In a conversation too long to be posted in its entirety here, CHiEF Brody (the rapper from New Rochelle, New York) opened up about his beginnings, progression, new projects, musical style, growth, transitioning musical styles, and his personal end goal. Drawing inspiration from the New York golden era ‘boom bap’ hip hop sound, CHiEF Brody, a lifelong musician, began his musical career by rapping for fun before transforming that experience into a concrete endeavor. The musical experience of his life translates well into the microphone, as each verse Brody lays down exudes a distinctive swagger and gravitas that is not often heard in many of the artists looking to find space in today’s increasingly crowded music scene. Brody attributes that confidence to constant practice – be it overcoming nervousness through years of performing and bringing that to the studio, or constantly spitting battle raps at a brother that pushed him to always be louder until he no longer faked the confidence – he felt it. We ended talking about his new project and the new musical directions he’s headed in, included here. Make sure to keep up with CHiEF Brody, and check out No. 24 when its out.
You’ve got a new project coming out, so can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind it, the thought process leading up to it, maybe what you really want to convey with this project?
So in some ways I’ve been crafting this kind of new sound that I’ve been working on, and this next project is really a transition for me. Its called No. 24 because my first record was called Shark Fin soup, and I thought it was funny to keep going with soups. I found this Chinese menu where number 24 on the menu was ‘little bit of everything soup’. That’s perfect because that’s what this record is. Its cohesive sound is the fact that there isn’t one. In some ways I really like it because you actually get to listen to my transition, because I have songs that I wrote two and a half years ago, I have songs that I wrote a year ago, I have songs I wrote all in between, and I have songs that I wrote and recorded 6 months ago. So you get glimpses of what I’m going to sound like in the future, what I’ve sounded like in the past, and the kind of sounds that I’ve mixed and mingled with in between those, all interspersed. In a lot of ways the inspiration is that I have all of these songs that I totally love, and I want to put them out so I can move forward in a clear and concise direction. I have a really clear idea of what I’m doing moving forward. So on this record I have all of these songs that I fucking love, and I want to share them. Like fuck it, just put it on a record, and it’s all over the place, and I think it works really well.
You talked a bit about your evolution and where the sound is going, can you talk a little about that vision, and how you feel your music has transitioned since you’ve been writing?
Yeah, I mean, what I was saying before, Joey Bada$$, who we were talking about before, his record 1999 was incredibly important for me. It dropped just as I was starting to rap for fun, and somehow, even if boom bap was an old sound, in some ways it was brand new to me, because I heard that record and it didn’t sound like anything else, and I was like “what the fuck is this”, and then I went way back into all of the older shit, so I really found my start in rapping over boom bap tracks. Then I got really focused on making sure my shit bangs for live performances, that I want crowd interaction, I want people moshing, I love when people mosh at my shows. I saw a girl get elbowed in the face at one of my shows and I had to be like ‘everybody take it down like half a notch, you’re scaring the people around you, just a little bit, you gotta find the balance’. But going forward I’ve got kind of a rough year and a half, I ran into some medical issues, and I was in kind of a weird head space, and so I’m really focused in having my sound go in three different directions and then pull them back together.
I’ve been really into Brian Eno, and ambient music, and I really like the idea of dark, drone based instrumentals. I’ve always liked weird sounds, my dad does a lot of extended technique on the piano, so he puts shit inside the piano and makes horrible weird screeching noises, which to everyone else is like ‘Oh god what is this’ but to me, I love this shit. So i’m really looking for my instrumentals to have that weird bitter flavor that you don’t necessarily hear. I don’t want just 808 and trap drums, that’s not enough for me, like if you check out my music video, it has this snare drum that sounds like a door creaking open, and it’s just weird, and I love it. So thats one direction. One of my biggest influences is Mystikal from New Orleans, and Meechy Darko and Busta Rhymes, so I’m really interested in both really using dynamics, which you can see on a couple of tracks on this record, and really focusing on wide dynamic range, and more complicated off rhythms. Like doing weirder rhythmic shit that’s just trying to expand. I don’t want to just spit 8th notes or 16 notes, I want to spit 5s, and 7s, and 9s, and intersperse them in weird patterns. The third direction is, I mean you listen to hip hop now and you can’t help but hear the influence of guys like Drake and Bryson Tiller, and the fact that melody and rap is so important. I grew up a trumpet player, so melody has always been my shit, so I’m really invested in having really salient melodic content throughout all of my rap, and making sure that there’s something almost hummable even when I’m just spitting bars. So I’m trying to work in all 3 of those directions and bring them back together into a whole weird ass picture.
Do you find you have a lot of trouble bringing those together? Because I feel like it almost seems kind of contradictory to try and bring this melodic component into it while trying to intersperse these strange sounds, off-kilter rhythms and things like that.
Its definitely hard, I would say I’m definitely not at the point of trying to bring them back together, I’m still working on developing. My plan is to develop each of them separately, write songs that are focused on one or the other, or some small combination of the two, and do that until they’re really ingrained in the way I think about my rap. The same way that once you start working on spitting double times, you’re going to write double times on some shit. It becomes ingrained in the way you think and write your music. So i’m hoping if I can really focus on doing all 3 of these things separately that I’ll start to naturally bring them all back together.
