A two-part introduction to the debut album. Initials B.R. is out April 4…
People don’t rap years anymore. “2006” doesn’t sound cool. We’ve arrived in the future and been here for a decade. Somehow, this millenium still feels alien. I wouldn’t say I’m simply nostalgic. It’s something about the gestalt of the decade—it doesn’t congeal.
As cliché as it has been to revisit the deaths of Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur and to aggrandize their talent, the transition into 21st-Century rap music has eerily reflected the fate of their ghost-voiced posthumous catalogues. After two decades as a fearsome outcast, rap music, the enemy of American Puritanism has ascended into its own life-after-death and been rewarded for all its earthly effort with everything one could imagine. The popularity of urban culture, the modernity of the genre itself, and the investment of major-label record companies in rap markets has turned the art form into the number one selling genre in all of music. Furthermore, the mixtape and DJ culture it created became one of the most successful translations from physical to digital media delivery, playing a pivotal role in the redefinition of the material of recorded music. Without a doubt, in the last ten years, we’ve seen incredible success and we’ve heard incredible music. But we’ve also come to know something about authenticity.
Take it back to ’88 (one of the best sounding years you could ever speak). In that year, Rick Rubin left Def Jam because of conflicts over musical integrity, upset that rap music was becoming more concerned with commerce than with creating moving art. It was a hint at what was to inspire the late-90s conflict between underground credibility and commercial success. Just a few years later the war bore the two sides their prophets. In ’94 (“rugged raw, kicking down your goddamned door”), we received two of the best rap albums ever by two of the greatest rappers to ever pick up a microphone: Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die and Nas’s Illmatic. The former exploded with critical acclaim into an international phenomena; the latter received the first 5-mic review in The Source and sold disappointingly. But what the character of these two albums embodied, what the tenor of these two voices conveyed, was a deep dichotomy of artistic expression.
When an artist creates his work, he stands in himself to engage what he is and what he knows. When an artist sells his work, he goes into the world to engage what it is and what it wants. All artists operate on this spectrum, moving between persona and position, between actor and individual. In 1994, what B.I.G. and Nas established for the rap world were the definitions of public music and private music. B.I.G. raps on the corner, for the corner; Nas raps from the corner, transcending the corner. B.I.G. raps in a mansion, in a Benz, in a fantasy; Nas raps at a barbecue, in a bedroom, on a pad. Where is B.I.G.? “The back of the club, sipping Moet is where you find me. / The back of the club, macking hos, my crew behind me.” Where is Nas? “I be ghost from my projects / Take my pen and pad for the weekend, hitting Ls while I’m sleeping. / A two-day stay, you may say, I needed time alone / To relax my dome, no phone, left the nine at home.” It took me years to understand what these albums were, but when I did, everything clicked.
The 2000s, for me, have been about finding private music, however publicly it may be distributed, against an overwhelming inundation of public music, about searching for honesty, however it may manifest, against a tsunami of rap factory product. It’s been about trying to breathe in a dump of bloated mixtapes and turgid recyclables, hoping to come across something that might remotely resemble the Illmatic architecture that eschewed a jam-packed buffet for the craft of nine perfect songs.
Since 2000, for as long as I have been making rap music, it has been all done up in heavenly gowns, shrouded in celestial mists, reeling, opiated, Roman. Initials B.R. is an elegy of the 90s as much as it is an ode to the 00s. It is a glance back at the days when we rapped our years like mile markers on the road of history. It is a hymn to the vastness of possibility which in the 21st Century forgets what year it is except that it is the future.
Initials B.R. is my attempt to cover the public/private dichotomy in narrative form, each song being a stage in the journey of, on the one hand, making an album, and, on the other hand, forging and forgiving a career. We compose. We practice. We share. We present. We perform. We sell. We work and we tire. And when we have exerted our effort completely, we concede to fate. We finish; we put our things in order; we quit. Initials B.R. is my attempt to come to terms with being impelled to make art, with selling my work on stage and in stores, with lying to listeners, with self-delusion and make believe. It is as inspired by Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus and Common’s Resurrection as it is Baudelaire’s “Le Cygne” and Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It is an homage to con films and musicals. It is my own silly Makaveli legend.
But most of all, it is done. I hope you enjoy.