Every young rapper has to be the “next something”. The next Jay Z; the next Ice Cube; the next MC Lyte; the next Nas. Reference points are handy for upcoming artists, although they may be frustrating in the long term. It’d be no surprise if Deezie Brown has run into a far few of those comparisons himself, given that just one listen to Judith would be enough to pinpoint the Austin artist’s sound to an already existing lane: Kanye West.
That’s not a bad comparison by any means, given that the Chicago rapper-producer has become one of the most revered and sonically unpredictable artists in hip hop history, and if Deezie is reminding people of that then it’s about time people stood up and paid attention to someone with a tremendous amount of potential.
It comes to no surprise, but Deezie has studied Kanye West, and it sounds like he’s going to past all kinds of tests with flying colours. Judith is an excellent album; meandering production that’s both engaging and ironically unoriginal, sarcastic raps about hip hop’s new standards with a wit as sharp as College Dropout-era West, and a charismatic performance pulling on popularised flows from the top names like Kendrick Lamar. It all mixes up with Deezie’s own fresh spin, injecting a little southern twang into it all and coming out with something with huge replay value. It’s then a wonder why Deezie only had one showcase at the recent SXSW – which by all accounts was well attended – which values fresh talent like this.
Though he’s still under the radar by all means, we managed to catch onto Deezie’s work and took the opportunity to sit down with the artist at SXSW. You can check the full transcript of our chat below, discussing his career thus far, uncovering the thoughtful reason behind Judith, and examining everything from Kanye West to the media.
Tell me a bit about yourself. How did you get started? I have a feeling I know who is inspiring you right now, but who did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to a lot of southern music like OutKast and UGK because that’s mainly what my dad listened to. And so when mum would go to the grocery store, me and dad could have that listening session where we could listen to any music whether it be cussing, non-cussing – those were the good times. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a musician, I knew that was something I wanted to do. I progressed and got into middle school which is when I actually started writing lyrics. That’s when the Kanyes and Jay-Zs came around, I was really inspired by [them]. Once I knew that this was something I could use as like a job… like I was blessed with this creative vision and I could essentially get paid for this. It was something I definitely wanted to do. From there I started listening to a lot of Kanye West; I studied a lot of Kanye albums, and I just started crafting. A few years later I finally have this project, and for the most part that’s kind of where it came from: just growing up admiring the music industry and having parents that knew about music, it moulded me into what I am.
Tell me a bit about Judith. What do you feel it’s bringing to the table, especially in a scene that is I guess a bit splintered, since there’s so many access points in hip hop now
Yeah, definitely. Judith is basically a reflection of what the industry paints for us. I feel in my heart that the industry puts up this wall and there’s all these celebrities on one side of the wall, and then there’s the local artists on the other side. They paint this vivid picture for you of what success is supposed to look like. What’s crazy is that these artists are afraid to admit that they’re brainwashed, and that’s what Judith is. Judith is basically an album saying like “Look, this is what the industry has done to me; this is what the industry has made me feel, how success is supposed to look like”. So here it is, listen to it. This is the reason why it sounds like Kanye, the reason it sounds like Travis Scott. Because the industry has basically painted this picture to me like, “Okay, this is success”. I made that album thinking that that’s what success was. While I was finishing the album, then I started to realise, “Okay; this is not what success looks like”.
I still wanted to put this album out to show people that it’s okay. It’s okay to be confused by what the industry may be. At the end of the day, if you’re creative you can also manoeuvre. You can also find yourself. So that’s basically what the album is about, me falling in love with the industry and no matter if it’s good or it’s bad I’m here to stay.
With Kanye’s albums, like every single album is different. Is that what you want for yourself?
That’s exactly what I want for myself. It’s so crazy that he does that, like he’ll make you become a fan of this way over here in this area, then he’ll be working on something else while all his fans are still over there in that place. I think that’s genius, I think that helps an artist stay relevant. I think that’s why he’s still considered one of the top artists in the industry. It’s because he knows how to manoeuvre and stay creative, and that’s key in this industry.
What message are you trying to put out there in the immediate future, in the next five years?
I want to inspire artists to be as creative as they possibly can. If you think about it, anybody can be a rapper these days. If you listen to the music that’s out now, it’s like no one is actually trying. It’s like, “Oh I can make a million dollars off just saying this, okay cool I’m just going to say that and go about it”. That’s cool, but that music doesn’t last. Push yourself to be a little bit more creative, a little bit more inspiring and you may have the ability to stay around a lot longer like the Jay-Zs and Kanyes. You’ll have that ability if you just push yourself to be creative, push yourself to be consistent, and push yourself to be competitive and know how to compete in a friendly way without making it beef. That’s me, that’s what I’m trying to push, something that can just stick around for years and years to come.
That’s kind of where I went when I was crafting Judith. Like when you listen to Judith, yeah it’s ‘trappy’ but at any given time I’ll take you into an element to where it’s like a breakdown and you get all these different sounds. I think that’s key because for me when I listen to music I like to be taken to different places. I like to be saying, “Oh what is this, I didn’t expect that to come in”. I feel like as a listener that’s super key, and it separates you from a lot of different artists.
