Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Conducting Thoughts, with Wonder Brown

Before I post up, I have to extend an apology to Wonder Brown. I had every intent for each interview to be accompanied with an illustration but, technical difficulties are going to make that dream impossible for the time being. So, Sorry man! (I will post it up as soon as thats possible, though)

A member of the rap collective lovingly referred to as the Scribbling Idiots, Wonder Brown and I came to know each other first from message board posts, then last summer in person. I've cherished his thoughtful friendship as well as his unique talent. After hearing an older EP he put together "the Wake," I knew that I would be looking forward to his new work. Here I interview him on a good bit of both personal and professional things, while also speaking on his recently released new album, "the Gallows."

Conduct: I've always been wondering (no pun intended) where did you come up with the rap handle, Wonder Brown?

Wonder Brown: Lol, Wonder Brown was actually born from street ball. As much effort as I put into my music and writing, I used to put into "ballin'." You've seen me in person, and so you know that I've never looked the part. I'd even look stupid on purpose, socks jacked up to the knees, long hair flowing from underneath a headband - even miss a few shots pre-game on purpose - whatever it took to gain an edge. Cue clowning, "hey, look at wonder bread over there" and presto, I've got my edge. I still get the same kind of looks or remarks with rapping and performing to this day. The game starts, and all I had to do was wait for the ball. Crossover, spin dribble, between the legs lay up, and the whole atmosphere would go bananas; and I'd never say a word (except "DRAINO" when I'd shoot a three). Soon enough, cats weren't calling me wonder bread anymore, they were calling me wonder brown because they wondered why I wasn't brown. The only nickname I've ever had became something much deeper.

Conduct: That’s by far and away the funniest and, in many ways, deep story I’ve heard about a rap handle. Ha, ha, ha!

Conduct: The most recent releases I know I've heard you on were, Kings of Tragedy and Scribbling Idiots mix-tape 2 but, just how long ago were the verses written and recorded for those?

Wonder Brown: The verse for Idiomatic 2 was recorded while I was briefly living in San Francisco last year, just coming off of my first Kings of Tragedy tour. The Kings album was composed, written recorded, mixed and mastered late last year, 2008, in preparation for another summer tour of this year - where I got a chance to meet you and your wonderful community of Believers in Pittsburgh.

Conduct: So the Kings record is the most recent raps? That’s awesome. Someone totally snaked me for my copy as we were cleaning up the stage and equipment. Ah, you have to love those outdoor shows…

Conduct: So, these new projects you've been working on would be the most current example of your sound?

Wonder Brown: Yeah, "my sound" has been a struggle to find direction with the beats I've been given or come across. Personally, a beat or melody brings something out of me, and the best way I could ever describe it would be to say that every beat has a song, every melody has a word, and my job is to find that word, as freely as possible - while keeping the integrity of the inspiration I've been given and the art I want to express. I love rapping, I love singing, but most of all I love making a good song - lyrical, melodic movies in three minute increments.

Conduct: Yeah, that is how I see songs too. Okay, let's take this back a bit, I became a true fan of yours when I heard "the Wake" EP, that you did over Theory Hazit production. Around what time was that put together?

Wonder Brown: "The Wake EP" was a mash up of songs and ideas I had in my head, and my rhyme books, that I was able to record in sessions at Theory's house. He was always so busy working on his own projects, recording many different artists around Cincinnati, making a eleventy-bagillion beats, etc, that I was trying to find where I fit in - which is something I always do. Plus, I had no clue what I was doing, just following a dream I'd had my whole life. I was surrounded by a hundred "gospel rappers," and I thought that was an interesting approach, but not even close to what I wanted to do. Mix in a fragile era in my faith walk, and my world ever-changing and always in the midst of some issue or drama, that I was seeking peace with my art - firstly, my spoken word/poetry, secondly, my rapping abilities and musical aspirations. Eventually I got to a point where I felt all these old songs I'd written couldn't clearly reflect where I was artistically, spirituallly, etc... until Theory stepped in and urged me to put something out. "The Wake EP" was born.

Conduct: My favorite jam, as I've mentioned entirely TOO MUCH to you, was “Namesake,” about your father, stepfather, and mother. It is really an impactful song to me, even though my experiences were vastly different. What things acted as a catalyst to you writing that song?

