DXnext: Brown Bag AllStars
Some true underground Hip Hop purists speak to DXnext about the "DJ Premier effect," Fat Beats closing, and how they developed a loyal fanbase the old fashioned way.
Fat Beats New York may have closed its doors last September, however the legacy of its importance lives on through the artists that used to call it home, most recently the Brown Bag Allstars. A motley crew of rappers, producers, deejays and knowledgeable Hip Hop heads alike (J57, Audible Doctor, Soul Khan, Koncept, Deejay Element, DJ E Holla, DJ Goo and Marink), the Brown Bag Allstars met while working at the former Mecca of Hip Hop record stores, and after recognizing their collective aspirations for creating music, the crew soon embarked on their own journey.
In the last few years the Brown Bag Allstars have built up their brand through their first project The Brown Tape, as well as performing countless shows for listeners who crave a reputable style that harkens back to the east coast boom bap of the '90s. More recently, they released Brown Bag Season Vol. 1, which features previously unreleased records as well as a full remix version provided by former Canadian DMC Champion DJ Brace. With their official debut album (still untitled) set for release early next year, the Brown Bag Allstars look to make their mark as a group that put quality over bullshit, a concept that is often overlooked when our fingers hit play.
DXnext recently chatted with Koncept, Soul Khan, J57 and Audible Doctor of the Brown Bag Allstars about their balance of online buzz and real life musical encounters, being praised for their style of music, and what’s in store for their debut album.
On Fat Beats Closing: “It was difficult because basically there were mixed emotions,” explained Soul Khan. “It was a bad day for Hip Hop, it was a bad day for the Hip Hop music industry. However, it also provided sort of a new chapter in our lives, as corny as that may sound, to figure out a new way to engage new music markets and to reach out to a Hip Hop audience that was very much still hungry for the music they grew up on. We found sadness as well as a new opportunity with Fat Beats closing. This was the place where we all met too, so it was a profound moment for all of us in that regard too because without Fat Beats we wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you right now.”
Audible Doctor added, “My personal feelings toward it were that I could kind of see it coming. And I was bitter about the whole situation. I had been there almost every day for the last six years, and it’s one of those things where the last week, everybody was coming out of the woodwork. And it was people we hadn’t seen in an incredibly long time. The support on the last week, it was amazing to see everybody, but it was a very bitter moment for me because if we had that same support we wouldn’t have closed, you know what I mean? Fat Beats would still be there. And it was an institution for a lot of the younger generation that don’t know what buying records is all about.”
Planning A Sensible Future: Audible Doctor stated, “A lot of artists nowadays are delusional. They’re like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna make a song and blow up on the internet and get signed to a major label.’ And I think all of us are kind of like-minded in the sense that we don’t set unreasonable goals. We set goals that we know we can reach, and that’s what keeps us stepping forward.”
Legends Recognizing Talent: “It’s on the real when you’re talking to [DJ Premier], and you forget that it’s Preemo,” stated J57. “You completely forget, and you’re talking about your own music. Like, we should be talking about your music, you’re the reason I’m making beats. Everybody in the crew is friends with him, and it’s an unreal situation. It’s a blessing.”
“Nobody fucks with us because we’re the group de jour or something like that,” continued Soul Khan. “People fuck with us because of the music that we make, and they know about the integrity of our work and character we bring to our music. It’s not just because we have some ephemeral buzz. That’s all the more inspiring to us that the artists we grew up respecting actually look at us as legitimate torch bearers for the music that they passed off.”
Balancing Internet Praise and Real Life Status: Audible Doctor explained, “It is difficult, especially with this younger generation focusing on a lot of things that we coming up as fans never really focused on. And they’re kind of deviating from the actual music and it’s more about the image and the scene than the actual content. A lot of that has to do with everybody being able to be an artist and projecting an image as opposed to having to capture something that would make their music interesting. But at the same time, it allows…I mean, we got a lot of our buzz from the blogs and putting consistently good music online. I think as long as you as an artist have your hand in both worlds, that’s fine. And there’s no bigger advantage either way. You need the online fans and online buzz as much as you need fans from the real world. It’s a balance you need to achieve, and I think we as a group have figured out how to achieve that balance fairly well.”
