First Day Feature: Brain Rapp talks about his upbringing, racial relations in hip-hop & his new EP “Elevator Music”

As one of the rising artists coming from Maryland Brain Rapp is making himself a staple with the use of lyricism and an honesty that is refreshing to hear. A seemingly tireless worker Brain Rapp has broadcast his artistry with consistent releases including 2012’s More Than I Am, 2013’s Feels Good and his Throwback Thursday series at the top of 2014. This year won’t be the exception for the MC as his fans were presented his latest EP Elevator Music in late June. With the EP making waves throughout the internet we found it a fitting time to be able to discuss the project with the artist himself as well as an other few topics.

For those who aren’t familiar can you tell us about your background?

I grew up in a suburb of Maryland called Columbia. It’s pretty much smack in between Baltimore and Washington, DC. Most people know Columbia because of our mall or Merriweather Post Pavilion–a large outdoor music venue. What’s cool about Columbia is that it was designed specifically to eliminate racial, religious, and class segregation. This was pretty atypical for the 1960s. That idea alone makes Columbia a unique place to have grown up. In fact, I went to the same high school as Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks. It’s rumored that the show was actually set in Columbia. I also went to the same high school as Bree Newsome, recently made famous for removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse in South Carolina. I say this not to flex but to set the scene for the type of environment I came up in.

On a family,household level my life was pretty tumultuous at times. My parents divorced when I was six which took a heavy toll on everyone–especially my older brother and sister. We all dealt with it the best we could but it got pretty messy for a while. I could go into further detail here but I’d rather leave it for a record later on down the road. The important piece to know is that it was under these conditions that I discovered and fell in love with hip hop. Being able to hear songs about pain and overcoming struggle helped me to deal with the pain and struggle in my life. In middle school I found that trying to write my feelings down in the form of rhymes was incredibly therapeutic. That was the beginning of me as a rapper. I would write to work through difficult things in my life for seven years before I ever seriously recorded a song.

When did you know rapping was really your path?

I didn’t realize rapping was a path at all until college. I had been writing rhymes since I was thirteen but never really considered making a career out of it. I just didn’t think anyone would want to hear what I had to say. The turning point for me was when I started attending meetings with the Undergrounduates–a hip-hop cypher club on campus at UMD. We would meet in front of one of the buildings on the Mall, plug in a pair of laptop speakers, and freestyle. It was here that I realized that I was actually pretty good at rapping. I took the confidence that I gained from those meetings and began recording. As my confidence grew so did my desire to keep pushing the boundaries of what I thought I could accomplish musically. I never thought I would record a song so once I did I asked myself “what’s next?”. I’ve been asking myself that same question ever since.

I hear Outkast played a major role in your inspiration. So much so that your introduction to rap was from stealing your sister’s Aquemini disk. What elements have you used from the group to craft your style?

I think my approach to music in general is what I took away from them. Outkast has always been really good, at least from my perspective, about staying true to who they are–as a group and as individuals. When Andre 3000 stopped smoking and drinking he stopped rapping about smoking and drinking. If he did talk about it it was always from a different perspective, not as an active participant. When I write I try my best to be myself–to incorporate my personality and my life experiences into my music.

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How did you come up with your name?

My real name is Brian Raupp. If you switch the I and the A in my first name and remove the U from my last name you get Brain Rapp. It’s not as pretentious as it sounds. I was doodling in my notebook my sophomore year of high school and I came up with that. I didn’t go by that name back then but it always stuck out in my mind. When I decided to get serious about a career in music I decided to use that name. I didn’t realize it at that time but the name really does describe my music pretty well. My songs are thoughtful; they took thought to write and they take some thought to listen to.

What do you think about the music scene in the DMV currently and who are some of your favorites around the area?

The music scene in the DMV is thriving. Having artists from the area gain national and international attention has done a lot to add to that. The more publicity our area can get the more eyes will start looking around for more dope artists to shine their spotlight on. One cool aspect of the DMV is that it’s small enough that you can get to know almost all of the artists personally. Many artists’ first fans are other artists. Some of my favorites right now are Ezko and Jake Sinatra–yes, I know they’re on my album but I’d name them if they weren’t. I’ve been a fan of those dudes since before we worked on records together. Also, if I had to make a prediction I’d say Jay IDK will be the next big thing out of the DMV. His grind has been on point from the first time I met him back in 2013. One last addition is my dude Navi. I would classify him more as “alternative hip hop” but he’s one of the best emcees, storytellers, freestylers, and performers that I’ve ever met.

In what ways do you feel your music is unique?

I think the content of my music is what makes it unique. I have a different background than a majority of rap artists and my songs reflect that. I can’t make really make records about drugs, violence, sex etc. because I don’t have much experience with those things. I’m not going to put something on a record that I don’t know anything about. I’d rather take the things in my life that I have experienced and use those events as inspiration for songs. Maintaining authenticity is everything to me. People can tell when you’re not really about that life. I’d rather be myself on a record and have people not like it rather than become some character that people do like just to have them find out later that that wasn’t really me.

In the past their has been backlash to some rappers because of their race more recently with Macklemore and Iggy receiving some criticism. Is that a challenge you have run into with people not being as receptive as they should?

