The adidas City Series, one of the brands most iconic run of products ever to have released. Being introduced into the market during the 70s and early 80s each shoe had its own take and colour paying reference to the city they were based on.
To celebrate the comeback of the adidas Amsterdam, we flew over to the dutch capital to meet rapper Ray Fuego, one of the founders of the creative label and brand SMIB and also a part of punk band Ploegendienst. Ray Fuego is no stranger to musical diversity and is known as one of the most free spirited people and outspoken artist within the industry.
We sat down with Ray to talk about music, sneakers and of course, Amsterdam to find out why the city is so close to him.
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Footpatrol: Ray Fuego, first things first, thanks for having us in your home city. You are one of the biggest hip-hop artists here in Amsterdam at the moment,can you give us a bit of a back story on how you got to where you are now?
Ray Fuego: I grew up in South East Amsterdam, in a mostly black community. I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember, my dad was making music before me and it didn’t really kick off his career so I think I’m living his dream now. It was really a battle for me living in that area to like, be yourself and not be insecure about the things that you like and the things that you love because everyone there is brainwashed to like what the other likes. I always had a different kind of taste and a different mindset of what life meant for me. It took a while before I found all the people that I have gathered around me to make my dream work, but life put it in place for me.
At a certain point I met all the people that I had to meet then, we started SMIB, a platform for young creatives to help think outside the box and go to the maximum with their creativity and teach them about what life is really about. It’s all about being the best version of yourself. We started this thing without knowing we were working on something bigger than ourselves.
FP: Well SMIB is actually something I want to get into later! In terms of your music you are quite diverse, you are also part of a punk band as well, what’s the Punk music scene here like, is it big?
RF: Amsterdam has a really big punk scene and a really big punk history too. I don’t really affiliate myself with them, I have a couple bands that I mess with but I don’t really like it when people just make rules to benefit themselves. I’m the first black lead singer in the Netherlands in all the years, there’s never been a black lead singer, there’s probably been black bass players and drummers but never a lead singer.
I always have it in my head that I know they’re always going to think something of me. If it’s good or bad it doesn’t matter, they’re always going to think something of me. If they’re nice it’s usually because they think that they have to show me that they are not prejudiced, so they’re being overly nice, they’re not really themselves.
FP: It’s almost like they aren’t authentic in a sense.
RF: Yeah, and if they don’t like me they try to come up with an excuse for why they don’t like my music. You can’t dislike something that you don’t even know! It’s really easy to place something like ‘oh this sounds like Bad Brains because I’m black and have high energy’, but there are loads of black punk bands that inspired me and also white bands to, stuff like Black Sabbath, that have inspired me to. I was also really inspired by rude boy culture, skinhead culture but original skinhead culture not the polluted one.
FP: How have you seen Amsterdams Hip-Hop culture grow over the years. You have been producing music for quite a while, has it always been as prevalent as it is now?
RF: For me it feels like there’s a little whatsoever everyday, like there’s a new young guy everyday whos trying to make music. I think it’s beautiful, but at the same time I feel like there’s so many ways that you can express your creativity you don’t always have to be a rapper, you know what I mean? This is the easiest way for them to express themselves because they don’t challenge themselves to do something that’s harder or more who they are. It’s always like ‘oh I can do photography, I can do music and that’s it.’ They think if they get a picture of that famous rapper everyone will know they’re a photographer so they can do jobs, no ones like ‘oh yeah let me go and paint’ or like design clothes that are really nice quality, they just find a t-shirt and press something on it and try to sell it to the biggest rapper so he wears it and they can make money off of him. Nobody does something for something that’s bigger than themselves, everybody is just trying to benefit off the internet.
FP: Whos your favourite artist. If you can’t pick one, whos your top 3?
RF: Henry Rollins, HR – Bad brains and Kid Kudi.
FP: Moving into sneakers, Amsterdam is seen as one of Europe’s biggest sneaker and streetwear destinations. Do you think the city influenced your sneaker game and sense of style?
RF: I think it’s not the city that helped me, but my neighbourhood where I’m from. In Amsterdam it’s like an island by itself, when you’re there it’s like you’re in a different city. It’s mostly like students, mummy, daddy pays everything or like entrepreneurs that work really hard.
