Managing the demands of total strangers is exhausting. Where the average rapper would be easily burnt out from fans constantly asking for status updates in the face of multiple album delays, 26-year-old Nashville, Tennessee rapper Brian Brown is just happy people care in the first place.
“It was annoying at first, but I eventually had to realize it’s not only people giving a fuck about my music, but my well-being as well,” Brown tells me over the phone. “It’s cool when people want to see you win and aren’t scared to show it. Looking at it like that, I can’t be too mad.”
Brian Brown’s latest release, Journey, released independently on January 30, was initially delayed after the unfortunate and untimely passing of his aunt—a moment that forced Brown to stop running from his emotions. For the first time in a long time, Brown turned away from alcohol. He began practicing lifting the mental and emotional anvils that weighed on his shoulders.
“I hadn’t made my proper peace with it…” Brian says. “I had to come to the understanding that life isn’t fair for anybody, and that’s why it’s fair to everybody.”
Consequently, Journey is a joyful expression of self-awareness and honest self-reflection on the past two years of Brown’s life—while still giving you shit that bumps in the whip. Songs like “Steely Dan” and “Vanilla” contain more bounce than a super ball, while the soulful melodies on “Stay” could soundtrack the tender and loving sways of a black newlywed couple at their wedding reception. In between the upbeat jazz horns and classic Southern drum patterns, Brown carved out space to examine the gentrification currently taking place in his native Nashville (“Cashville Story” and “Flava”).
With Journey out in the ether, Brian Brown’s biggest focus moving forward is his growth—both personal and professional. For Brown, this means eating better, watching his alcohol intake, and keeping his raps as sharp as possible.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you first fall in love with hip-hop?
Brian Brown: I was five. My pops was listening to DMX, and my auntie was big on Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes. My mom was, and still is, a big R&B fanatic, especially Janet Jackson and Prince. But hearing [OutKast’s] “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” hearing the horns and just being like, “Yo, what is this? Why does this sound so good? What is making this song work?”
On top of that, those “verses” don’t rhyme; it’s just spoken word. And it’s just a nigga telling a story about a bad night at the club. When you make it sound like you should have been there, even though niggas was off the drugs, fighting, and someone got shot? You can’t beat that.
Walk me through the moments when you learned Curren$y shouted you out on Instagram, and when your song “Stoop Kid” aired during Soulection Ep. 399.
Both were impromptu as fuck! My homegirl, Laiken Joy, was doing some side work with Jet Life, and one of her good friends is Kelly Green, Spitta’s tour DJ. I can’t tell you exactly which forces made it happen or how it came to be. I remember waking up, and my homeboy texted me in all caps saying, “SPITTA BUMPING YO SHIT!!!” and I’m like nigga what? Next thing you know, he sends me the video. I still got [the video] on my phone. I’m never, ever deleting that shit. Like nigga, that’s Spitta! He’s in my top 10. That’s the motivation, influence, and the blueprint. Just the fact he was bumping a song of mine was super cool.
The Soulection joint I found out via Twitter. I had to work the night before. I got off and went to the bar, woke up the next day, and everybody was talking about it on Twitter. Finally, I went to peep the episode, and they transitioned from Gunna to [21 Savage] and Cole, to me! And it was the chopped and screwed version! The next thing you know, shit was just boomin.
You released Journey to much fanfare. How does it feel to see the album out in the world?
I still don’t know. I’m excited, but I was uneasy all week. I couldn’t sleep for shit. It’s hitting me in bits and pieces, but I still haven’t had that sigh of relief like: “It’s finally out, people love it.” It’s been nothing but love, but it’s been an overwhelming amount of love. People are taking the time out of their day to stop and screenshot a song and show they’re fucking with it... It’s so easy to take little things like that for granted. I don’t care how big I get; I want everybody to know I’m grateful for them listening.
You initially wanted to release the album last year. Were there any significant setbacks that attributed to the delay?
A lot of it was making sure this whole thing was cohesive and flowed well. I redid the intro like five times. It was a certain way I wanted it to vibe. So tweaking that and making some last-minute adjustments. And just life. Me getting in my own way, struggling with the drinking, and just dealing with bullshit. I did my best not to lie about what I was going through. Dealing with people and relationships that felt like their reason for being was the season; coming to those realizations and accepting it for what it was; rolling with the punches and getting back up, even when I knocked myself out. And, of course, making sure people got their proper splits. I was trying to do things as legitimate as possible.
You lost your aunt while making the album. How did her passing impact you personally and the music?
It fucked me up, bad. My aunt was my dog. The way she passed, I still can’t believe it. I’m not necessarily over it, but I’ve come to grips with it. I’ve lost a few people along the way, but that one fucked me up because I missed the funeral due to work, and I didn’t wanna see her in no casket like that. I hadn’t made my proper peace with it, so I just kept pushing it back and doing what I could to hide and fake the funk like I was okay, but I wasn’t.
When I wrote “The Release Pt. 2,” it brought me the relief I needed. I had to come to the understanding that life isn’t fair for anybody, and that’s why it’s fair to everybody. I had to get back right with myself and realize what I was doing wasn’t helping the cause. I had to buckle down, tie my laces and say fuck it; I gotta get this tape done.
How important was it for you to explore singing in your music and showcase your versatility on this album?
It wasn’t of high importance because I’ve always had that sense of flexibility. It was more so about pulling from past influences, like church and my family, and getting into a firm sense of confidence. Getting to a place where I can belt out notes and not be nervous or scared. Most of the singing and harmonizing on the album, minus a few features and background vocals, is all me. The homies have pushed me to sing more in the past, so I was like fuck it.
Throughout the album, you touch on the harsh reality that is gentrification. What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in Nashville?
Every fucking thing. There’s a hotel on every corner. There’s a Margaritaville on every block. It’s just different. A lot of this album is me walking around town tryna remember where shit was. It’s heartbreaking to try and remember what something used to be before all this happened. We have a bad homeless problem out here too. So it’s like damn, you can build all these hotels, but not a homeless shelter? It’s a process rapidly happening in the south that’s not being talked about.
Watching everything change, and watching people get moved out and all the unfortunate circumstances that come with [gentrification], is frustrating. But I still have work to do on my end so I can be about what I’m speaking about. It’s disheartening to see, but it’s still home.
You’ve seen a lot of growth online since your first SoundCloud release. What do you feel are the biggest changes between then and now?
A lot of it is personal. I don’t think the spirit or the message has changed. The intent has grown up, though. Growing up and coming to peace with what I like, what I know, and what I will and won’t accept. I had to get comfy with myself. When you’re finding your way, it’s easy to get distracted and wanna follow [others]. But when you’re a leader, you gotta be able to get back right and step firmly into the manifestation that you’ve spoken upon your life and listen to the message. The signs are always there, and I’ve shut up and paid a lot more attention over the years, to myself and the world around me.