‘If you’ont mind putting yourself in my shoes for a lil over a half an hour, you’d be surprised how much you relate.’
Brian Brown x Evan Dale // Oct 29, 2020
There is no talking Nashville hip-hop without talking Brian Brown. The charismatic, one-of-a-kind rapper has spent years building two foundations - that of his own sound, and of the greater, rising Tennessee scene - all the while doing what his city has done best in order to build up one another: collaborate and support. His 2020 album, Journey, has been a keymark moment to the emerging Nashville creative scene, earning not only a whole lot of local love, but also a whole lot of critical acclaim and mainstream limelight. But none of that has seemed to change Brian Brown.
Using his ever-elevating pedestal to continue to tell unendingly relatable personal recounts, relay dismay of Nashville’s gentrification plague, and put on for those talented creatives that, too, deserve a larger platform, Brian Brown’s prolificity is noted and powerful in so many ways. With a constant swatch of collaborations, visuals, and community efforts in accompaniment of one of the World’s most intriguing and interwoven creative hubs, Brian Brown continues to prove himself a standout, humble leader in a town brimming with artists worthy of a similar delineation.
We speak with him on come-up, Journey, early success, visuals, collaborations, gentrification, how it all relates to Nashville, and how it all leads to what’s next for the city and for Brian Brown.
RNGLDR: Much of the Nashville hip-hop scene has really begun garnering attention over the past year or two, but obviously, it’s been around for much longer than that. You yourself released your first project, 7:22, in 2014. At that time, who were some of the other artists making noise in the city? And which artists do you recall being inspired by en route to the beginnings of you making your own music?
BROWN: Man… 2014? you had Petty, his brother Stan, Lito, Kaby, P.A. Lit (Now Known as Bizzo!), Young Quael had his joint “Bandplay” on the radio. S/O the producer, Bandplay btw, mans been going crazy around here for a while. Ducko, Mike Floss formally known as Openmic den, Gee Slab, Alocodaman, Reaux, Tim Gent of course, Dee Goodz. Hell, The BlackSon was on the up & up round then too.... Honestly, it was a shit ton of folk lol & I was new to a lot of ‘em around the time i was wrapping up 7:22 EP fall of ‘13. But, it was so cool seeing/hearing/experiencing folk from round my way making shit that I thought ANYBODY could fuck with if ya laid an ear to it. Learned a lot from a lot of the guys I mentioned already. Shidd, errrybody still doing they thang forreal, lol. It’s tight to see.
RNGLDR: As far as influence is concerned, who are some other names from outside of Nashville that you’ve drawn particular inspiration from throughout your life? And how do you feel their sounds manifest themselves in your music today?
BROWN: Outkast, Tribe, Spitta, Pharrell, Wayne, Ye, Jay, DMX, T.I, the whole blog era and basically anybody who became sum’n during that time, lol. All the shit my momma 'nem use to play growing up. Too many to name but they were all themselves, man, and that was never gonna be compromised, no matter what. It showed in the art, the way they talked, the way they dressed, etc. You knew who it was errrytime & that’s just sum’n I’ve always wanted to embody... a sense of undeniable, genuine self.
RNGLDR: We mentioned your earliest project: 7:22. The project still shines with your unique flavor for changing up flow, and of course still rings with your unique voice, but obviously, there has been a lot of artistic growth since then. What about 7:22 and singles like your first hit, Newports, do you still wish to channel with your current music? And what about your current music do you think makes you a more refined artist than you were in 2014?
BROWN: um... The honesty/transparency. It’s helped me learn a lot about myself & in that same notion, I done learned a lot about my voice so I’m really starting to get comfy widdit, though I can get better at some shit, lol. Wit 7:22, i knew I had sum’n to say and I ain’t care how the fuck I said it & it’s still that same attitude now, don’t get me wrong. But, I’m thinking before I speak a lil more these days, lol. How you say shit is important, man.
RNGLDR: For us, though the Nashville hip-hop scene is incredibly broad ranging, one of its more common traits is a mastery of lyricism and penmanship. What about the Nashville scene in particular do you think makes its rappers – from you to Reaux Marquez, to JORDAN Xx, and so many others – particularly adept at storytelling, world building, and relating to listeners through your words?
BROWN: Da Ville is really a blue collar town, man. Errrybody always getting to it, no matter what out here. You combine that with all the types of music you hear growing up, lot of us grew up in church and you can learn hellas from there. Six degrees of separation here is smaaaaall so we all got a lot more in common than we think.... country cousins, lol. The scenery out here... I could go on but those are just a few of the factors that make up that sense of..... togetherness, I guess - making shit connect.
RNGLDR: And who’s got your vote for the best lyricist in Nashville?
BROWN: Namir. Namir Blade. Dude different & this wasn’t an easy decision but yeah, that boy nice.
RNGLDR: When it comes to penmanship and greater storytelling in hip-hop, your 2020 album, Journey lives up to its name. When you were crafting the larger story for the project, what personal story of your own were you trying to tell? And with that personal edge, what were you hoping listeners would be able to relate to?
