“I don’t think it’s really sank in yet for either of us,” Brasstracks trumpet player Ivan Jackson says in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. “Both of us keep on [asking], did that actually happen? But yeah it definitely happened. It’s really surreal.”
Conor Rayne, who is the second half of the duo, echoes his friend’s sentiment.
“We’re happy for Chance as well,” the drummer adds. “We’re very grateful that he gave us the opportunity to work with him.”
This year’s awards ceremony was the first time the Academy allowed non-commercial releases (A.K.A. mixtapes) to be considered, and Chance’s three wins (he also took home gramophones for Best New Artist and Best Rap Album), have great significance for the music industry.
“He’s instilling confidence in people like us who came out of producing in our basement,” Ivan says. “We’ve taken a bunch of meetings and stuff, and obviously we’re not ruling out ever signing, but we now know that you don’t have to. I think that it used to be that like 10 years ago, 15 years ago, you had to be signed. People would look to be signed. Now there are hundreds of thousands of artists all over the world probably inspired by Chance to say hey, I don’t need a major label. I can do this on my own on the internet or I have my basement or I have my garage.”
Brasstracks’ journey started as both Conor and Ivan grew up being influenced from their dads’ music tastes. Conor’s favorite band to this day is Nirvana and he credits his dad’s extensive record collection for helping formulate his craft. Ivan’s father was a guitar player and he was introduced to Hip Hop in middle school when a friend gave him a burned CD. The duo combined all of this when they joined forces about two years ago at Manhattan School of Music to create their signature Grammy Award-winning sound.
“Rock/reggae into punk rock/emo stuff we all know sometimes, metal stuff, continued that into Hip Hop, then came back to the jazz world, then came back to the Hip Hop world and everything just became this big amalgamation of all of our influences,” Ivan explains.
Ivan came up with the name “Brasstracks” because he wanted to post the first song he ever did with Conor, a groovy cut called “Say U Will.” The two had previously spent a lot of their time freelancing and performing with different bands. But this was the start of something different.
“All we knew was Conor was a drummer, I was a trumpet player and we made a song,” he shares. “And I was trying to figure out the night before, it was like 4 a.m. when I usually go to sleep like an idiot, I was trying to figure out how do I name this project, just so I can put this damn song out. I didn’t care about the name. I didn’t care about the project. I just wanted the song to be out and I was so stoked about the song. This was supposed to be a side thing for me and Connor that just got out of hand. So I woke up in the morning, I was like, oh, Brasstracks will do. And we put it up. That was it.”
The two pride themselves on their live instrumentation, which brings a more organic sound (“No Problem” uses zero samples). They slowly built themselves up from simply offering to do drums or horns for beats to landing the mega placement with Chance The Rapper.
During that journey, they appeared on Anderson .Paak’s “Am I Wrong” featuring ScHoolboy Q on the singer’s Malibu album. Ivan gives props to “the god, the myth, the legend” POMO for featuring them on the track.
“We hit him up telling him, ‘Man, we love your work, anything that we can do that we can add something to your production, co-produce something out with you, that would be really great,'” he explains. “POMO sent us this beat he’s like, ‘I need some live horns on it.’ I forget what the beat was called originally, but I think we did it in February of 2015, it was really long ago. I put horns all over it and literally a year later or maybe like nine months later, something like that, he hit me up and was like, ‘Yo it’s going to be on Anderson’s album, I hope that’s cool with you. Here’s the final version with ScHoolboy Q.’ I hadn’t heard it with ScHoolboy Q yet. The only part the horns are on is like the last minute and a half, the final big chorus after the bridge, but man, what a feeling that was. That was a very cool feeling. Shoutout to POMO for putting us on in a really cool way ‘cause that was a really great look for us to be involved with Anderson .Paak and that amazing year that he had.”
As their music was picking up more and more momentum, they were getting a big buzz on Twitter, including a tweet from Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump. People started suggesting that Brasstracks link with Chance The Rapper and the Chicagoan caught the drift. He reached out on Twitter and in a whirlwind, the three were in the studio together.
“It was originally supposed to happen in New York, then that didn’t happen,” Conor details. “Then we were supposed to go to Chicago, but then that didn’t happen. So we all met up in L.A. when Chance was in L.A. and all of that happened within the span of a week. All of the deciding where it was going to happen happened within maybe even it happened within a few days. Then, literally within a week’s time, we flew out to L.A. after we first connected on Twitter.”
Once they connected, they played Chance a handful of records and the rapper selected one of the last tracks they had for him. From there, they got to work and Ivan shares the moment he knew “No Problem” was a hit.
“I remember distinctly, Chance kinda freestyled a lot of his part of ‘No Problem’ I remember the chorus being pretty much one take,” he says. “Then, Chance has some skills on Pro Tools also, which is pretty cool. So he went in, he kinda flew his vocals around a little bit, in a Pro Tools arrangement, came up with this awesome chorus and an awesome verse and Pat, his manager, walked out of the room going, ‘There it is, got the single.’”
Brasstracks was hesitant to believe the hype at first.
“You can’t believe everything you hear in a studio session,” Ivan continues. “We’ve done dozens, hundreds of studio sessions like people say things, you never know.”
But it was true. Chance later added on verses from 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne to cook up the Grammy’s Best Rap Performance.
“They all fit perfectly and complement each other very well,” Conor says of the trio of rap greatness. “… As an entire performance, all three of them sound amazing.”
The duo is continuing to solidify its brand and just released a Splice sample pack, called Brasspack, of their signature sounds for aspiring artists to use. Other producers to partner with Splice to further their brand include FKi 1st and fellow Grammy nominees DJ Dahi and MDL.
“It was actually really helpful for us to compile sounds that we felt were staples of Brasstracks,” Conor says, “And it helped us kind of compartmentalize our voice a little bit. Yeah, it helped compartmentalize our individual aspects of our collective voice. And we were also excited to give a little bit to the community of musicians and producers who are fans.”
Brasstracks will have more gifts in store for their following as they are already gearing up for a monster 2017. As they finished a tour last year, Conor and Ivan got back in the studio and are staying on the grind.
“We’re consistently trying to produce for the entire Hip Hop scene as much as we possibly can,” Ivan says.
They can’t spill too many details on one of their major projects, except that it is with someone who is “a real idol” of theirs and it will “be on a TV show repeatedly.”
And, on top of that, they are preparing a Brasstracks album.
“It’s gonna be a balance of our own original music, instrumentals and features,” Conor explains.
And that’s not all. Brasstracks is also helping a friend of Ivan’s, a Harlem rapper named S’natra, who is preparing a mixtape set to be tentatively released in March.
“It’s a real statement,” Ivan says of the project, called Subject of Change. “It’s real Hip Hop, we’re really proud of it. It’s nothing to shake a stick at … It touches on the struggles of being a rapper that is aging and knows that he’s better than the rest of the rap world, but is trying to figure out a way to break through without compromising himself.”
There’s a lot ahead for Brasstracks and both members are confident in the direction they are going. Ivan beams that they have really found their niche in the industry.
“We’re busy as hell, but we’re loving it,” he says. “We used to play with so many different people and like as freelancers, we used to play in different bands and stuff, things that we weren’t passionate about, things that we didn’t really care about too much, but it is, I recommend it to anybody, it’s such a good feeling to be, to have a project that it’s the only thing that you’re doing. What do you do for a living? I do Brasstracks. Two years ago, we couldn’t have said that and now these days, we can say that, bona fide. All we do is Brasstracks music and that feels great. It feels really good right now.”
You don’t want no problem with that.