Influenced by the likes of The Roots, Wu-tang Clan, and Run DMC; Free The Optimus, a hip-hop group based in Boone and Asheville, North Carolina, have found themselves growing a steady following with their string of new releases and live, energetic shows.
FTO’s three prominent members consist of 34 year-old MC and founder Chris Shreve, who is a senior lecturer at Appalachian State University, DJ Jet, a Carolina Music Award nominated DJ based in Asheville, NC, as well Mike L!VE, also an MC based in Asheville.
Other members include She Caretta, Shreve’s sister, who provides the group with graphic design work, Phil Dangerous, who helped form FTO back in ‘07 with Shreve, and Shep Bryan, a producer and multi-instrumentalist for the group.
“I understood what branding was from working in the world, and I took the time to think about it and figure it out,” said Shreve when asked about how the vision of FTO began. “FTO is meant to be an implication of freeing the part of you that is locked down and cannot be optimistic, but it can mean anything you want, really; free the oppression, free the cypher, however you feel.”
Along with FTO, Shreve and other members are heavily associated with Appalachian State’s Cypher, a local free-styling event that takes place every Wednesday at the “freedom tunnels.” Started by Shreve and members of the hip-hop group Pragmaddix, the cypher has grown from a very small group of freestylers to a large, weekly event. “I met Pragmaddix at a show at Murphy’s [in Boone] and we linked up from there,” Shreve said. “We were thinking about a cypher but didn’t know where to start it. We eventually decided to do it on the first Friday of June 2014, which coincidentally was also the same night as Art Crawl. It soon grew from there.”
While the cypher is predominantly filled with rapping, Shreve and its participators welcome all forms of art and creativity, including instrumental performances, spoken word, and singing. “If you have something to express, even if you want to talk or dance or sing, then we welcome it,” Shreve said.
While FTO have been releasing music for a while, including their newest single “1234,” a fiery lyric-driven track backed by vinyl scratching and delicate piano riffs, they also tour across the southeast with almost 150 dates per year.
FTOLive, the name that the group uses for their live show, not only debuts the new addition of Mike L!VE as a member, but also represents the crazy energy found in their live performance. FTO has performed at festivals across the Carolinas, and have even headlined a show at The Orange Peel in Asheville. “People don’t want to go to a show and see people just rap their lyrics, they want to be entertained, and so we’re really trying to up the ante with our live show by including some cool stuff.”
While FTO may be staying busy through their new music and touring, they still haven’t forgotten what their own values are as a group. “FTO has the idea that you can do whatever you want if you’re willing to work hard enough for it. We really want to change the world through others, through music and art. Change the world and explore your potential,” Shreve said.
While discussing the future, Shreve stated that focusing on FTO is the most important thing right now. “My goal is that in five years, FTO will be successful, and the acts that follow them will be big as well,” he said. “I would like to be behind the scenes in that time so I can pass it on and watch it happen with my own eyes.”
FTO is currently in the process of making new music, and will be performing at Timo’s House in Asheville, NC on October 23rd.
Written by Jordan Williams