“Audible Doctor said it best right there,” stated J57. “The reason I said what I said on ‘See Again’ was pretty much the same conversation I’ve had at Fat Beats like eight million times. It wasn’t like I sat down and tried to come up with something that people could be like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe he said that.’ This is what we talked about all the time at Fat Beats. I just really wanted to talk about it because it was the topic of the song and long story short, like Audible Doctor said you need to be in both worlds. But you also need to do real shows. We were booking Brown Bag Thursdays, a bi-weekly showcase that we would throw in the city. And we’d have some of the cats that had a good buzz on blogs perform. I’m telling you, not even one person in the crowd came to see them.”
“I’m not saying we were shook at all,” continued J57. “But we went into it thinking they were gonna have mad people there and we were gonna have like 30 people or something small like that. It turned out to be the opposite. We had a lot of people because we did the leg work. We were at Fat Beats meeting people and handing out flyers to every single person that walked in that store, just earning our stripes. In that sense, I think the oversaturation actually helps us stand out. There’s a lot of people out there with a strong buzz but they’re not that great. I think if you’re great at what you do then it becomes a little bit easier.”
Adding Koncept, “These blog rappers are just blog rappers. They don’t have any presence when it comes to doing a live show. It’s a great feeling getting feedback from a song that’s put online, and you get good comments and shit. But it’s a totally better and different feeling when you get off the stage and have actual people in front of you giving you pounds saying that you killed it on stage. And then they actually buy things as well. It just gives the fans more, getting to see it in person. A lot of the Hip Hop listeners today will download all your music, but when it hits shelves they’re not going to buy your album if they can get it for free. So when they actually see you in person at a show and get that energy, then they’re willing to spend that money.”
On The Brown Tape: “I’ll start it off by saying Soul Khan did all his verses in one session that lasted about an hour,” laughed J57. “We didn’t take it serious at all, we just knocked that project out in no time. Like really the first few songs we ever recorded, we were chillin’ at Fat Beats just drinking. Then me and Audible Doctor would be like, ‘Hey, we got new beats, let’s play them on the big speakers.’ We’d play them and then Koncept would walk over and Soul Khan would walk over. They’d be like, ‘Yo, let’s go to the studio and just record this shit.’ We didn’t really have a plan, we would just go there and have verses or write them on the spot. We just threw that together really quick.”
Working Solo Vs. Group Work: “I find it personally harder to work by myself,” explained Soul Khan. “Because we have this support from each other as well as ideas to work with, it’s pretty daunting to just sit there and say, ‘I have to be in total command and have total responsibility of an entire project.’ Like, if you have a bad idea, that’s all you. No one’s going to improve it for you. Sometimes you can reach out and have people help you with your solo work, but generally you’re by yourself. We work very well together. Any deficiencies that one member may have on a song is usually compensated by the strength of another member on that track. We now have that chemistry of working with each other for like three years, and you can tell from the progress between The Brown Tape and Brown Bag Season Vol. 1, as well as the official album, we probably could do this in our sleep at this point.”
Koncept added, “On top of that, doing a solo project there’s a lot more writing and recording involved. With a Brown Bag song its like, ‘Alright cool I just have to write 12 or 16 bars.’ Whereas on your own shit, you have to write like 60 bars and a hook.”
Diplomatic Decree: “It’s a democracy when choosing ideas,” said Audible Doctor. “If somebody has an idea, it’s pretty much voted on. And if a majority of the group isn’t feeling it, it’s cut.”
Koncept chimed in, “It’s not like everyone has to be on every single song. But at the same time, if the song is not executed in a way that one specific group member wanted, then at least we know we can trust the rest of the group to execute whatever they want to do in a high quality way. We never worry about our standards because we’ve all come to have the exact same standards.”