BROWN: I mean... truthfully, I didn’t want it to be so personal at first, lol. Well, I did but... put it like this: the original idea was to make a “soundtrack” for all the times my pops ain’t have no radio in the car, and anytime there was a life lesson to be learned, or he was giving me game. Those songs would’ve fit those moments had they been played instead of silence or fucking Dave Ramsey, lmao. When it became this personal manifesto, I couldn’t tell ya, but I hope people continue to just keep going whenever you hear the shit. I know shit gets wicked out here but don’t let it get ya off course. If you fall down, get right back up. If you got a chance, take a chance type shit. Be in and of the moment as much as you can 'cause ain’t much guaranteed, forreal.
'Be in and of the moment as much as you can 'cause ain't much guaranteed, forreal.'
RNGLDR: Since its release, Journey has garnered a lot of attention and response that extends outside of the Nashville scene and really the Tennessee scene, into a larger mainstream frame. Covered in depth by larger publications like DJ Booth, Journey has been making a journey of its own throughout hip-hop at large. How does it feel to see so many people listening to the project? And what do you think it is about Journey that so many people relate to thematically, and love musically?
BROWN: It’s wild. It’ll never stop being wild to me. Now I slick expected this, lmao, and we’ve got more ears to reach, but I’m grateful for errrrybody that ever decided to press play on anything of mine. In regards to the second half of the question, there’s just a comforting familiarity about the whole thing, I think. whether it’s me honing in on sounds and flows I’ve worked on tirelessly, or just being able to close ya eyes and picture yourself in the setting I provided if you grew up how we grew up.... if you’ont mind putting yourself in my shoes for a lil over a half an hour, you’d be surprised how much you relate.
RNGLDR: Circling back to Journey’s effect on a local level, how has the album’s response been in the city itself?
BROWN: Well, Journey was just named ‘best hip hop album’ in one of our hometown publications, Nashville Scene, so that ain’t too shabby, lol. The homies love it. My momma loves it. Pops was just sharing the Runnin’ video on Facebook the other day, lol. Shit’s pretty sweet, man. Nun like that hometown love.
RNGLDR: Attached to the greater Journey sphere have also come a couple of music videos. Let’s start with Flava. Heavily focused on gentrification in Nashville,
‘Condos Just keep coming up, and generations just keep going down. But look around, your hood might be next,’
the video sees you strolling around different neighborhoods. What was the visual story you were trying to convey with project?
BROWN: How fucked up gentrification is and can be. I’m still learning about politics, local government/policies, etc. but based off what I do know? This is what I’ve witnessed & I’m not too fond of it. It’s power in music so if I can put somebody on game & they can learn sum’n new to be the change they wanna see in this world, I’mma make sure to do such.
RNGLDR: How was it working with SECK, who’s quickly becoming one of the prominent directors in the Nashville scene?
BROWN: SECK’s amazing, man. Crazy to see somebody so well versed in his craft at such a young age. True student of the game. He must’ve just woke up one day & was like “fuck this, these folk need to be seen & I’mma do my part to help” & now look at him. Shit’s undeniable too and he’s only getting started, so I’m blessed he saw sum’n in me, forreal.
RNGLDR: The video for Runnin greatly juxtaposes the visuals for Flava. Instead of Black & White, Runnin is brimming with color; instead of you being alone in the frame, Runnin feels like a block party. What about the track called for a totally different look than the Flava video?
BROWN: That was really a Nachoz thing, s/o to him for that, lol. My only thing that I wanted for the video was for the verses to be brought to life as best as possible. Shits was too fye and too vivid. Nach was big on just showing how we kicks shit out here. We did our best to combine the two visions, and badaboom. Shit was fun, man.
RNGLDR: Amongst so many creatives in the visuals, the verse from Reaux Marquez is obviously a standout. What is your collaborative relationship like with Reaux? And how was it crafting Runnin' from the inception of the track to the finalization of the video?
BROWN: Runnin’ was actually our first time actually cooking anything up together, I wanna say. Always wanted to work with breh, dude different, like a legit alien. We was at the studio the other day, and the way he hears things, flow switches, produces, all’at: he’s just really fucking great at the craft, man. Can’t wait for y’all to hear his new project. Shit’s special. But with Runnin’? Bout as organic of a process as you could think of:
I had a session in the A early spring of last year, round May or so, that wound up not happening but Reaux tagged along for the trip already. Ended up linking with Syksense & Black Metaphor during our few days there. The time with Black, who produced Runnin’, was so fye 'cause we was catching up on a lot of shit and he went thru a LOT of beats. Smoked hella blunts too, lol. Maya, lil Birk... appreciate ya forever for them few days. But, we get back to the Ville & Reaux’s like, “I’m tryna go thru some of ‘em Black beats” and I’m like, "runnit." So, we were going thru a few but then I went upstairs to go smoke (s/o OG!) and when I get back, the Runnin beat was playing. Marathon 110 was the original name of it..... Black said after Nip died, he made like..... 100+ beats in a week so it was only right. Reaux was working on the melody for the hook, we tag-teamed the words. He had me sing-sing that hoe, I almost cried, lmao. Shit was wild but it’s beautiful, especially when you realize what it’s bout. It’s like the nicest “fuck you but I got forever love for ya” song ever. At least I think so.