The part that I grew up, all the people there came from the 80s/90s when like dub and reggae scene was a really big influence there. I think unconsciously that influenced my style a lot and just the way I always wanted to diverse myself from everyone that was there. Some guys in my neighbourhood could really dress but they had the money to dress, I didn’t have the money to dress, I had to find alternatives. When I came to the city it developed further, I already knew who I was. If you didn’t know who you are in a neighbourhood where I’m from, you’re gonna drown trying to be someone and create a certain image that makes you feel comfortable in the area. I always searched for the most uncomfortable places and the places that were just really close to me, so as soon as I knew who I was and I came to the city it was really easy to maneuver through all the bull and everything that I like.
I’m not even that big on sneakers, I usually wear leather shoes because they’re sustainable and I can wear them for a really long time. If I do though it’s usually adidas that I wear.
FP: Now the adidas Amsterdam is a great example of a good retro, adidas has always been good at re-releases. What you think of the shoe?
RF: Now that I look at them, like I was telling you earlier I was looking in my closet deciding what I was going to wear with the shoe I was thinking really closed minded. I looked at the picture of the shoe again and it just reminded of all the old documentaries of Bob Marley playing football with his family and all this kind of stuff so I decided to base my styling on that. As we were walking through the streets of Amsterdam shooting it, it really made me think about 2/3years ago when I became a dedicated skinhead. When I was young I was more rebel-ish but as I grew up I wanted to go with the more smart look and shaved my head so that when my mum looks at me she sees what a handsome boy I am.
FP: Now I read that if you didn’t get into music you would have been a chef, do you consider yourself quite a big food fan?
RF: When I was young, I just wanted to cook because it was the only way I could express the way that I feel because I felt really confused when I was a kid. When I cooked it was like meditation I was at ease, I was so focused. I couldn’t go to the studio when I wanted then because I didn’t have the resources, so the only thing I could do is help my mum when she was in the kitchen to cook and my dad too. When I was in the kitchen with them cooking it was the only time I wasn’t paying attention to the world being on fire in my reality.
FP: If you had to choose one meal you could eat for the rest of your life what would it be?
RF: One meal! Oh my days. Does it have to consist of the same ingredients or can it be a dish?
FP: It can be a dish.
RF: Then it would be a stew.
FP: Are there any spots in Amsterdam you would recommend?
RF: Cafe Struijk, right here!!
FP: Something I have noticed with SMIB is that it’s more than a label, as I keep being told it’s a way of life. You have such a close connection with Amsterdams youth culture as well. Was that always part of the plan, did you expect it to become as big as it has done? I think it’s great that you guys seem so devoted to the younger audience within your city.
RF: Yeah, it was always the plan but we never expected it to become this big. So we move as SMIB worldwide, but we also have things like Smibanese university.
FP: Ah we just saw that in your store.
RF: That’s one of my friends and he writes books and literature. He’s trying to get young people to read more because books are literally someone thats put like 20 years on paper and you can read it in like a week if you’re dedicated. That’s 20 years worth of information.
FP: That you may not of known either.
RF: Exactly! I have the feeling that in black history, in the past we have loads of history, but the older generation didn’t give us the tools and information that was in between that era and this era. There’s a whole gap that’s missing, like a generation gap and he’s literally filling that gap in right now.
FP: It’s nice to hear though that its more than just music and a brand, it’s a publisher as well.
RF: Yeah, and also the clothing brand is actually not SMIB its Sumibu which is SMIB in Japanese.
FP: You guys also host a yearly festival too, this being your 5th year, was that always the plan when you all founded SMIB?
RF: Everything that were doing now and everything we want to do, we already manifested it in our minds. We were thinking about it so much and we wanted to do it so much that, eventually the universe put all the pieces of the puzzle together and it just started living in our reality. It’s crazy because we always talk about everything that we wanted to do, and because we do it not for the sake of ourselves but for the sake of something that’s bigger than us, it manifests. I always knew we would do this stuff.
FP: Ray thanks again for having us, is there anything you want to share before we go? Whats 2020 got instore for you, SMIB or any other your musical counterparts?
RF: This year I’m bringing an album out, and for the rest there’s loads of stuff that I’m working on cos I’m constantly working. Most of it is like just perfecting myself, being more patient, being the best version of myself I can be. Now there’s a baby in my life I can’t press the off button, sometimes you don’t want to think about all the things you have to do and turn off. Now there’s a child the button is constantly on, constantly focused you don’t have time for bull, so that’s why this years going to be the year that I face all the stuff I have to face with myself so I can be a better person for him.
FP: Just quickly, do you think youll ever bring SMIB to the UK?
RF: Yeah definitely! When it’s time, its time!