THROWBACK TO THE FUTURE
TOMMY BOY ENT.
LESLIE HERMELIN: firstname.lastname@example.org
RENEE COTSIS: email@example.com
Since Hip-Hop’s inception, it has been the product of a gestalt of influences, carried in its founding artists. Many were clearly inspired by Afro-Brazilian rhythms, rich instrumentation, and dance interplay. For Brazil in particular, the culture thrives in the nightlife, arts, and street expression. The album Throwback To The Future is the sonic link between New York and Brazil, Hip-Hop’s future with its far-reaching past, by BROOKZILL!, a quartet collective of Prince Paul (Stetsasonic, Gravediggaz), Ladybug Mecca (Digable Planets), Rodrigo Brandão (aka Gorila Urbano), and Don Newkirk (The Dix), a band of individuals that discovered a family by stepping out.
Ten years ago, Prince Paul ventured to São Paulo, eager to experience new culture as a DJ. The legendary artist and producer returned with a recharged, inspired take. “It was fascinating,” the Grammy award winner begins. “Once I got to spinning down there and meeting the people, it was just a throwback to people really enjoying music for what it is—and not necessarily the marketing power of what we have in the States. It wasn’t ‘Man, what does your music look like?’ which is how it is now. It was a sound that really excited me.” While there, the Long Island, New Yorker connected closely with one Brazilian MC, Rodrigo Brandão. A native of Brazil’s largest city, Rodrigo had closely studied Paul’s first group, Stetsasonic, as well as his acclaimed production on De La Soul’s first three albums. The MC who saw himself and his experiences in those acts, had since gone on to host Brazilian’s version of Yo! MTV Raps, and serve as MC for local iconic group Mamelo Sound System.
Upon that first journey to Brazil, Paul—who was introduced to Rodrigo through longtime engineer Scotty Hard—says the pair vowed to begin an album. The MC says, “I saw very early on the connection between break-beats and what they play here in the tambor drums at the Candomblé ceremonies. The music that is played during those spiritual rituals, it is just the drums and the chanting. So I was like, ‘Okay, this is Hip-Hop before drum machines.’ I realized very early on that this is my thing; this is what I can add to this whole landscape. It’s the connection between the Afro-Brazilian experience and Hip-Hop.” Soon after, Rodrigo traveled to Paul’s Long Island, New York studio, bringing with him Brazilian samples. The two began experimenting, blending the rhythms and sounds of South America, the producer’s beats and basslines, and the MC’s impassioned flow. “Here’s how we created it: Rodrigo came with a whole bunch of samples, sounds and stuff. I was like, ‘Yo, you know what gives it the Hip-Hop test? Let’s put a beat behind it.,’ reveals Paul. “So anything we put a beat behind that was funkier than it was [before, we kept]. From that point was when we realized we were using the two [or three continents and regions together. It just kind of evolved. Once you start putting the lyrics on, then it really gets cohesive.” Rodrigo, who primarily raps in Portuguese, is commanding on the mic with a syncopated flow, rich, raspy voice, and crisp cadence.
As the two explored musically, they added two key components to the picture. Grammy winner Ladybug Mecca, known for her smoky, sultry vocals with Digable Planets and solo material had previously worked with Paul on the Baby Loves Hip-Hop children’s album. The daughter of two Brazilian Jazz musicians, the Brooklyn, New York native was versed in the language, culture, and rich traditions of Brazil. Moreover, the MC was looking to link her gifts with her heritage. “Rodrigo and I had an instant connection just spiritually, and musically,” she says of meeting her complementary MC in this group. “It just flowed so nicely. Me being of Brazilian descent and first-language Portuguese, it has always influenced my cadence when I rhyme. It was important to explore deeper and actually rhyme in Portuguese, sing in Portuguese, and be able to go back and get immersed with my roots during the writing process. In the album, the male and female trade bars with explosive chemistry, the kinds of routines celebrated in 1990s Hip-Hop, only emphasized by the range of Jazz, R&B, and the aforementioned Candomblé.
The other piece to the puzzle came in the form of a 30-year collaborator to Prince Paul. Don Newkirk worked with Paul on Stet’, De La, Chris Rock, and Prince Among Thieves. When Paul was given a Def Jam label, Don’s The Dix were among the flagship acts. Rodrigo and Paul’s early BROOKZILL! sessions were given to Don, to see if the arranger, musician, and producer could enhance them. In hearing the music, the reclusive artist heard something he connected with. Newkirk says instead of just playing on the album, he was compelled for a more creative role. “It was just magical, when we all came together. It just felt like this family vibe,” Don recalls of the first sessions as a quartet, recorded in his former Queens, New York studio. Paul reacts, “Newkirk blows your mind. He puts in stuff that I wouldn’t even think of. That’s why I think he was a really good addition to be in the group. It’s those nuances that give it that flavor. Without it, it would sound like a straight up Hip-Hop record.”