Wonder Brown: I learned, over such a strenuous, tumultuous time in my life, that simply putting my pen to a pad of paper was all I needed to exorcise demons, if you will. To release frustration and "say something" as well. Previously, I had been a part of a poetry movement at the University of Cincinnati which really opened my eyes to a gift our Father had given me to freely use - poetry. People were very supportive of this gift, and realizing this fact was so instrumental in opening up worlds of potential/oppurtunity. One thing I also realized early was that a desire to get things off my chest and be transparently open was inspiring to others... God would use all of these instances to build me up, preparing me for artistically expressing myself and performing in front of others who would realize similar desires from being around the creativity. The culmination of all these instances gave me the freedom to say what I want to say and be firm in my convictions amongst all of these people who were judgmental about whether or not you said Jesus 100 times in your songs. The track is called "Namesake", and the beat, simply, pulled what you hear out of me - I let myself be guided and received a Ton of freedom from that experience. I still like listening to that song to see where I've come from and where I've headed since.

Conduct: When you sit to write, is it usually motivated by something on your mind or the beat that you have available to write too?

Wonder Brown: I play with the experiences, sometimes purposely trying to write free-verse poetry, sometimes picking a topic and sticking to it, and sometimes just seeing what comes out. Diversity is immensely important to me, and it keeps my spirit open to possibilities where the Holy Spirit can come along and use me for who know what. A good song is worth the journey, no matter what happens from start to finish, and the less the expectations, I've found, the better the song.

Conduct: Wow. Lately I’ve been finding that out as well in my writing. I used to have precise structure and the concept mapped from start to finish but, as with my illustrating, I’m finding that the journey takes me to better places when I’m…I guess “open.”

Conduct: I've been thinking about music this year and, for me, I haven't really found too much that's inspired me, when it comes to our neck of the woods in Hip Hop. How's do you feel the year has been for newer hip hop releases? Anything good or inspiring stuff you've run across?

Wonder Brown: To be honest, I've been so busy working on music, performing all over the midwest and east coast, and mixing and mastering new projects, that I haven't listened to much new hip hop. I'm inspired by eclectic sounds, so coming across the newest Radiohead last year, has really inspired me for this year. My crews music really inspires me... I've truly been blessed to be surrounded by my homies who are truly unselfish in their approaches to art and expression, which spoils me - I never need to check for something that just dropped when I can hit up one of the Idiots for what they're working on...and best believe it's always dope!!

Conduct: Your crew, Scribbling Idiots, is a really active group. To mind, I'm thinking that within the last 365 days that either digitally or physical CD release, there have been, like, 8 projects you've put out. Is this by plan or have you all been stocking up material to just flood the world with?

Wonder Brown: We had a plan, which was to record and perform with each other for a season, and then build each other up while recording solos and side projects. At first, it seemed like our plan would be a disaster, since our true desires to tour together never really came to fruition, but part of our desires in building each other up were also in God's plans. What you hear from us is really kind of an exponential effect of continually working on music, whether together or apart, and since time is of the essence, we don't really have the luxury of sitting on projects and trying to spread them out. One thing that we have done together is take the EP idea and created S.I. monthly, spinning off of CasMetah Monthly, and we'll be dropping a new EP every month for people who subscribe. Just what you need, more of us to love!!!

Conduct: On the same token, do you ever think of what the other side of that many projects being released can be? We live in a world that's gotten really comfortable with the "instant gratification" and being able to get a million songs on your player in a day. The music business is having to constantly change the aspects of how music is reaching the consumer and with the advent of these things, is it a better idea to drop projects more frequently to remain in the mind of listeners?

Wonder Brown: You know, I've thought about the ramifications of everything I've done, from the words I've recited and sung, to the sounds I've used, to the continual release of new material, and I've found one answer to continually ring true in my heart. Stay true. To the art. To yourself. To God. The rest will take care of itself. Even our mixtapes have been of mostly original material, so what you hear is a clear reflection of us as a collective, as well as each of us as individuals. As far as I'm concerned, if the music drops every month, six months, or six years, staying true will ALWAYS be relevant.

Conduct: That’s a great mindstate to have. So, uh, how did you and MC Till hook-up to form "Kings of Tragedy?"

