Rapper Mistah F.A.B. will take the Rock 'N' Flow stage on April 26. | Courtesy Photo

Brenna Swanston
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Stanley Cox was small for his age, but he was popular at school. He was raised by a single mother in Oakland, Calif., where he enjoyed playing sports, freestyle rapping with his friends and occasionally sneaking into Golden State Warriors games.

A local musician overheard Cox freestyling with some of his middle school buddies and asked him to rap on her song, offering $250.

In that moment, Cox decided to make music for a living.

Mistah F.A.B. — the name Cox took as a performer — has risen through the ranks of hip-hop over the past 17 years. He gives back to his hometown of Oakland however he can, still loves rapping more than anything and was recently hired by the Warriors to write a playoffs theme song for them.

“It’s pretty full-circle,” he said of his career’s course.

Mistah F.A.B., commonly known as Fab, will make his way to San Luis Obispo for the third annual Rock ‘N’ Flow music festival on April 26.

Festival co-founder James Kaye came up with the idea of bringing F.A.B. to Rock ‘N Flow after following the rapper’s career for six years.

“He can do everything,” Kaye said. “Mistah F.A.B. can do 90 percent of rappers’ styles better than they can.”

Kaye had started to doubt he would be able to book F.A.B. until he ran into the rapper on Hollywood Boulevard.

“After a few weeks of thinking in my head, ‘How the hell could we get ahold of F.A.B.?,’ I saw him walking down the street,” Kaye said. “You can call it luck, or fate or just randomness.”

Kaye doesn’t know what to expect from F.A.B.’s performance, but he said he is certain it will be worth watching.

“There’s really no telling what he will do because of his freestyling abilities, and that’s what makes him so exciting,” Kaye said. “He has this presence about him so that even if he’s freestyling off the top of his head, he’s 100 percent cool and collected.”

Part of Kaye’s draw toward F.A.B. sprouted from the artist’s extreme generosity toward his hometown.

“He does a backpack drive every September where he gives away backpacks for kids to go to school with,” Kaye said. “He does a turkey drive on Thanksgiving. He does a present drive for kids on Christmas. He’s definitely a pillar in the community of Oakland.”

Kaye also appreciates F.A.B.’s persistent humility, even in the midst of success.

“He’s such a hard worker and he’s everywhere all the time,” he said. “He’s written platinum songs that he doesn’t even sing on.”

F.A.B.’s platinum song is “HeadBand,” which he wrote for B.o.B. According to F.A.B., the song’s success was a milestone in his career.

“It’s definitely an achievement that I’m proud of,” he said.

Even so, F.A.B. sees philanthropy and humility as obligations: It is an “unwritten rule,” he said, that he gives back to his childhood community.

“If I was in a position to provide for those same corners I once stomped on, then why wouldn’t I?” F.A.B. said. “And why shouldn’t I?”

As for his musical humility, even after years of success, he still views himself as a student in hip-hop, he said.

One of his biggest mentors is rapper Too Short.

“You’d be a fool not to learn from his teaching,” F.A.B. said.

Even then, F.A.B. sometimes approaches Too Short’s counsel with the attitude of a stubborn teenager.

“I don’t want to listen at first, just to be defiant,” F.A.B. said. “But then I do it. And it does work. I mean, nobody’s been in the game like he’s been in the game. Nobody’s been in it for 30 years.”

The influence of old-school hip-hop artists has only helped advance F.A.B.’s career in the modern industry, he said. Today’s hip-hop has evolved to bring back some of its most classic veterans.

“You’ve got some of the top artists today, and you can go out and listen to one of their albums, and it features some of the pioneers of hip-hop,” F.A.B. said. “It’s just showing you the cycling of how things are going full circle. You can catch a guy like ScHoolboy Q, and you listen to his album and hear someone like Raekwon on there, and that’s amazing.”

Because hip-hop follows this cycle, anyone who gets in the mix is in it for good, he said.

And with each cycle of hip-hop, his musical style has grown and matured, he said.

Recreation, parks and tourism administration junior Amanda Behrendt works as assistant coordinator for Rock ‘N’ Flow and has remained a faithful F.A.B. fan through all his musical phases.

“He’s totally changed his direction over the years,” Behrendt said. “In the beginning, he was in the hyphy movement and all the crazy hip-hop stuff, but now he’s more lyrical.”

F.A.B.’s lyrics tell meaningful stories of his childhood in Oakland as well as his hometown’s current hardships, she said. But even through those changes, he has stayed true to himself musically.

Behrendt expects the rapper to draw a big crowd at Rock ‘N’ Flow.

“We have Evidence and Alchemist, who are very underground hip-hop but kind of making their way up,” she said. “And F.A.B.’s already made his way.”

His style stands out against those of other musicians in the festival’s lineup, helping to diversify the event, Behrendt said.

F.A.B. agreed his music sounds different from other Rock ’N’ Flow performers, but said artists across all styles of hip-hop have accepted him.

“I’m actually the oddball on this roster, and if you look at the particulars of the musical genres — look at Evidence and Alchemist — they don’t associate with Mistah F.A.B.,” F.A.B. said. “But if you ask them, they’ll tell you, ‘Hell yeah, he’s one of us.’”

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