Over the last two years, JP Brown has scorched Pontiac with some of the most diverse hip-hop in the entire country. Sometimes it feels trap, sometimes if feels boom-bap, and others times it feel '90s throwback. Versatility is easily Brown's biggest asset as he does not set out to create one particular type of sound; he just creates the kind of hip-hop he feels is best. Metro Times interviewed the emcee and visual artist on his past and current projects.
Metro Times: I hear that music runs in your family. What kind of music did you initially want to create? Was it always hip-hop?
JP Brown: As far as my mind can remember, I have always intended and been drawn to the idea of creating music for the hip-hop genre. My family's diverse range of ear definitely played a role in my ability to create, hear, and have the basic understanding of other genres. My mom loves country music so the first concert I ever attended was Shania Twain at Pine Knob in the '90s. My dad is a jazz master so he never played anything except smooth jazz 98.7 in the car.
MT: What was your first hip-hop project?
Brown: My first hip-hop project was an unofficial EP, My First Recordings. Every song featured the artist JQool, who is now based out of Dallas. This was a five-song project recorded in April 2011, engineered and produced by Nieko Velli, who was 13 years-old at the time. Each of the five songs was recorded in my uncle Craig's studio, which we have since named Foundation Studio, and has been run by Velli ever since. My first official project was One Shot vol.1 – Impractical Thinking. I wrote the entire tape on my 26th birthday in 2015, while living out of a Motel 6. In late February of 2016, after getting back on my feet, I recorded the tape in ten hours with Velli, again at Foundation Studio. I created a SoundCloud and social media handles while Nieko mixed. I have been taking music serious ever since.
MT: Do you do collaborations with any of your family?
Brown: Absolutely, with my personal art I try to collab with as many members of my family as possible. I think it would be safe to say that most of my work thus far has been kept in the family. KillaDope is my dad's youngest brother. The age difference is so large [between them] that KillaDope is like my oldest brother. He was a producer in the late '90s and now he engineers almost all of my music. My uncle Bruce runs Mean Business Media; he does photo shoots as well as videos for us. Madi1X is my cousin, and her lyrics are absolutely ridiculous. In July 2013, Beezy and I wrote, recorded, and engineered an unofficial mixtape. 7/28 took two weeks and was recorded at KillaDope's before we got Quality Equipment.
MT: I know your grandfather was a pastor and a big music influence. Did he hear any of your music? What did he think?
Brown: My grandfather never heard me rap, but I believe he knew I made music. My grandfather's own music with Buddy Milton and the Twilighters can be heard on YouTube. So Neiko Velli and myself downloaded it and sampled it — no lyrics, just beats and piano keys. I'll never forget the look of pride on my grandfather's face as we rode down DuPont and I played his music being sampled. He heard how his music was still living. I started to tell him that day that I also rap. But I wasn't being serious, and I missed the opportunity.
My grandfather was a pastor but was also signed to RPM records with BB King in the 1950s. He told endless stories of being a musician, from writing with Sam Cooke and Etta James to stories of failed musicians getting lost to drugs and alcohol.
MT: A lot of your cuts on SoundCloud have a '90s feel to them. Was that the idea? How would you best describe your music?
Brown: KillaDope is everything '90s, and the '90s meant a lot to me. That's the generation of music I believe catapulted the hip-hop culture to new levels lyrically. I want to tell small stories, to paint verbal pictures. I want my music to be a journal, to look back and be able to tell what I was going through. The trick is having the ability to use my voice as an instrument. After that I just capture what I'm feeling.
MT: Are you still doing the One Shot mixtape series?
Brown: I'm absolutely still doing my One Shot series.This also allows me to get the feel for different styles as well as to play with melody. One Shot vol. 4 has been recorded as a two-part series. Volume one will be released this month.
MT: What drives your creativity?
Brown: I like to see empty space on a beat, think something in my head, then hear it how I heard it. I like to squeeze my ideas from the day into 16 bars and hear it play back. And when it sounds good, it feels as rewarding as any football team I've ever been a part of. Empty space lets me discuss anything on my mind from the past or present, and lets me express freely without any rules. I also like to create with an open pineal gland. So I drink plenty of distilled water, and attempt to keep things as organic as possible, if you know what I mean.
MT: How would you describe the hip-hop scene in Pontiac?
Brown: I would say talent isn't gone in Oakland County just because Tom Gores just sold the Palace. And I would also call Pontiac underrated. I have always been a fan of music where you can hear the struggle, hear the pain; I think Pontiac artists have that, particularly in the realm of battle rap. Mackk Myron is very talented, as is Quan Dae. Genius is a producer I work with from Pontiac; his work ethic is through the roof, it's amazing. A group that comes to mind would be FGNation. YakGod_Drizz seems to have a solid team of hard workers in his corner.
MT: How familiar are you with the Detroit scene? Who do you like?
Brown: I like most artists from the D because they are capturing the environment, explaining their angle to the beat. I have always liked hardcore "I really mean it" street rap. I just see the beauty in the pain. I like lyrics too and Detroit artists have that: Royce, Big Sean, Danny Brown, Clear Soul Forces, Elzi. The artist I like the most out of the D right now would probably be Peezy. He sounds real mean when he raps; I like mean. A few other artists on my playlist would be Damedot, Vezzo, HardworkJig, 80s, Dex, Oba, Sino, Foolboy, and then that new Tee Grizzly slap.
MT: A lot of people are upset with the direction hip-hop has taken with the mumble rap and trap beats. What's your take?
Brown: I am not a fan of mumble rap, but I understand how we got here. Gucci Mane used to go crazy when he wanted, but sometimes he would just ride the really hard beat like a wave and not say much. Gucci Mane was Tupac to a lot of this generation, and I think old school hip hop fans often forget that. 'Pac died in 1996 and we are looking and listening to a generation of musicians who were toddlers at best when even The Black Album dropped. I plan to make music with lyrics, that's the point of rap music in my eyes. I want to ride the beat and talk.
JP Brown has three releases out this month: A four-track EP with Pontiac artist YakGod_Drizz, an appearance on the debut mixtape by Pontiac artist Wood, and finally the release of One Shot vol. 4. Brown performs twice this month: on Saturday, Feb. 4, he appears at the Black Heaven loft party; doors at 9 p.m.; 30 N. Saginaw, suite 300, Pontiac; $8. On Saturday, Feb. 25, JP Brown appears at Road Rangers; doors at 8 p.m.; 23925 Goddard Rd., Taylor; admission is free.