Being a white rapper is a double-edged sword. People of all colors are immediately drawn to me because I’m white. I stand out. I’m frequently the only white person at a given event. When it’s my time to perform the first thing anybody wants to know is if I can rap–is he Eminem or is he Vanilla Ice? Once I show people I can rap it’s a different story. The race thing doesn’t really matter as much once people hear me spit, people who were brought up in hip-hop can tell almost immediately that I’m a student of the game. The playing field is more level after I jump that initial hurdle. People tend to judge the music for its quality after that. That’s why having authentic content is so important to me. As a white rapper I feel as though my career is and will always be under heightened scrutiny. I don’t really mind because I know that I do this for the right reasons. I also understand and respect the need to protect the foundation and legacy of hip hop against those who would use it’s popularity strictly for financial gain. This is why Macklemore and Iggy were so heavily criticized–their music, especially Iggy’s, treks far too close to cultural appropriation. Her music feels inauthentic. The first song on Elevator Music, “Hello”, addresses this question perfectly.

I understand. Well since you just mentioned it its only right we go straight into this topic. Your new EP released a couple of weeks ago. What is the inspiration behind the title “Elevator Music”?

The title for the EP was derived from the song “Elevator Music”–which is the first song that me and Nature Boi ever made together. As we were finishing up the project it became apparent that the theme of “Elevator Music”, the song, was bigger than just that one track. The title is descriptive of our intentions with the CD. Our goal with the release is to have Elevator Music take us to the next level of the music industry. We’ve been “local” for a while now and it’s time to be recognized for our talents beyond where we’re from. The music makes that statement. The title has meaning for our listeners as well. A lot of my music has been described as “feel good” and I think the songs on the EP fit that description. In short, Elevator Music is meant to lift everyone up–uplift the spirits of our audience while lifting us towards our goals as artists.

The project is produced in its entirety by the man you just mentioned Nature Boi, who also features on two records. What about his sound made you want to work exclusively with him?

It’s hard to say why I like working exclusively with producers. My last project was produced entirely by the same person, not Nature Boi. I think that I’ve always wanted to have an emcee-producer relationship kind of like Guru had with Premier. Gang Starr is one of my favorite hip hop groups of all time because their sound was so unique and memorable. They understood each other. They knew each other’s strengths and weakness, they knew their pocket and didn’t stray too far out of it and it made them legends. The cool thing about working with Nature is that I’ve known him for over a decade and never made any music with him. I had such a high level of respect for his production that I didn’t want to rap over anything of his until I knew I was good enough to do it in a respectful way. His sound, much like Premier’s, is unique. Being from Maryland, we we’re both heavily influenced by artists from the North and the South. His style of production reflects this musical upbringing–the way he combines soul samples with Dirty South/Trap elements creates what he calls “Soul Trap”. It’s that style that I’ve been a fan of for so long. Being friends prior to working on music together made it a lot easier to find a sound that was comfortable for both of us.

Your visual for “Not Today” that released previously this year was so well put together. Are there any tracks from Elevator Music that we can expect to see?

Yup! The video for “Where You Been” is already done. It’s dope. We’re going to release it in late July. We’re going to release videos for other tracks as well but that’s under wraps for right moment.

Funny you should mention that song. My favorite record from the EP is “Where You Been”. The flow and beat is just ridiculous. How did that track come about?

“Where You Been” is a track that almost didn’t happen. Nature Boi sent me the beat almost two years ago. I liked the instrumental a lot but I didn’t really know how to approach it at that time. I told Nature this and he basically told me that I had to rap on it. It wasn’t optional. Finally, one day, I got in my zone and came up with the chorus. Once the chorus was there I knew I could just chill and have fun with the flow. Stepping outside my comfort zone to make it was difficult at first but it ended up as one of the best songs I’ve ever made.

Is there a particular track that stands out to you more so than any others on the project? If so then why?

My favorite song on the project is “Hello”. It’s a really personal song for me. People that don’t know me very well won’t pick up a lot of it but so many of the lines in that song allude and pay homage to the things that made me who I am today. It’s hard to describe yourself in general, it’s even harder to do it while rhyming. I think “Hello” really captures me in a nutshell. Here’s an example: “Can a chap rap his story? That’s word to Laurie/ messed around with a Mike/mic and got Brain, came glory”. Few people would know that my mom’s name is Laurie and my dad’s name is Mike. When Laurie messed around with Mike they conceived me, Brain. If you interpret Laurie as the phrase “word to mother” then when I messed around the mic, Brain, the rapper, was born. “Hello” is filled with stuff like that. The more people listen to me the more lines like that will make sense to them further on down the road.

Dope line. Must admit I missed it as well off the lack of knowledge. In addition to dropping gems like the one above what are some of your goals for this project? Where would you like it to take you in your career?

The goal for this project is to get it heard by as many people as possible. Once people listen to me they generally like it and want to hear more. The hardest part of all of this is just getting heard. Ideally the next step for us is to amass enough of an audience around the country to be able to put together a tour. We’re dope performers. Most of the fans we do have became fans after seeing us perform live. I love making music but there’s nothing like a show. Getting to hop off stage and shake hands and take pictures with people after the set never gets old.

These days major label backing is slowly dying out. Is going major something that you’d be open to or would you rather continue your push as you have thus far?

I’m open to whatever allows me to do music at the highest level. That being said, I’m not willing to compromise who I am to achieve that goal. If I can make music for a living, tour the world, interact with fans, help people in need, and give back to the community that birthed hip hop by signing with a major then cool. If not, I’m not sweating it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Is there any further information you’d like to get out while you have the reader’s attention?

I just want people to know that I’m person. You can contact me, I’ll listen to people’s music when I have time to, I’ll give advice when I have advice to give, when I get off the stage I want to shake your hand and give you a hug. I’m all about removing a lot these barriers that people put up between artists and fans. We’re all people worthy of celebration.

Whats the best way for people to contact you for features and other work?

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, email–brainrapp@gmail.com. Please, no spam.

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