Fred the Godson, Nimble New York Rapper, Dies at 41

The Bronx musician was a forceful presence on mixtapes, filling his rhymes with clever punch lines. Fred the Godson wrote his complex rhymes in unreadable scribble, knowing nobody else but him could decipher them.

The Godson, who for more than a decade was a respected figure in New York hip-hop, an understated master of wordplay with a signature flow, died Thursday April 23rd, 2020 in the Bronx. He was 41. 

His death, at Montefiore Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized since early April, was confirmed by his publicist, Matthew Conaway, who said the cause was complications of the coronavirus. 

 

Back when mixtapes were still the coin of the realm in New York rap circles, Fred the Godson was a reliable, forceful presence. He had a husky voice, but it was nimble, too — all the better for the kind of wordplay-heavy punch-line-filled bars that thrived in those settings. Double entendres, homophones, homonyms, assonance — he always found a way to bend a rhyme.

 

Take his 2012 freestyle on Funkmaster Flex’s Hot 97 radio show, a regular showcase for high-finesse wordsmiths, in which his verse evolves line by line, one subtle tweak at a time: 

They see me on the block with the Lincoln parked 
They know I’m selling rock like Linkin Park 
Far as flow, they click on my link and watch 
You see me with the big Cuban link and watch 

“He was really committed to the wittiness and the bar work — he stood on that,” said Justin Harrell, a rapper who records as 38 Spesh and who was among Fred the Godson’s closest friends. Mr. Harrell recalled that Fred wrote all his rhymes with a silver Uni-ball pen on unlined yellow paper in a wholly illegible scribble. After he would record in the booth, he’d leave the paper behind, unworried about anyone filching his rhymes. “He knew no one would be able to read it,” Mr. Harrell said. 

DJ Clark Kent, a seminal figure in New York rap, praised Fred the Godson’s wordplay in a tribute on Instagram: “He was easily one of the most dangerous MC’s around.”

Frederick Thomas was born on Feb. 22, 1979, and grew up in the Bronx, where hip-hop began. (Big Bronx was one of his nicknames.) He emerged in New York rap in the 2000s as a potent freestyler, spilling reference-dense lines over beats from other rappers’ songs, a New York tradition. 

He quickly released a pair of impressive mixtapes — “Armageddon” in 2010 and “City of God,” part of DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz series, in 2011. He was named a member of XXL magazine’s 2011 Freshman class, an annual collection of hip-hop up-and-comers.

 

In the decade since, Fred the Godson had steadily released strong music and performed regularly, becoming an avatar of a hip-hop style that wasn’t always at the genre’s center. He collaborated widely, with Pusha T, Jadakiss, Cam’ron, Raekwon and many others. 

Mostly he favored hard-boiled subject matter, sometimes tragic and sometimes leavened with triumph, as on “Toast to That,” his 2011 collaboration with Jadakiss. But he also touched on matters of the heart, most memorably that same year on the savage and wry payback tale “Monique’s Room”: “We sent a vid to your Facebook/I wish I seen how your face looked.” 

Fred the Godson’s survivors include his wife, LeeAnn Jemmott, and two daughters.

 

Via Jon Caramanica/New York Times

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