RNGLDR: On the subject of collaboration, we run a series called Collab Elation exploring hypothetical collaborations that we want to see happen in music. In it, we featured an edition pairing you with fellow Tennessee wordsmith Isaiah Rashad. If you got that call, how would the ensuing process unfold?
BROWN: I mean, we’ve worked on stuff together before. S/o theHouse man: Tut, Tigg, Mikey, CP, Zay. I love them boys forever, genuinely. learned a lot from ‘em. But yeah, had a verse on Park from The Sun’s Tirade that was supposed to be a thing but never came to fruition, unfortunately. That whole “if 16 was enough” he does at the end was how I had popped off my verse & such.... it’s on SoundCloud, shit lmao. Even with that though, dude’s a genius. The way he writes & the intention/meaning behind it, even when you don’t understand. It all has a purpose while giving the listener a chance to code it for themselves too. Also does a hella fye job of honoring what’s inspired him but making it a Zay thing. He’s good, man lol. Ain’t ever opposed to making more jams too, btw.
RNGLDR: With so many up-and-coming names in Nashville, who is one artist that you would you like to work with that you haven’t so far? Why?
BROWN: Neeko Crowe. Remember that name. I’m still learning & getting hip myself, but he’s special. Voice is bananas, own steez, own way of living/thinking. He’ll be around for a while. Trapperman Dale & Starlito, too. That’d be fun, maaaaaan, lol.
RNGLDR: And what future collaborations within Nashville do you already have in the works?
BROWN: Lemme see… Reaux & I got a few; The BlackSon & I got a few; Tim Gent & I got one; Bryant Taylorr & I got one; Got one with Ron Obasi that’ll prolly be out by the time this drops but i snappppped; Chuck iNDigo did too, we overdue for another one; Jordan Xx & I got one on the way; Jxdece & i got one that’s gon’ hit ya dead in the heart; OGTHAGAWD & I got a few; $avvy & I got a grooooove for the entanglements lmao; Need another one with Lul Lion; Kaby & I need one; Got some things with Bizzo, s/o big breh; tennnnnnn! Lot of funky thangs on the way, as you can see, lol.
RNGLDR: We also run a narrative series called Dream Venue that takes the reader on a journey that culminates in the perfect live event. It’s been a while since any of us really saw a proper show, so, if you could experience a Dream Venue of your own, how would your journey unfold, who would you end up seeing perform, and in what setting?
BROWN: Honestly, if I could see Prince & Amy Winehouse at a jazz club, I’d be straight. I know that ain’t as dreamy as some would’ve liked, but gimme a blunt, a small crowd & an intimate setting with those two, and I’m content as fuck.
RNGLDR: And in the opposite direction, what would be your Dream Venue as the artist performing?
BROWN: My Dream Venue?? Man..... slick The Forum. Just the way it looks from the outside, the legendary acts who done played there before. Never been but I’d love to have a sold out, Brian Brown show there. Or The Ryman. The forum or The Ryman, yeah.
RNGLDR: While we’re discussing live performances, we were lucky enough to have our eyes opened to the larger Nashville hip-hop scene while we were visiting Nashville for Deep Tropics last Summer. What did the festival mean not only for Nashville, but for the emerging hip-hop capital that is the Nashville hip-hop scene?
BROWN: I wish I would’ve been there for the whole thing, lmao. Had some shows in Chattanooga & Knoxville that weekend, but it just goes to show that folk are paying attention & have been for a while, believe it or not. I know Reaux played that weekend... Chuck iNDigo did, too? Regardless, it’s been a long time coming & COUNTLESS of folk have been putting in work for some TIME, man. For the light to be on some folk who I’ve legit grown up with in some variation, redefining what being from Nashville could sound like..... shit’s fye & it’s only a matter of time before the world knows about us. Too many of us, too many sounds. It’s legit sum’n for errrybody out here. It’s beautiful.
RNGLDR: Moving forward, as a leader in the Nashville scene, what steps are you making to keep pushing the envelope for the creatives in the city?
BROWN: Just keep doing what i’m doing. Though I’m honored with the leader title, I’m still figuring out how to follow up on my own words, orders & such. That said, whatever I can do to provide sum’n new, sum’n productive, sum’n helpful for whoever’s a creative around town, I’mma do that. Wait til I get my money right, word to Ye lol. Start a youth program or sum’n. Really give back the way I oughta one day. I’m still figuring it out but if I just keep at it, I’m sure it’ll present itself.
RNGLDR: And what specifically is next for Brian Brown?
BROWN: What’s next for me? um… New body of work in development; More content from Journey on the way; Just a lot more BB as a whole, however that’s gonna be. No more six year gaps between shits, lol. Got a good grip on this thing here now, and I ain’t tryna let up aaaaaanytime soon.