Doug E. Fresh is dubbed the “World’s Greatest Entertainer,” but over the course of his 30 year career he has established himself as much more including: an artistic icon, a trailblazer, a businessperson and an activist. Fresh forever became part of music history as hip-hop’s originator of the human beatbox (vocally simulating the sound of drums and other musical instruments). Today his skill and talent has resulted in an enduring international hip-hop legacy that continues to break new ground. As a pioneering entertainer, Fresh possess the rare and gifted ability to captivate an audience. As a businessperson he has established several successful enterprises. As an activist he has set an example of the power of hip-hop and celebrity to address social ills.
Born Doug E. Davis in Barbados, Fresh made his professional recording debut in 1983 on the single "Pass the Budda," with Spoonie Gee and DJ Spivey. One year later, his buzz within hip-hop circles elevated with a memorable performance in the film “Beat Street” behind the Treacherous Three composed of Kool Moe Dee (Mohandas Dewese) and L.A. Sunshine (Lamar Hill), plus DJ Easy Lee (Theodore Moy'e). 1984 also saw the release of his first solo features with "Just Having Fun" and "Original Human Beatbox.”
By 1985, Fresh became one of the biggest stars within hip-hop due to his unrivaled ability to rock a crowd and masterful skill. His first single for the label, Reality was "The Show/La Di Da Di," recorded with his Get Fresh Crew, including MC Ricky D (a.k.a. Slick Rick), along with Barry Bee and Chill Will. The song became an instant hip-hop classic that remains a global show-stopping tour de force highlighted by Fresh’s virtuosic beatboxing. The single is credited with influencing a legion of beatboxing successors. Fresh’s debut album, 1987's “Oh, My God!,” featured most of his show staples, like "Play This Only at Night" and "All the Way to Heaven.” The album also revealed Fresh’s ability to seamlessly fuse genres as seemingly disparate as reggae, jazz and gospel with hip-hop. His sophomore album 1988's “The World's Greatest Entertainer,” broke into the Billboard charts with the hit single, "Keep Risin' to the Top." In 1989 his song, “Spirit” was featured on the soundtrack to the box-office smash, “Ghostbusters II” which helped to solidify his mainstream appeal.
After a three-year hiatus, Fresh signed with MC Hammer's label, Bust It Records and in 1992 he issued the album, Doin' What I Gotta Do. His single "Bustin' Out (On Funk)" was critically acclaimed for its clever sample of Rick James’ 1979 single “Bustin’ Out.” In 1993, Fresh signed to the Island Records-affiliated label Gee Street and generated additional hip-hop classics with the release of songs “I-ight (Alright)" and "Freaks.” "I-ight" became a major hit and is a testament to Fresh’s role as a cultural trendsetter as the hook has now become a famous club chant, (“Heyyyyyy, YO!... I-iiiiight”). On "Freaks", Fresh paid homage to his Caribbean roots with a Dancehall tune beatboxed entirely by him and in the process created a signature club tune. This same year, Fresh made his first leading role film appearance in “Let’s get Bizzee.”
In 1995, Slick Rick and Fresh reunited for a track on the latter’s album “Play,” which was critically acclaimed for its positive hip-hop lyrics during the height of gangsta rap. For Fresh the album was a statement against negativity in music and a call for greater consciousness. "Hip-hop is supposed to uplift and create, to educate people on a larger level and to make a change," says Fresh. "Hip-hop artists need to grow to use it like that—not just to get some paper."
Subsequent years would find Fresh further diversifying his portfolio across platforms including film, television, literature and entrepreneurship. Notable film roles included in the hit “Brown Sugar” and “Paid in Full” plus TV appearances on “The Chris Rock Show,” “Britain’s Top of the Pops” and “The Soul Train Awards” where he created a viral sensation by teaching CNN's Wolf Blitzer the dance craze known as The Dougie. Proving himself equally adept behind-the-scenes he has written music for McDonald’s, Coors, Gatorade and Tanqueray commercials and served as producer on the TV documentaries, “Hip-Hop Cultural Odyssey: Know Your History,” and “Be Inspired: The Life of Heavy D.” In 2002, Fresh partnered with Scholastic to create the book, “Think Again.” The book was part of a series entitled, “Hip Kid Hop” and Fresh’s story promoted unity and acceptance through the tale of two kids who overcome racial antagonism to become friends.
In 2010 he opened Doug E.’s Chicken and Waffles in Harlem. The restaurant has become a successful effort to contribute to the economic and cultural revitalization of Harlem. Two years later, Fresh joined the cast of “Apollo Live” on BET as a judge alongside soul music icon, Gladys Knight and Michael Bivins with host, Tony Rock. On the show he offers constructive criticism to help nurture tomorrow’s stars. It is a role, which Fresh finds reminiscent of his early career when he helped mentor talent such as P. Diddy, Biz Markie and numerous others.
In 2012, Fresh made history as the first rapper to perform at the United Nations for the United Nations Day Concert, in front of 193 countries. Fresh performed alongside his long-time friend and legend, Stevie Wonder for a rousing set that opened new doors for hip-hop within the global sphere.
With the same ease as he takes the mic, Fresh takes on social responsibility. A tireless hip-hop activist, he has fought against racism, drugs, illiteracy, police brutality and homelessness in communities around the world. A vocal proponent of artists' rights, he's a hands-on board member of The Artist Empowerment Coalition.
Fresh also serves as co-founder of Hip Hop Public Health (HHPH), along with Dr. Olajide Williams, a neurologist from New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Through HHPH, Fresh’s mission is to end health illiteracy through music and foster positive health behavior changes. As part of these efforts, Fresh has appeared in several PSA’s for Harlem Hospital Center encouraging health awareness. He also manages to directly address youth as a long-time participant of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, where he engages youth on topics such as financial literacy and voting. For his dedication to social service, he has received proclamations from Newark, NJ, Brooklyn, NY and Detroit, MI.
Proving that he is more in-demand than ever before Fresh has several highly anticipated projects in the works for 2013 and beyond. After recording the health empowerment anthem, “Let’s Move” for his HHPH organization, Fresh garnered the attention of First Lady Michelle Obama. The result was an invitation to perform at the White House and shortly thereafter, Fresh was commissioned to create the forthcoming album for Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative. In addition he is in the studio finishing up two additional 2013 releases, “Music & Me” a beatbox album with various musical collaborators and “Still (Still the World’s Greatest Entertainer).” The latter is a compilation featuring artists including Stevie Wonder, Prince, Larry Graham and Fresh’s sons, Dayquan "Slim" Davis and Solomon "Trips" Davis, better known as the rap duo, Square Off.
As someone who always remains on the pulse of innovation, Fresh will continue to further expand his empire and in doing so, one thing is certain: he will always remain true to giving back through his gift. “I always lived my life saying I don’t want to be financially rich and spiritually bankrupt,” he says. “So most of my decisions lean toward what's better for spiritual growth of others and myself and to create the best celebration of life. When I make hip-hop I've always been about trying to elevate the culture.”