Do you handle your own production too?
I don’t. I actually craft it in my brain and then I send all these ideas to different producers. A guy named SP95 from Toronto, I have a guy on my team Parallelephants – he produced track one, he’s actually on track one singing. I just work with a lot of different people and basically just send my ideas to them and then see if they can map that out with just what I sent them. It has kind of worked for me. Of course, I’m local so I’m still working, I can’t really sit down with a lot of producers and do that type of atmosphere. So just the e-mailing and the finding producers on YouTube and stuff like that has just kind of had to be my lane for me.
It’s a very unique confluence of influences that you had. Because UGK, Scarface, 8Ball & MJG – the south has the biggest influence on pop music today, especially like Michael Watts, DJ Screw – you find screw music in Miley Cyrus songs now. And then you’ve got the Kanye, Kid Cudi alternative hip hop stuff going on. Young rappers are always a product of what they grew up listening too, to some extent.
For sure, and you take all that and put it in a blender and you’ve got Deezie Brown. I just basically take what I grew up on it and some of the things that are inspiring me these days and just try and make my own craft out of it. That’s just kind of the lane I’m going in.
And you grew up just outside of Austin. Having an event such as SXSW, has that effected you at all as a musician?
I wouldn’t say it’s effected me, but it’s basically let me know that things are possible. Like when you think of it, what huge rapper is from Austin? Not much comes to mind, but that means there is some huge opportunity open for somebody to make it. And that’s cool, but the hardest part about that is that now you’ve got a million rappers from Austin that are trying to be that. So it’s a bit confusing because we’re forgetting that if we all work together then we can create this lane easier, rather than we do this all like, “Oh I want to be the first to be on top”. I think that’s why nothing has popped just yet but I feel like if we can find a way to work together, Austin can be the next hip hop stop.
What Kanye album has had the biggest impact on you?
It’s definitely going to have to be My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, because the elementation on that album is just ridiculous. When I heard that I felt like I had never heard anything like that in my entire life and I was like, “Dude what is this?” I listened to that album straight like everyday, just studying the elements, studying how he plays the piano or how he uses the MPC, Akai 2000. It’s like that album for me was just like a deal breaker of knowing which route I wanted to take in hip-hop. That’s the route I took and it’s been good.
I’ve gotten a lot of like, “Oh it sounds a bit too much like Kanye West,” and I get it. This is just my first album since studying that so I do get that part of [the criticism] and then moving forward I am going to try and find ways to creatively form myself, and people can say, “Oh okay, I’ve never heard something like this, I can still hear some Kanye but it’s definitely transforming into your own sound”.
Well the best artists are the ones that realise that they’re growing. They don’t think they’re at their peak. With Kanye again, it’s very interesting to me in media, and media outside of hip hop culture…first they tried to push him into the role of villain, tried to create that narrative with Kanye as the villain and Taylor Swift as the hero, but now that he’s come out and said he’s had mental illness issues they’re all like ‘leave Kanye alone now’ so very hypocritical like that. Do you feel artists or outspoken creatives, especially from black culture, are just really misunderstood by “white media”?
I do. It’s hard because a lot of that type of media doesn’t know the background and the roots that we have to endure to get where we are. A lot of people will say, “Oh you guys have all this profanity and all this fuck the police stuff and then you want peace and justice”. But you have to really take into consideration the environment we come from. This is why we’re so angry, because we come from this environment and this is all we know, all we know is anger because this environment is horrible. We’re trying our best to get our of this environment and that’s what you hear in the music – the pain, the depression. It’s hard to understand if you don’t come from that and it’s a struggle but I guess it just comes with it.
Do you think it’s easier for young rappers to take that mumble rap route. It has shifted the goal posts where someone like yourself or Big K.R.I.T would have to take a longer route. Have you ever had that temptation like “fuck this, I’m just going to rap about xans”.
Dude. Yes. I feel like when you hear Judith and you listen to songs like “Anna Wintour [Every Winter]” and “A-V-[Entador] to the Hill” that’s me kind of trying to dabble into that a little bit and jump back out of it, like “I can do this too”. Like I’m trying to a spin on it but still be cool at the same time, so yeah definitely have thought about that. I’ve also thought about doing that type of stuff for placements, stuff that I can send off to labels, where I can somehow get in through the back door kind of like how Frank Ocean did, like he was writing for Beyoncé and all these other people and saved up his money then did his own thing.
As far as a whole album of it, I probably couldn’t do that, I’m way too creative in my mind to just flat put out a whole mumble rap album. But it definitely crosses my mind, how I can manoeuvre in that and dabble in that. I think it’s cool, like if you’re sword is sharp enough to do it all then you know, go ahead and creatively push it all, open up every door you can.
What’s on your to-do list for the rest of the year?
I’m going to try to push Judith. I feel like when locals drop albums they have them out for a month then are like, “Alright, I gotta do something else now”. For me, I’m trying to find out different ways to just continue to push my album. I don’t have a lot of videos out so I can start there. Try to push some more visuals you know? Other than that just networking, linking up with blogs and media, really getting this project noticed.
Give Judith by Deezie Brown a listen over at this official website HERE.