Wonder Brown: MC Till and I inevitably were gonna work together, and two years ago that finally happened. He had moved to Cincinnati from Evansville five or so years back, and quickly met k-Drama and D-Maub, brothers in Christ who have been around and really putting in work. Eventually, we got to really hang out when he accompanied the Idiots to the GMA's of 2007. He was there to pick Plastic's brain about the industry, and hob-knob with all of the other shenanigans that go on that weekend. After coming home, we stayed in touch, and later that year we hooked up some shows together... The Kings of Tragedy was later born when, out of shear genius, knew that I was moving to San Francisco sometime in the coming months, and also knew that MC would be meeting his family in Oregon for spring break. Tour on the way out there, together, arriving there just in time for MC to vacation with family? Don't mind if we do... We booked it together, MC being the business mastermind that he is. We created a set together, mixing mainly my part of "The Have Nots" and his album "Beautiful Raw." We eventually toured a couple more times, and in all, performed around 100 times together, and had the time of our lives.

Conduct: I found that seeing the presentation you and MC Till bring to the Kings of Tragedy live shows is very different to what alot of people are doing in Hip Hop. Was it a love of drama that made you guys go that route?

Wonder Brown: Our original set, which incorporated miming with overdubs in between the tracks we mixed together on a cd, came out of a mutual desire to do more than just rap on stage. In the convos we had while at GMA's, we lined up on a lot of creative ideas, and both believed that rapping live was boring. Most hip hop shows are wack, especially if the crowd isn't engaged. We also both agreed that forcing the crowd to move wasn't our cup of tea, so we decided to go a different route. While brainstorming for our trip, I thought playing off the trip as part of our set would be dope, with a little acting, but didn't have the time to come up with a bunch of dialogue, so on a lazy Sunday, we got together and created a set from scratch that would incorporate all the sounds of a road trip, and came up with a script that we could record in between beats, and mime as if we could read each other's thoughts - the type of odd things that might happen on a long road trip. That experience kinda opened our eyes to a mutual desire to act, that if given ample time, we could truly incorporate into our live presentation, and even our music. With the Kings of Tragedy LP, we were able to do that on all levels, and really flex our creative muscles.

Conduct: I thoroughly enjoyed the live show you guys do. It is really interesting because, it has the space to adapt to any kind of audience and, to me I’ve always felt that in many regards, rap shows can be a tough sell to people who really aren’t that into the style of music. Most of the people you performed for at the show I co-hosted weren’t fans of rap music. But they left with a real love for the show and the music you guys did. Have you received a lot of response like this from the various shows and venues the Kings of Tragedy play?

Wonder Brown: Yeah, we actually have! Our objective was to do just that, with something original, something thought provoking, something simple, something that could reflect the dichotomy of simplicity and complexity within the Truth...but mostly just to have fun and share that exact desire to others. It just so happens that we rap and sing.

Conduct: This is the portion of the interview where I offer you a free space to place whatever comes to mind and share something funny, informative or profound to the people. Got a word for them?

Wonder Brown: Free space hey? I have a quote on the front of my myspace page, "I believe in free will and unconditional love"...I think if the world, especially the Body of Believers, were to contemplate those things and put "them" to use, I wouldn't have to write another word. That day would be divinely sweet, waiting to exhale, death and the reception of heaven's peace kinda sweet. Check the new material for more words and stuff.

Conduct: Last, but not least, I give you the chance to play interviewer and ask me one question. What do you want to know?

Wonder Brown: Okay, question. What kind of legacy do you think the Scribbling Idiots will leave for this world? Second question (can't help myself), why is what we do necessary?

Conduct: This is actually a tough one. I haven’t seen way too many groups leave a massive legacy in rap so, since there are a great deal out there its often tough to pin down which will “make it” or not (especially with each crew’s distinctly different view on what “making it” is.) For how I see your group, I’d think that you will leave a legacy of interesting styles of hip hop, under the banner of a “crew.” What you do is necessary because, regardless of what preferences some prefer, your group is striving to get the music OUT THERE to the people, not just your fans, but to THE PEOPLE. A lot of crews have a different way in which they operate and seek to get across their message. Scribbling Idiots do A LOT of live performing and put out stuff monthly. I think that’s needed to both, battle with the pace of music’s availability as well as, to challenge/inspire other artists to get serious with their work ethic.

Thank you for “Conducting Thoughts” with me.

(Wonder Brown's "the Gallows" can be previewed at
http://www.myspace.com/wonderbrown and purchased at http://www.scribblingidiots.com/catalog)