“I can eat rice with chopsticks pretty good, huh?” Harry Fraud smirks, proud of his dexterity in polishing off a plate of broccoli, tofu, and brown rice. It’s 10 p.m. at Michael & Ping’s, and the staff at the Gowanus restaurant remind us that they’re now closed. Fraud grumbles and takes his bottle of seltzer to go. At six-foot-two, he’s wearing black head to toe — his cri de coeur against fashion — and his Nikes are customized with the name of his record label, “SRFSCHL.” He adjusts his black baseball cap, revealing shorter, coiffed hair. “You ready?” We head out on Third Avenue. It’s October, but traces of summer linger. The Brooklyn native walks with an easy confidence, like someone who’s known these streets his whole life. Inside a Dunkin’ Donuts, Fraud orders a large iced coffee with a “Turbo Shot” of espresso. It’s going to be a long night.
As a producer, Harry Fraud has crafted sounds for rappers across the five boroughs. You’ve heard the name-check: His tracks distinctly feature a woman purring, “La música de Harry Fraud.” He’s been instrumental in French Montana’s career (see 2009’s “New York Minute” and 2011’s street anthem “Shot Caller”) and has produced for Action Bronson, Smoke DZA, and Pusha T. Stoners Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa flock to his lush, spacey, weirdo beats, as have the Weeknd (“The Professional”), Sam Smith (“Nirvana”), and Jessie Ware (“Keep On Lying”). Still, it’s been a slow burn. Unlike hip-hop producers who clamor for instant, ephemeral fame, Fraud is old-fashioned. His is the more deliberate, steadier approach. He’s selective about who he collaborates with and still prefers to work in person, as opposed to volleying beats over email. When he isn’t working, he’d rather surf in Montauk than brag about his latest placement. He’s spent the past several months quietly finishing French Montana’s sophomore effort, Mac & Cheese: The Album; a project with Smoke DZA; and, next on deck, his new mixtape, set for release in a few weeks.
As we head over to his studio, we’re maybe a mile from Cobble Hill, where the producer, born Rory Quigley, grew up. Music has always been a part of Fraud’s life. His parents were in a band that played at the Bitter End and the now-defunct China Club. Later, his father ran concert and event productions and managed acts like Sugar Ray. Fraud remembers his childhood as “free-spirited,” and his attraction to rebellion set in at an early age. “I would, like, smoke cigarettes in front of the teachers and shit. Like, I had no respect for the authority.” He attended a prep high school but was “ready to be fucking out of there” and spent most of his time cutting class, smoking weed, and hanging with the older kids. “I was the youngest kid in the clique. That’s probably what made me bad, too. When you’re the youngest kid in the clique, they test you so much.”
He caught the production bug after hearing Sugar Ray’s early work with turntablist DJ Lethal. He tinkered as a DJ under the moniker Roar, sharpening his chops when he got a Boss SP-202 Dr. Sample and began fiddling with drum breaks and “looping up Ravi Shankar.” “I would be down in my room for hours, cooking and fucking with records, sampling little pieces of shit. I was so into it.” After receiving an MPC for Christmas his junior year of high school, he officially “got obsessed.”
After graduation, Fraud interned at Temple of Soul studios on 26th Street — grunt work, it turned out, shot through with the odd edifying moment. “I would go and get green tea and break weed for the guys. They were not letting me touch shit,” he says, laughing. “There was one day of the whole internship where I got to record my shit!” He attended SUNY Purchase College briefly but mostly dicked around (“We would do mad mushrooms and go to the other colleges to scoop chicks”) and came to the city to work. Eventually, he picked up a copy of Pro Tools and began recording under the handle H. Fraud, later amended to Harry. The name sounded mysterious and gave him a sense of anonymity. He laughs: “Everyone thought I was Spanish.” Striving for the unexpected helped carve out his niche. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want these beats to sound like other people’s beats.’ That was just really important to me. So I made these weird, very airy [beats].”
It’s 11 p.m. when we arrive at the studio. It’s in a gritty, industrial building on a desolate street with long hallways and graffiti-tagged doors. The space is shared with rock bands and artsy types, and intermittent music reverberates from other rooms. Fraud’s been here since “Shot Caller” and could upgrade to nicer digs, but he loves it. He owns two rooms, one with his recording rig and another with an array of drums and other instruments. The steel entry is plastered with an assortment of stickers and rap tags and the walls are covered with dark green paint, which gives the room a subterranean feel. If the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles recorded music, they would probably do it here.
“Come to the fireplace, ma,” Fraud says, rubbing his hands near an artificial flame. He’s seated at the Pro Tools rig, lit joint in hand. Contrary to his pothead reputation, it’s his first smoke all day. Nearby, friend and right hand Red Walrus is seated alongside studio intern Kyle. Fraud’s crew is mostly guys he’s known since day one. With Surf School Recordings, the producer wants to create an incubator for emerging talent. He’s signed local artists Adrian Lau and Downtown Dion, and serves as big brother as much as producer. “I learn so much from the young guys I work with, and they give me good energy. If you give me your best, I’ll give you mine.”
Fraud’s still untitled forthcoming mixtape pulls from his Surf School roster as well as a cadre of familiar names. The mixtape opens with an invocation from the incarcerated cult-rap hero Max B, whose vocals were recorded over voicemail. Next Fraud cues up “Want It to Be,” a sax-laden track with French Montana, as well as a menacing, untitled cut from Action Bronson. Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y appear on the tape, along with an outro by Riff Raff that’s — egad! — pretty good. Fraud has 40 tracks and needs to edit down to ten for the final list. He feels too close to the material and wants an outside opinion. The curation process is hell. Every track is his baby, and being King Solomon is excruciating — but now he has a convenient scapegoat. “If anyone gets mad [that their song got cut], I’ll tell them it was you,” he jokes. “The female consigliere. They’ll bug out.”
Fraud’s happy-go-lucky vibe belies an underlying emotional gravitas. It’s been a fucked-up year for him. Friend and collaborator Chinx Drugz was tragically gunned down in Queens in May, while Sean Price, the beloved Brownsville lyricist who gave Fraud his first industry nod (“He would just, like, fuck with us, nurture us”), died unexpectedly in August. “I went through a lot of personal loss in the last few years. I lost so many people that were close to me, my grandparents, my friends.” When shit got crazy, the producer escaped to his middle-of-nowhere house in Florida and buried himself in work. “I needed to just tuck back and focus on becoming better at this craft.”
Work is where Harry Fraud is most comfortable. It gives him focus — even if, as he says, he’s never really satisfied. “I’m always analyzing. I’m never content with something.” He’s not one to wallow in his success. His eyes are on the long game, and as far as he sees it, there’s a way to go. “I’m willing to sacrifice anything right now. I’ve had a good run in these last few years. I just want to be the best.”