After Several Tumultuous Years, Fredo Algebra Is Primed for a Renaissance 

The Union City, Filipino-American battle rapper has a fresh outlook on music.

click to enlarge Fredo Algebra reps Union City in his music. - JORDAN RANFT
  • Jordan Ranft
  • Fredo Algebra reps Union City in his music.

Alfredo Gerardo recorded his first song in 2002 while AWOL from the Navy. At the time, he was facing court-martial for desertion and testing positive for cannabis on a drug screening.

"Right before they put me on pretrial, I just packed my shit and came home," said the rapper who goes by Fredo Algebra.

The song, "Nicer Than," saw him chopping up braggadocios, cerebral lyrics in a double-time meter. "It wasn't very good," he admits, but it marked the official beginning of a career spanning almost two decades, rife with highs, lows, self-reinvention, and, at times, a disregard for following rules and customs.

Gerardo was born in South San Francisco to Filipino immigrants. His mother, a lover of R&B and pop singers like Bobby Brown, Mariah Carey, and Boyz II Men, did data entry for a stuffed animal company. His father, who listened to Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, and the Beatles on vinyl, worked in freight. Now, Gerardo cites classic rock and R&B as some of his biggest influences, along with rappers like Ice Cube, Hieroglyphics, and the Notorious B.I.G.

When he was 3 years old, his family moved to the fringes of the East Bay in Union City, where they still live today. The area is home to one of the largest populations of the Filipino and Asian-American diaspora in the Bay Area. Along with Gerardo, a top-tier battle rapper for almost a decade, the area also gave birth to the legendary Rock Force breakdancing crew, which won the 1998 Battle of the Year, essentially the world championship for breakdancing. Gerardo makes a point to represent his hometown, which remains unsung as an East Bay locale, in his music. "It's just full of hidden talent," he said. "Fools don't understand. It's not one of those towns people flock to, but I like it here."

Standing at about six-foot-three, with a wide frame and a round face, the man has a domineering presence. He peers out from the low-set brim of his hat with a Filipino flag embroidered on the side, as tattoos snake and coil up his arms. There is a stony tiredness to his gaze that belies the intelligence of his writing — his lyrics are constellations of twisting, intricate verse. It's sometimes difficult to keep pace with him as he folds slang, cultural references, and free associations into multi-syllabic rhyme-schemes: Let's get this party started/ try to step into my Mardi Gras get molly whopped and Ronnie Lotted. The complexity of his bars never feels overwhelming or awkward, though, as he delivers them with an effortless swagger. "People used to say my words sound like numbers and equations," Gerardo said. "That's where the 'Algebra' in Fredo Algebra comes from."

Over the past several years, Gerardo has covered and lost ground in equal measure. His group Great Muta (with rappers Josh Roxx and Swarm Shogun) began releasing music in 2008 and garnered an underground following, touring across the country and even featuring at End of the Weak, New York City's longest running hip-hop open mic. But it dissolved in 2013. Gerardo's clothing line, Thorough, was picking up momentum in the streetwear market but folded in 2015 due to internal disputes. Along with what he described as a toxic relationship that ended in 2016, Gerardo recalled several turbulent situations pulling his focus away from music. As of last year, however, this is no longer the case.

At 36 years old, Gerardo is experiencing a renaissance. In early 2017, he met producer J. Sana, and the two fell into a period of prolific creation. In just one year, the pair dropped seven singles and the full-length album Hope All Is Well. Gerardo describes the album as a farewell to the tumultuous years behind him. "It's my way of letting people from my past know that I'm in a different place now," he said. "I'm saying goodbye to all of the bullshit."

The record draws samples from a wide range of genres, including soul and classic rock, and blends them into a deliciously cohesive vibe. The beats slap with a clean, relaxed energy as Gerardo switches between singing and performing acts of verbal contortion about letting go. I am so tired of guidance from guys/ that are childish and can't look inside of themselves/ and meanwhile I am dying to find what's inside/ of designs of my mind/ they can't hide I'm not well... Farewell to you. To further emphasize this sentiment, the cover art is designed to look like an old postcard, with the words "Hope All Is Well" emblazoned across a tropical beach with a mushroom cloud rising in the distance.

With the support from his city and a newfound attitude toward making music, Gerardo is in position to have another year of continuous releases. He already has a follow-up to Hope All Is Well, titled Hope Floats, slated to drop this July. He is working on an R&B album under a different pseudonym, Late Night, as well as a project with Top Gun, a reformation of the original Great Muta members. Legion of Doom, a new duo composed of Gerardo and fellow Bay Area rapper Reverse Live, has been recording songs over the past year. Additionally, he has been busy making tracks with 667 Kult, a new rap collective consisting of rappers Illmac, Bobby Bucher, and Lush One as well as producer Chase Moore.

Bright days seem to be ahead for the Union City rapper. Gerardo has certainly come a long way from hiding out from the Navy when he recorded his first song. The inevitable bumps in the road that come with working as a musician for 20 years have given him a new outlook: "If I'm not having fun, I'm not going to be involved in it." 

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