It’s December 17th, 2022, at Marathon Music Works in Nashville, Tennessee, blocks from Fisk University, a historically black college that predates the honky tonk tourism for which Music City has come to be known. As Marathon’s standing room capacity of 1,500 fills out for headlining DJ Girl Talk, Nashville’s own Brian Brown soaks in the moment from his green room.
Nursing a cup of hot tea in one hand and piecing together a hockey parlay with the other, Brown serenely prepares himself for what seems like night one of a new chapter. Brian Brown readies himself to radiate TMD’s up-tempo energy, thus far still riding the reflective, melancholic coattails of his 2020 breakout album Journey. His latest EP, Two Minute Drill, bubbles the horizon. It’s worth noting that Brown and his team treat the venue employees and me as if every individual is, in fact, the headlining act; Southern hospitality is no joke. Neither is the set that followed this interview.
What is the key to making someone feel welcome?
Being transparent, being open. Musically it’s not the easiest thing to do just because you’re already putting your soul on the line. To begin with, you’re putting all your feelings and emotions out there. If you can find a way to do that while maintaining the soundscape behind it, [you can welcome your audience’s attention].
What I try to do as best I can when I’m popping something off is to keep an open-door policy. Even with “Come On In” (the intro track to Journey) — “close the door behind you, dawg, you’re letting flies in.” I know someone out there has heard that before like, “damn, my mom used to say that.” I take little things like that from my own life and try to cater to them towards a general audience.
That goes hand in hand with Southern hospitality and the sound of Nashville hip-hop.
Absolutely, whatever that fucking sound is. Everybody’s putting their own feng shui and style on how this Nashville thing works and can go. Ultimately, everybody’s playing their part.
Now more than ever, I think the city and the players here have realized that everybody can eat. The play doesn’t really care who makes it. If I set you the screen, that bucket is going on the board for everybody. That wasn’t just your two points; that was the teams.
Do you feel a responsibility to help pioneer Nashville hip-hop of today?
Initially, I didn’t, but it comes with the territory. It’s not necessarily my mission, per se, but with the way this city’s changing and how much it’s flipped and gone under reconstruction, gentrification has run rampant.
You don’t have to, but I feel like I have to let people know about how this place used to be, how it really is, how together it is, how blue-collar this town is despite the glitz and glamor that everybody’s seeing on Broadway now. It’s a very down-to-earth, head-down, get-your-money-up kind of city. It’s weird now, but that’s where we come in and do our part in making sure the narrative of what we know about this place doesn’t change.
I think back to an Amsterdam DJ I spoke with on a plane a couple of weeks ago, who asked me about the Nashville club scene; almost scared to visit a city that’s so tightly bound to country music.
I feel like people always ask about where the clubs are here.
We’ve got plenty of them. I think the clubs catered to our type of music are so far and few, it seems. They shouldn’t be. [Nashville’s nickname] “Music City” wasn’t due to country music; it was due to the Fisk Jubilee singers. That’s how we got that title—a bunch of folks singing slave songs.
I hate how much they’ve whitewashed this town without a shadow of a doubt. These clubs definitely exist. It’s more about these buildings, the promoters, doing what they can to be in sight for people to find.
Brian names a few spots he likes, such as Bourbon Street Blues, Rudy’s Jazz Club, and EGMC.
Do you have certain players in mind when drawing inspiration for Two Minute Drill?
I’m just a big sports fan in general. Love me some sports. I love, love, love me some fucking sports. You see what I’m on right now, trying to figure out a parlay before I hit this stage.
All the beats were already short, two minutes or under. Instead of me trying to make them longer, let’s do more with less. Kind of like how a two-minute drill works in football or basketball: This is the situation. Are you going to do what needs to be done in that amount of time to make that shit shake?
Is there something special about January 31st?
With Two Minute Drill dropping on the 31st this time, it’s more so me moving forward from Journey. I love [Journey], don’t get me wrong. But it was a very melancholic, very chill ride. As much as I love it and you got to see a side of me I think has always been there, I think TMD enhances it while bringing out a more fun, electric, energetic side of me you didn’t get with Journey all the way, which was a big personal manifesto.
This is almost the response to people saying your shit doesn’t slap.
Hell yeah. It’s just a change in where I want to take it to. I’m at a point where I want to have some more fun. I need to make some more money. You know what I’m saying? The dream doesn’t fund itself.
You’re on the right stage for that tonight!
Type shit! Opening for Girl Talk, shit’s crazy as fuck.
Brian Brown fills me in on his past performances at Marathon, including opening for Tech N9ne twice. He recalls “Damn, you make that type of shit?” reactions to high-energy songs juxtaposing his melodic vocals.
Did you have experience singing before rapping?
I grew up singing. My mom was in the choir. I was in the choir for some time growing up. My mom has sung background for Winona Judd, Michael McDonald, and Vince Gill on certain occasions. My auntie taught herself to play piano when she was five. It’s always been embedded in me.
When making Journey, two things got me into singing: One, I was broke, so anyone I wanted to do a feature, I couldn’t necessarily afford it. Two, I dropped my nuts like, “shoot, I can sing, so why not do this?” I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable singing now, and we’ll keep rocking out until people tell me not to sing anymore.
Going back to making people feel welcome, what is your duty as an artist?
*no hesitation whatsoever*
To be as transparent and as honest about how I’m living as possible. To give people something to hold onto. To give people a feeling they had felt, missed, or never felt before.
Have you always gone by your real name, Brian Brown?
I was going by my last name, just by Brown. Then we switched it up because finding ‘Brown’ on the internet sucked. I had a coming-to-Jesus moment where I got confident, like, “man, I’m more than a color!”
He laughs loud enough to drown out a thousand voices just a few rooms over—his set time approaches. Naturally, the conversation shifts back to sports.
Go, Braves, by the way! I don’t have that many homies that watch baseball [like I do]. There are certain things I connect with on a deeper level. I like quirky, dark humor sometimes. My sense of humor is so dry and sarcastic. For me, that’s years’ worth of watching Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Frasier, The Eric Andre Show, and that whole Adult Swim era.
What’s the first Eric André skit that comes to mind?
There’s one where he’s in some coffee shop interviewing folks. I don’t think he was naked, but he was wilding, bro. Of course, I always think of him shaking the gate (referring to the Republican National Convention interview clips). He’s got some balls. I love him for that.
I think he’s very innovative and left-field, but it’s necessary. You need that random motherfucker willing to drop his nuts and be weird as shit for the betterment of the world.
The same nut-dropping phenomenon that allowed you to sing!
Warm vocal cords rested, icy hockey parlay locked, Brian Brown enters stage left. A new, non-italicized journey begins.