Fab 5 Freddy, also known as Fred Brathwaite, is a man of prodigious talents. An original “influencer” and hip-hop pioneer, he rose to national prominence in the late 1980s as the first host of the groundbreaking MTV show Yo! MTV Raps. He was previously name-checked in the Blondie song “Rapture,” when Debbie Harry rapped: “Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody’s fly.”
At one time or another Fab has been a graffiti artist, a rapper, an internationally exhibited painter, a video and TV-commercial director, and an actor.
Add documentary filmmaker to that long list. His two latest films premiered this year. A Fresh Guide to Florence With Fab 5 Freddy, in collaboration with the BBC, examines how black people were depicted in renaissance art. And in Grass is Greener, a Netflix documentary, Fab explores the racist war on cannabis, its influence on the jazz and hip hop communities and the struggle for legalization, interviewing figures like Snoop Dogg, B-Real of Cypress Hill and Kassandra Frederique of the Drug Policy Alliance.*
Fab 5 Freddy is also one of the many American adults who have managed to quit smoking by switching to flavored nicotine vapes. In the recent drug panic generated around vaping, leading to a series of bans on e-cigarettes and vape flavors, he sees eerie parallels with “Reefer Madness” depictions of marijuana.
“Millions of people try to stop smoking cigarettes. It’s not easy to stop. And this technology emerged which made it very easy and eliminated the burning of tobacco.”
So he decided to speak out. He invited Filter to his home in Harlem, New York City, to record an exclusive video detailing his thoughts.
“The overall message,” he noted, “is like, ‘All vaping is killing people and we need to ban it all immediately,’ which feels a lot like the kind of hysteria around cannabis.”
About six years ago, he told us, “my daughter wanted me to stop smoking cigarettes … Dad, come on, come on!”
He did just that, and now, “I vape with devices where I can pick the flavors and the levels of nicotine.”
“Millions of people try to stop smoking cigarettes,” he continued. “They watch loved ones die on a regular basis from cigarettes, so it’s not easy to stop. And this technology emerged which made it very easy and eliminated the burning of tobacco.”
As for current official messaging around vaping, he concluded, “They’re just putting out a scare campaign.” And he pointed out that “people that have been dying have all been vaping bootleg THC cartridges”—a distinction that has been lost in the current panic.
“Even the New York Times has been putting these articles out that are creating negative images and not really being honest,” he said. “Anybody that’s a part of the hysteria and this vaping scare campaign needs to really be more honest and open about what has caused people to die.”
“The main reason why I wanted to talk to you and share this,” he told Filter, “is because there’s all this information out there that’s terrifying people, thinking that all vaping, and all these flavors in vaping are problematic. They’re not.”
Prominent people who are willing to stand up for vaping as a lifesaving tool can play a key role in fighting back against the misinformation that dominates the airwaves. Watch the video above or here.
*The Drug Policy Alliance has provided a restricted grant to The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, to support a drug war journalism diversity fellowship.