FKI: I knew when I got out, I had that at least to start with. With hip-hop starting to break, it was something I wanted to try. When I got to California, I met Mr. Mixx and Amazing Vee. Amazing Vee was also from Brooklyn. Mr. Mixx was from California and he had just got back from England, where he was DJing. We started 2 Live Crew playing music in the dorms. Mr. Mixx had an 808 drum machine, and we were making our own beats. We recorded our first single, and there was a company out in Santa Monica called Macola, where you would pay them $500, they’ll press up the record for you, put it out there and when orders come back they’ll fill out them out. We started our own independent label called Fresh Beat Records. And that was December, 1984.

LU: How did Luke find out about you guys?

FKI: Macola Records was a label that had all of the West Coast rappers at the time—Egyptian Lover, World Class Wreckin Cru, the LA Dream Team. We had a two-sided single “The Revelation” and the other side was called “2 Live,” but the people in the South used to call it “Beatbox” because of the way it started. It became hot in the South.  Luke was a street DJ, and a street promoter, so he knew it, found us and brought us down to do some shows.


LU: Did you know how wild Miami was at the time?

FKI: Not really. When we first came down to Miami, we were still in the military. We just came down for the weekend to do shows. Miami had its own vibe, different from everybody else in the country. And they kept bringing us back. There was these dance[s] they were doing, called the “Throw the D” and the Ghetto Jump. The “Throw the D” dance was kind of wild and kind of funny. I wrote the song, “Throw the D,” on the plane going back to our day job in the military.

They were doing [the dance] to this record, “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat” by Herman Kelly. So we splashed that in, and based it on the tempo of how they were dancing. We would listen to a lot of Dolomite and [comedy] records just chilling, so Mr. Mixx scratched in some of the elements of the Dolomite records. There were no samplers then. The B-side was also talking about Miami, how had a lot of speakers and the bass, called “Ghetto Bass.” We made it slower so the Bass could come out.

LU: What led you to leave California and set up shop in Miami?

FKI: Me, I didn’t like the West Coast too much. Everyone out there was too Hollywood. I’m not into that Hollywood vibe. Miami was growing, and it had its own culture — it was like a mixture of Brooklyn and everything in the Caribbean. I figured I would give it X amount of time, and then I was gonna go back to Brooklyn. My dad was a union rep at a hospital, and he had a job waiting for me, so I’d have been alright.

LU: Did you notice that the music culture in Miami was similar to the Caribbean with the emphasis on bass and loud sound systems that you could play in the street?

FKI: Yeah. I remember at Carnival, the amount of speakers they would have for sound. It was a lot. And then going into Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn on Labor Day. Where I lived in Trinidad, the bands used to pass by and we would just watch ‘em on their way up to the park. That’s one of the reasons why in a lot of 2 Live Crew music, you hear a lot of percussion. That’s like a cross between [Miami Bass] and Caribbean culture.

LU: Would you say there was a Caribbean influence that shaped Miami Bass?

FKI: Yes. If you listen to the records, it’s not just uptempo. Listen to the percussions on the record. The congas, the different sounds, the way it moves. The Miami Bass that we wanted to create was something that had its own energy. That’s why when you listen to 2 Live Crew records today, a lot of people still lose they mind.

LU: You were the first person a lot of people in America ever saw who was Black and Chinese. That’s not uncommon in the Caribbean, and in Miami where you have a lot of Chinese Jamaicans, but the rest of the country probably hadn’t seen anyone who looked like you. Would people ask you about that?

FKI: Always. They ask where you’re from. Sometimes my accent comes out—it depends on who I’m around, if I’m around family or people from the Caribbean. So [other people] will ask where I’m from, what I’m mixed with.


LU: Being known as “The Chinaman”–was that something you came up with, or a name that was given to you?

FKI: Most people down here in Florida used to call me Chinaman. That was basically given to me by other people. Because of my eyes people used to go, “You’re the Chinese one.” The Chinaman always stuck. That was the AKA.

LU: What did your family think of your music?

FKI: They hated it. I’m a strict Catholic. Most of the reaction came from my parents and my older sisters. Since I was a good kid in school, they thought I was gonna be a doctor or lawyer. Most of my friends I went to high school with are doctors, lawyers, pilots—that type of stuff.

LU: Luke has said 2 Live Crew’s lyrics weren’t supposed to be taken seriously…

FKI: It was more like the party records by a Richard Pryor or Redd Foxx. It was like locker room talk. When dudes talk behind closed doors you’ll be like, “That girl, she had this big fat ass.” And that was the whole concept of the thing. Instead of people taking it serious. At that time, when we were going through our controversies, it was a fight. We felt we were right. We did everything we were supposed to do. We stickered the records. We made clean versions. Our clean versions, we re-rapped our verses to make it clean, where other people just do punchouts. We knew we’re 2 Live Crew, they still won’t play us, even if we punch out.

LU: So 2 Live Crew is releasing a new album. But no Luke?

FKI: Right now it’s just Brother Marquis and myself. Luke is doing his own thing, coaching high school football right now. We have recorded this album on New Focus Records, a joint venture we’re doing with Lil’ Joe Records. It’s Marquis and myself’s label. We have a lot of tracks with Mannie Fresh on there. Not just on this album, we have stuff in the can. We’ve been working with him a lot—we go back. There’s Flavor [Flav], Trick Daddy, Trina, Flo Rida.

LU: 2 Live Crew was dismissed by the hip-hop establishment in NYC at the time. You must have felt that even more than the others being from Brooklyn. Do you feel you’re more respected now?

FKI: Even to this day, a lot of people still don’t respect us. But they have to give us our props. If we didn’t stand up to do the things we’ve done, a lot of the music they’d be hearing today would be PG and Nickelodeon rappers. The group went though our ups and downs and me myself I went through a lot of ups and downs. But through it all, the court fights, and everything, we stood for what we believed in. If you ask a lot of these artists if they would do the same thing, I doubt it. I’m not sure if they’re cut from the same type of mold.