Big Brother: Rapper TJ Fredette’s Fight To Stay Behind The Mic And Find Inspiration In Jimmer
The cliché introduction to this story would be to say how TJ Fredette fights everyday to break free of his identity as the older brother of former college basketball star Jimmer Fredette, as the elder sibling works towards a successful rap career. But that’s just not true.
The truth is that being Jimmer’s older brother helped TJ fight to get through the toughest time of his life to where he is now, just like TJ helped Jimmer reach the stardom he’s enjoyed on the basketball court.
So if you’re wondering who TJ Fredette is. Yes, he’s an emcee. And yes, he’s Jimmer’s brother.
Like generations of Fredettes, TJ grew up playing basketball. It started with a little court his father built in the backyard of his home in Glen Falls, NY, and he continued to play through high school and at Adirondack Community College in upstate New York.
TJ spent a lot of time playing basketball with friends, but at around 14 years old, he took on a new hobby with them while hanging out in the basement. That’s when his father, Al Fredette, said he began to notice his interest in rapping.
“It started out when he was really pretty young and I didn’t pay too much attention to it,” said Al. “One day one of the kids came up to me and said ‘you know Mr. Fredette you should go listen to TJ he’s really good.’ So I did one day. I went down and I listened to him and I came back up and I said, ‘he is good.’”
TJ admits not everyone was immediately on board with his decision to start rapping.
“My close friends and family always are supportive of everything I do so they were like, ‘oh that’s great,’ and they saw that I was actually good at it,” said TJ. “But people who I wasn’t really close with, they kind of laughed like, ‘oh you’re gonna rap?’”
But before convincing people that he didn’t have a close relationship with, he had to impress his father. That meant not just showing his skills, but proving to a father skeptical of hip hop’s image that TJ would put out positive music.
“No swearing, no crazy stuff that some of the rappers put out,” said Al.
TJ promised to uphold his end of the deal, and his father bought him the software he needed to record music. Today Al says that TJ has stuck with his end of the agreement.
Everything was continuing to go smoothly until TJ tore his ACL in 2006 while playing basketball, which he still calls his first love.
Even worse than the injury were the life-changing complications that came after the surgery to repair it.
TJ suffered from brain damage after a routine operation, which kept him glued to the couch for around a year and a half. He suffered symptoms such as dizzyness, headaches and low blood pressure that left him too weak to do much other than the minimum required of him to regain health. It hurt TJ’s mother, Kay Fredette, just watching him struggle.
“It was a very slow and tedious process for him to do those rehab exercises every single day, three times a day,” said Kay. “That was his life, laying on the couch and doing those rehab exercises.”
And that was more than just a little difficult for TJ, who was 24 years old and used to an active lifestyle.
“I got so depressed,” said TJ. “I don’t like to say I was suicidal but I, I really didn’t want to live. It just was so frustrating to be young and used to being able to go out and play ball and do what you want to do and all of a sudden you can’t do anything because of the way you’re feeling.”
Around that time, his younger brother, Jimmer, began what would become an illustrious career as a basketball player at Bringham Young University in Utah. Watching him play was TJ’s biggest motivation.
“The only thing I had at that time, the only thing I looked forward to was watching Jimmer’s games,” said TJ.
At the same time, Jimmer wasn’t aware of just how much of an impact his game had from over one thousand miles away.
“I kind of kept from him all of the stuff that was going on and my family did as well because we didn’t want him to worry about me or to get distracted because he was doing so well,” said TJ. “But he kind of knew there was something wrong, he could tell just from talking with me, and my parents kind of gave him hints that I wasn’t doing great.”
You could call it role reversal, as the younger Jimmer was the one helping out TJ through his tough times.
Seven years his senior, TJ was an influential part of Jimmer’s development as a basketball player, going so far as to visit prisons with Jimmer to play against inmates. Their mother recalls even earlier memories of her two boys.
“Well when Jimmer was small he used to try to do everything that TJ did,” said Kay. “He followed him around and played ball with his friends and just learned a lot from TJ.”
Even while pursuing his own career as a rapper, TJ generally makes it known who his brother is, even through his music.
TJ recently showed how fond he is of Jimmer in his song “Amazing.” The track includes TJ reflecting on the path Jimmer has taken from being the little kid following him to becoming the man Jimmer is today.
“A lot of the stuff that he was going through I was in on and I was sharing those experiences with him,” said TJ. “So for me to not put that stuff in the music would be crazy. That’s what most artists do is draw from their life and their experiences.”
TJ has had opportunities to share his life experiences through music in front of crowds of several thousand people, including being the opening act for artists such as Maino and Drag-On.
Everytime he gets the chance to peform or record music it’s an event TJ could not forsee happening in 2006.
“It was a time where I felt like that was it,” said TJ. “I might be able to write a little bit here and there but I was never going to pursue it as a career again, I didn’t think it would be possible.”
And now that he can make music, he wants to do nothing else.
“I really would like to make a living out of it, whether it’s being rich or just make enough to get by,” said TJ. “Anytime you can do something that you love for your job, that an unbelievable thing to have.”
TJ Fredette’s latest album, “Joy, Pain & Purpose” is out now on iTunes.
-Julian Michael Caldwell