The magic that Newkirk spoke of, traveled with the group to Rodrigo’s São Paulo. There, Don and Mecca took in the culture—along with Paul, as Rodrigo organized an elite group of musicians. “These guys, they understand the science of break-beats,” Rodrigo says of the percussionists, horn players, flutists, and more. “They won’t put anything that sounds over the top or corny on those beats.” The players hail from Pharoah Sanders’ band to Prefuse 73, and other outfits.
Also there, Rodrigo and Mecca wrote more songs. Together, the male and female tandem created a cohesive theme surrounding spirituality, ancestry, and connecting tomorrow to the past. Songs like single “Raise The Flag” succinctly capture the concept of BROOKZILL! while opener “Macumba 3000” takes traditional rhythms, and puts a unique spin on them in a 5:4 time signature. In all the songs, the sounds of Brazil interact with Hip-Hop in a complex way.
The recordings persisted, in Don Newkirk’s new studio in Atlanta, Georgia. There, the musicians further bonded as a family—recording, revising, and fellowshipping at all hours. “Everybody did their best, and felt acknowledged by everyone else for doing their best,” Don says, comparing it to a west coast studio vibe. “We have a lot of respect for each other and each other’s craft. So it’s known that you could walk out of the room and come back in the room to something that’s amazing without having to go, ‘Uh oh, let me micromanage this’,” adds Paul with a chuckle. For all the veterans of music, they experienced something refreshing together. Moreover, each artist enters this project with desire to enhance their careers on their own terms.
“To me, BROOKZILL! is a throwback to why I started my whole career: good music is good music, regardless of what the language is, what the culture is,” declares Paul. “This record stands by what I’ve always stood by. It might not be what you’re familiar with. But for some reason, you just like it ‘cause it’s good. It shouldn’t have a face on it, it should just be felt.” Paul, who has cleverly addressed critics and peers in his music before, also finds his spirit of competition in a project so organic, and original. “My whole discography is all over the place. I take pride in that,” he notes. “To me, for this, I can do it. Yeah, other producers can do this, but I can do that. I kind of dictate what I make and how I make it. I don’t let the industry people or social media make me do stuff that I don’t like. I do stuff that I like. Either you follow me with it, or you don’t—and life goes on.” Paul says he is unafraid and unaffected by critique of his latest.
For Ladybug Mecca, the vocalist found a vessel to express herself and reconnect with her heritage. Newkirk, who admits he has sought out the background after leaving the major label system, sees this project as a return to taking credit for his unique musical contributions. And for Rodrigo, a devoted MC once challenged by geography and language barriers, this album is a declaration of Hip-Hop’s universal power. “I’m not ashamed to tell you that it’s the biggest project that I have ever been involved with, as far as the music itself,” he declares. “Also, because of the fact that if you ask about [the music of] Brazil, people will basically tell you: ‘bossa nova’ or the ‘baile bass’ sound. What we’re doing, it’s like a whole different landscape and approach.”
Ten years later, recorded in five cities in two nations, their debut record is ready for the world. Besides skilled Brazilian players, keyboardist Brian Jackson, MCs Del The Funky Homosapien and Count Bass D, turntablists Kid Koala and Mr. Len are featured on the globally-minded LP.
On September 16, 2016, Tommy Boy Entertainment will release the 12-track album, titled Throwback To The Future. To prime the palettes for the music of Brazil, Prince Paul will release three mixtapes leading up to the LP, themed around his three band-mates and their contribution to the group. Further, upon release, the band plans to tour their creation, bringing to the stage Grammy Award-winning artists writing the next exciting chapter in their careers. As Rodrigo explains the title, "This has deep old school hip hop roots, but at the same time, is something that has not been done before, that celebrates creativity and a true love of the art.”
For three New York City artists, this experience showed them how the culture of Brazil was a welcomed escape and rejuvenation to their creative spirits. For one Brazilian MC, this opportunity allowed him to live his dream of taking his music—influenced by the Hip-Hop greats, and give his message, his perspective, and his story to the same place that birthed the culture. The music goes backwards to go forwards, and in redefining itself, discovers its creative essence.