So can we expect in the new project to almost see three different directions like at the very least?
You can start to see the very beginnings of some of those directions, a lot of this project is the transition between, its like I’m transitioning into transitioning. But that’s what growth is, constantly trying to move and change your shit. So I think this record, you’re not necessarily going to be able to pick out, ‘Oh this is him working on this one, and this is him working on this one’. You’re going to definitely be able to see the transition between my older shit and my newer shit, and you’ll see little hints of different things, like ‘I Need’ is very much me working on dynamics and growling. I have a song called ‘Rapper Chick’ which is the beginnings of the melodic content, so there are hints of it throughout. But really the stuff I’m working on right now is where you can see clearly, ‘This is a melodic song and this isn’t’, and I have new ones that are starting to bring them all back, so maybe it’s going to work.
So maybe two projects or so from now we’ll start seeing the fruits?
Yeah, I think after this record I’m going to probably just work on it. I might do some really little ones. I’ve toyed with the idea of having three 3 song EPs, like these are my melodic ones, these are my growly rhythm ones, this is one branch, this is one, then kind of focus on bringing them all back together for kind of like a very cohesive… The next album length thing I’m going to work on is going be when I have all those three things in a place that I want them. Until then I’m going to be releasing singles. I’m going into workshop mode, where I’m not focusing on releases. After this record I’m going to take some time and find my way to really grind on all of these things.
What exactly is it do you want people to take away from your music, is there a particular thing, be it just energy, or…?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know, my music hits a lot of different moments. Cathartic joy is probably one of them. I saw something on Buzzfeed or some shit where “Punk music is good for you because you release all this energy and what not”. Going on stage for me is really cathartic, where I get to just fucking go a little wild, which I love. I really like giving, in many ways I’m an extrovert but also entirely an introvert. I like giving people glimpses of different places my headspace is at, just because I know I think differently from some people, and everyone thinks differently from everybody. I don’t know if there’s one cohesive message that I’m trying to send, I write about a lot of different things.
It’s almost like a slice of life kind of thing
Yeah I try to really be true to myself. I don’t want to rap about shit that I haven’t done. One thing I haven’t really talked to you about is I’ve been really toying with the idea of creating characters, and that’s something you’re going to see, the first character appear in this next record. I’m a storyteller, I love telling stories. I’ve been messing around with the idea of creating different characters and letting me be the narrator through which they interact, and then having a narrative device within this new sound that I’m working on. So I guess there are four streams that lyrically I’m trying to focus on, and tell stories that I have heard or imagined, or describe the kind of fucked up individuals I’ve run across in my life. I think there’s a lot to say about people, and it’s interesting to tell people’s stories.
You can see a lot of that starting to happen to, nowadays, where before you had like Eminem with Slim Shady or Marshall Mathers, but then you see Kendrick and on his new album he had many different voices and stages and things like that, or you can see to a certain extent Drake too, as he hops from genre to genre he has very different personas.
Absolutely, but well I’m not really trying to aim for different personas for myself, more than that I want to create a social scene that I can describe the interactions of. The first character is No-yay, and he has a song called dope fiend on my new record, and it’s based off a dude I know, and he’s just absolutely amazing. He was 100% a drug addict, was completely addicted to opioids, and he was one of the most dependable cooks. He would spend his paycheck on opioids every week, and then come in fucked up, and do his job incredibly well every week. It’s interesting because there’s this narrative written about drug addicts, that they’re all fucked up, but people don’t really tell the story of the functional drug addict, and he was the most functional drug addict. It was absurd, he was so good at his job, and so fucked up all the time. So I’m really interested in talking about either creating characters based off people or just telling the stories of people whose stories don’t necessarily ever get told.
Are you looking at this as a medium to explore different issues that you feel passionate about, or just try and tell stories that you feel do not get told?
I not sure that I’m necessarily aiming for issues, I think what you said earlier, that I’m aiming for a slice of life. But I’m not just aiming for my slice of life, I’m aiming for other people’s too, whether they are concocted in my head, or based on someone I know, or have met, or have heard of. The world is a big and funny place, and we create these strong narratives that keep getting told. When facts or stories come up that go against those narratives we tend to disregard them, and when things come up that enforce those narratives we tend to let them really enforce them. So we end up having stereotypical ideas on how people act, and I’ve known a lot of fucked up people that act in really weird ways. I worked with someone that was a total alcoholic, couldn’t make rent a lot of the time, but if anyone was in trouble he’d give them half his paycheck. You’d think that someone who’s really down and out, is an alcoholic, and really undependable would be looking out only for themselves. But no, he was going and working in soup kitchens even though he would sometime need to visit them himself. There are weird things in the world that we don’t necessarily see or talk about, and I’m not saying I’m in the best position to talk about those things. I’ve lived a very privileged life, but I’ve also met a lot of interesting and strange human beings and I like strange human beings, and I like and telling the stories of strange human beings.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Check me on Facebook: CHiEF Brody, Instagram: CHiEFBrodyRaps. I just released a video on Youtube, Full Tannins. I got an album coming out in March, its called No. 24, and it’s going to be fucking lit!
Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity