Nashville's Brian Brown Takes us on a Journey of Transcendent Southern Hip-Hop
Evan Dale // Feb 19, 2020
Nashville has always meant something larger to the world of music than its mainstream associations. Jazz, hip-hop, and soul are crucial to the city’s foundational makeup. And though less publicly televised than Nashville’s identity as a Country music capital, its existing artistic makeup is as widespread and influential as ever. Akin to fellow Tennessee cities like Memphis where so much of Southern hip-hop claims roots, or Chattanooga where a current roster boasts of artists from Isaiah Rashad and YGTUT to Bbymutha, $hoey & Michael Da Vinci, Nashville is exploding with unique talent.
If something notable draws that talent together as a definable conglomerate, it’s Nashville’s position as a bridge between the past and the future; between hip-hop, jazz, and soul. And that bridge doesn’t only define the Nashville scene at large, but each Nashville artist in their own right.
Take AyyWillé: a Nashville brass musician and rapper who tethers the two together with a particularly smooth effortlessness. Just beginning to release singles of his own, 2019’s The Code is a telling example of a wide-ranging artist that sounds like no one else.
Take Reaux Marquez: a lyrically driven rapper whose delivery merges in-depth explorations of life experiences and meaning with the swag and style expected from a Southern star on the rise. Always working on something new, his string of singles and videos over the past couple years have exhibited his brash lyrical talent.
Take Chuck Indigo: a rapper and vocalist whose seamless transitioning between the two stylistic lanes made 2019 album, INDigo Cafe one of the most dynamic and flawless projects not only from an up-and-comer, but from anyone throughout the year.
Wide range hand-in-hand with an effort to experiment and expand every corner of that individual scope has come to be what Nashville’s truest grass roots music scene delivers. Each artist has a unique sound built on the dynamism of their many talents.
And if any other name need be mentioned in company with the prior, though their are many, it’s Brian Brown. Even though his streaming catalogue dates back to 2014, we’re not arrogant enough to pretend like we’ve been there from the beginning. Like so many artists out of Nashville, Brian Brown reached us; reaches his constantly expanding audience through collaboration. Nashville is a city of artistic togetherness where – no matter the scene or the crew – a mutual respect and drive for reaching new heights creatively, socially, and communally leads to constant collaboration and reciprocated support for anyone and everyone with the artistic chops and unique range required to push the city forward.
It is truly a blueprint for growing small business by pushing the artistic community to pave the way. And its artistic community is able to garner respect not only locally, but nationally and globally by putting the range their artists so strongly convey under the limelight.
Brian Brown is a picture of range, community, and collaboration, and his new project, Journey is his dissertation on it all. From the moment the low-fidelity keystrokes open Come on In, there’s something – some things – familiar about its sound. A meditative, humorous hook concerned with closing the door so as not to let flies in; a quick dive into an homage to Brown’s chopped and screwed predecessors and contemporaries; a flow and twang as inescapable as it is addictive, lines up a sound equal parts Cilvia Demo, Bigtyme Way Slow’d & Tap’t, and Hustle & Flow Terrance Howard. It’s raw. It’s honest. It’s Southern. It’s Tennessee.
It’s Brian Brown & it’s Nashville. And it’s already – a month after its release – a key element to a new chapter of Southern hip-hop. But that shouldn’t be a surprise from a rapper that was voted Nashville’s best hip-hop artist in 2018, and whose debut mixtape, 7:22 was selected the city’s best in 2014. The foundation has always been there, and Journey pays homage to what got him to that point and where he’s come since.
The whole project is built on simple yet experimentally patchwork beats. Take A Cashville Story where floating, ghostly synth strokes fold in and out of wavering brass. The inclusion of keys and raw instrumentation in particular continue to play a role throughout Journey’s journey, tying the entire project together with the thread of jazz-rooted key play and futurist electronic synth progressions. The same can be said for the brass, especially when AyyWillé makes his presence felt on what is arguably Journey’s most uniquely textured track, The Release Pt. 2. Overtop a melancholy horn composition, Brian Brown effortlessly lays down meaningful line after line, evoking emotion from anyone listening while punching forth his presence as one of the more flow-centric rappers in the game today.
If one point should be taken away from Journey at large, it’s exactly that. Whether diving into fast-paced delivery or experimenting with his vocals; whether doing any of it overtop keystrokes or jazzy brass; whether he’s sharing the track with some of Nashville’s most talented rappers or instrumentalists; or whether he’s doing it alone, the effortlessness of his flow allows Brian Brown to be a different wide-ranging version of his own artistry without ever losing focus of a grander aesthetic. He is a product of a Nashville scene that prizes transcendence and boundless creativity, and Journey is just the next step in his own and Nashville's emerging hip-hop scene at large.