Hooking Up With DJ Brace On Brown Bag Season Vol. 1: “Me and Soul Khan met him first at Fat Beats,” stated J57. “He was there digging through records while me and Soul Khan were probably talking shit about some rapper. We heard somebody laughing on the other side of the store but couldn’t see him because he was hunched over digging in a fucking crate. So we walked over and started building with him. He was pretty humble; he didn’t even tell us he was a DMC champion. But we just kept in touch with him because his vibe was cool and we had a pretty similar outlook on music. I knew he did instrumental music because he told me but I didn’t know if he was any good. Then he gave me a CD and we were completely blown away by his music.”
“Long story short, we reached out to him and said, ‘We have this project in mind where you remix our stuff, but we need it done in like three weeks. Can you pull that off?’ And he was laughing like, ‘Get the hell out of here. You’re kidding right.’ I said, ‘Naw it’s all good man, I understand that’s a lot to ask.’ And he said, ‘No, no, I’m down.’ I’m not kidding man, he locked himself in the studio for like three weeks. I really don’t think he left even once. He got crazy skinny, he wasn’t eating, he was just smoking a lot of weed and making incredible beats. Everything he was sending us was gold. It was dope working with him.”
Taking It Back To The Golden Era: Audible Doctor explained, “I don’t think we even intend to do that. I mean, our solo projects all sound different, but when we come together as a group we have this unique sound. Even when we we’re picking beats, if a producer sends us beats, we’ll be able to be like, ‘Oh, that’s a Brown Bag beat.’ I can’t even put my finger on it. I don’t know why, but we definitely have that unique kind of sound together that just works as a group.”
On Their Debut Album: Soul Khan stated, “It’s more subject-driven than past releases. Not subject-driven in a pretentious way though, because most subject-driven rappers today are corny and pretentious. But its natural subject matter that people care about on a daily basis.”
“It’s full songs rather than us spitting 16’s over hot beats,” explained J57 “There’s definitely a lot more depth and composition with the songs we are doing here. Of course there’s going to be a track or two of that good ol’ Brown Bag shit, but a lot of the album is definitely more thought-out, more composed and better put together than some of our recent songs.”
Soul Khan added, “Even with the songs that are maybe not the most deep in terms of subject matter, whether it’s boasting, drinking or partying, I think we do address it with a lot more artfulness than we have in the past and more so than a lot of other people can. I think we can be pretty confident that this is definitely our best work so far. It’s a true representation of us. Whereas a lot of music out there is kind of a front, we’ve never been about that as people or musicians.”
Progress For Their Debut Album: Soul Khan explained, “We have most of the beat selection chosen, which I would say is mostly for the sake of coherence because we don’t want to just start writing track by track. Some of it is Brown Bag-produced, and some of it was outsourced to various reputable producers who will remain nameless for now. We also have some rap features from some very reputable emcees, people that we grew up listening to.”
He continued, “I think we’re a few tracks in with recording but we may rerecord anyway. We just want this to be the best project possible that we can make at this state of our group development. And we want it to just show that we’re some of the best doing it. We don’t take any short cuts, we don’t ever get too comfortable or overly satisfied with ourselves. And above all we are indebted to our fans, and we always work in that fashion.”
“There’s two things we want,” added J57. “One, we want vinyl for this album, and two, we don’t want you to skip a track. Those are the two most important things to Brown Bag.”
Leaving A Legacy To Be Remembered: “We call it the ‘Preemo Effect,’” said J57. “People used to come into Fat Beats and be like, ‘Yo, give me anything that Premier produced. I’ll buy it right now.’ And I’ve said it before this way, which makes sense to me because I’m a vinyl collector; I want to have that kind of legacy where you can look at the logo, the Brown Bag Allstars logo, and that automatically makes you want to buy it. If you’re a vinyl collector and you see the Rawkus [Records] logo, you know you wanna pick that record up. You automatically know that the record is good and you want to pick it up. That’s what I want the Brown Bag logo and group name to be associated with.”