I recently sat down with J57 of the New York City based rap group Brown Bag AllStars to discuss the group, their music, the NYC scene and their plans for the future.
Give us a brief introduction to each of the members of the group.
What’s up, I’m J57 (emcee/producer) from the Brown Bag AllStars, the group consists of The Audible Doctor (emcee/producer), Koncept (emcee), Soul Khan (emcee), DJ E Holla, Deejay Element, DJ Goo & myself. Most of us live in Brooklyn, E Holla lives in the Bronx & DJ Goo lived in BK for a few years but now lives back home in Arizona, but none of us are originally from Brooklyn. The Audible Doctor is originally from Wisconsin, Koncept grew up in Queens (then moved to Warwick, NY), Soul Khan is from California, Deejay Element is originally from Albany, NY & I’m originally from Long Island.
How did you guys come together?
Fat Beats. We all work at Fat Beats and became friends over the years. It all started because we used to chill there after-hours on Friday nights and get drunk while bullshitting about hip hop. It was often more than just the members of Brown Bag chilling it was friends and lady friends and most of them were emcees, DJ’s and producers. We never expected those chill sessions to turn into a serious hip hop group, but looking back now it makes sense when you see who’s in the group and how it all went down.
What is working at Fat Beats like? How has that experience effected you are artists and fans?
Working at Fat Beats keeps us up to date on what’s going on at all times in the hip hop scene. We get to use the Fat Beats customers as a daily focus group without even having to ask them any questions. They’ll walk in the store and look at what’s new and straight up tell us their opinion on the new albums. It doesn’t matter if we agree with everything they say, we still get the information from them and we notice what people are sick of in hip hop and what they’re really into at the moment.
Any good stories from working there?
Hell yeah, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a few legendary artists and high up industry cats working here. Matter of fact, as I was answering the question prior to this one, Breeze Brewin of the Juggaknots walked in and chilled for a bit ha-ha. I gotta say the two craziest people I’ve met here would have to be DJ Kool Herc & Eminem. I met Herc years and years ago when I was just starting here with my homie Elann and I was beyond star struck because he’s one of the creators of hip hop. Eminem came by the store very recently with the Alchemist, Mr. Porter (shouts to them), Paul Rosenberg and a huge entourage of people from Shady Records. Who meets Eminem? I mean, really?? It was incredible just getting to bullshit with him for a half an hour. He really wanted my opinion on The Relapse and he was getting all amped up when I was telling him about all the Cold Chillin’ re-releases that have been dropping recently. The dude’s still a big hip hop head; he copped a Thirstin Howl III DVD, 3 Only Build 4 Cuban Linx 2’s, a Blueprint 3, a Beatnuts skully, a Fat Beats t-shirt and a few other things.
So did you tell him how you really feel about it?
Hell yeah, I told him I like the album only lyrically, which is true. I only like two beats. I immediately said, ”shit, was that too far?” ha-ha. He was acting like a new artist, sincerely saying “wow, really?? yo thanks, man!” I couldn’t believe how shocked he was that I thought he the album was lyrically great.
What is in the name Brown Bag? Iâ€™m sure NYer’s know but the rest of the country might not.
Being that we work at Fat Beats, we’d get on the guest list to any hip hop show, any time. So the entire summer of 2007, we would pre-game at Fat Beats for a few hours then go to whatever big show was going on that night. After a few months of doing that, I came up with the name Brown Bag AllStars as a joke name for the guest list of these shows we were always going to. The ”Brown Bag” part of the name came about because whenever we’d buy 40’s from the bodega around the block from Fat Beats, the owner would make sure he put a brown bag on every single 40 we purchased. Like I said, it was a pretty big crew of people that could drink a lot, so this guy was sitting there putting each individual 40 in a brown bag, most nights it was at least 30 bottles. We found it weird/funny, but the guy wouldn’t let us leave unless all the bottles had brown bags on them. So that’s how we got the name.
You guys do a lot of branding around the name, you have things like Brown Bag Season, brown bag Thursdays. Why did you guys start to take this approach, and how has it been working?
We took this approach because we realized branding is the key and if you want something done, you have to do it yourself. We’ve seen more shit and learned more than the average artist our age just from working at Fat Beats. We were steady doing 1 – 3 shows a week for a year straight but then realized we also need an online presence. Brown Bag Season is a marketing campaign that we developed to create an online buzz, outside of just doing shows around NYC, upstate, etc. We’ve released a free song or video clip a week from May 2009 to November 2009. At first, we were releasing 2 songs a week until early August. They were all songs that we started working on November 2008 and really finished up around that time. We took our time with the songs because we didn’t want to compromise the quality just to meet our deadlines.
As for Brown Bag Thursdayâ€™s, that is a bi-weekly hip hop show that we throw in NYC. We’ve had acts like Percee P, Poison Pen, Breez EvahFlowin, Natural Elements and these good chaps named Alaska & Kojo rock our stage as well as the cream of the crop of up-coming artists from around the Tri-State area.
It’s amazing to see that our marketing plans are really working and people are hitting us up every day trying to get in Brown Bag Thursday or to produce a track for Brown Bag Season. We’re really happy with the results.
Over the past few years people have been shitting on the NYC scene, me included. Then I stumbled upon you guys, homeboy sandman and others and was impressed with what the younger generation was doing. Tell the readers what has really been going on in the scene over the past few years and how you guys play into it.
We appreciate that! Honestly, the NYC scene sucked donkey balls for a few years. I think it was the over saturation of new rappers as well as the early decline of the music industry that got people depressed about “the state of the new artists.” People were coming into Fat Beats on a daily basis saying ”There’s nothing good out anymore” or “I can’t listen to any of these new rappers,” etc. I’m not really sure what it was that created this dramatic change in the quality of new NYC artists, maybe it was the fact that the younger cats like ourselves, were sick of the new breed? Iâ€™m not really sure, but let me say big shouts to Homeboy Sandman for being one of the greatest lyricists in NYC right now. That dude needs to be on the cover of The Source.
As a larger group Iâ€™m sure the creative process is a bit rougher than a solo artist or a duo. How does it work for you guys?
It actually works out pretty easy for us. We have meetings almost daily (whether through email or in person) and over time we realized that majority rule is the way to do it. If someone has an idea and 1 or 2 of us hates the idea but everyone else loves the idea, then we’re most likely going with that idea, etc. Also, as emcee’s we’re always asking each other for advice because we all want the best product possible. So, the group dynamic actually works in our advantage because our quality control is so strong. Our DJ’s actually come up with most of our live show ideas, so everyone contributes greatly to the group.
You just dropped the Brown Tape, what can the listeners expect?
Yes, sir, The Brown Tape is a project that we recorded in spring ’08 but it’s a very solid project. We recorded it very quickly just to have merch to sell at shows and to get people familiar with our music. Listeners can expect: bangin’ beats, clever lyrics, and a very quality mixing. Overall, it is a very, very solid product of semi-older material.
What can we expect to hear from you guys over the next year?
In 2010 you can expect the Brown Bag AllStars’ debut album, Koncept’s EP, The Audible Doctor’s EP, Soul Khan mixtape and by December be on the lookout for my (J57) debut instrumental album called Digital Society. And of course expect a slew of dope mixtapes by Deejay Element & E Holla!! Myspace.com/BrownBagAllStars & BrownBagAllStars.blogspot.com. THANK YOU, Alaska!