Landover, Md. producer Kev Brown has laid down his melodically soulful touch for the likes of DJ Jazzy Jeff, Biz Markie, and Busta Rhymes. His production work, meticulous by nature, is inspired by producers who, like Brown, found their stride in the '90s: DJ Premier, J Dilla and most of all, Pete Rock. And while they used to greatly contrast Brown's easygoing flow as an emcee, Brown's beats are now more likely to showcase fellow D.C. talents, as heard in 2009's 'Random Joints.' Brown recently caught up with Spinner to discuss why he no longer considers himself an old soul, uses an alias or raps.
Describe your sound in your own words.
It's soulful. People mostly know for hip hop, and most of the stuff I do is based in hip hop. People also say that I put my personality into the beats, and they can feel whatever mood I was feeling at the time.
Who are your musical influences?
One of my favorites is Pete Rock. Pete Rock, as far as hip hop. As far as beats and things like that. DJ Premier, J Dilla -- lot of influences. I listened to Diamond D and that whole crew. A lot of different types of music were playing in the house, from gospel to jazz to some rock music, soul music.
How did you come to being an emcee and a producer?
I started off as an emcee first, and I just always wanted original tracks to rhyme over. So I started getting some equipment to make tracks, and once I got into the production side of things, it was actually more fun for me to make beats than it was to rap. I hold the production up a little higher than emceeing, and I don't really consider myself an emcee anymore. I think Rakim is an emcee, and Mos Def is an emcee.
What was the turning point?
It was around ten years ago. I got my first credit card, and I ordered a beat machine called an MPC2000XL by Akai. Once I got that machine, I was like, "This machine is really expensive, I gotta use it." I would let people hear stuff, and it got to the point where people were like, "This is really good. Who did the beat?" Writing rhymes is like homework almost, but I like to push buttons and put the track together.
Why don't you have an alias?
Groups like EPMD and Keith Murray were coming up just using their regular name, and it seemed cool. There was Erick Sermon and and even Redman – people knew his name was Reggie Noble. I was like, alright, let me just use my regular name. I needed something to fit my personality, and some crazy, comic-book name wouldn't really fit me.
How would you describe the DMV [District-Maryland-Virginia] rap scene to those who only know of Wale?
You've got the street, the soulful, your intellectual, "Fight the Power" rappers down here. It's the nation's capital, and there's people from all over the country, so the diversity and things of that nature come into play. Wale and the DMV movement, it's putting more of the spotlight on the area, with the fact that Wale is the first rapper from the area who actually got a major record deal. There's been cats throwing it down for a long time and I guess that's the culmination of that, of those years of not getting the spotlight. Finally a little bit of spotlight is on us, and that's a good thing.
To some, you come across as more old school than new school. How do you see yourself?
You can hear the influence of Pete Rock, Dilla and Premier maybe, all of the stuff I grew up listening to. The soul music, Stevie Wonder -- but there's still a modern twist to it. Sometimes I think I look at myself a little older than everybody else, because there's a whole younger generation that's checking out my music, and I didn't really realize that until last year.
What made you realize that younger people were listening to your music?
What really woke me up was when I did my release party for my last album, 'Random Joints.' People started to hit me on Twitter and MySpace and text messages, like, "Yo, is it 18 and up?" I didn't really realize that til last summer, that it's younger kids looking up, actually studying. The way I listened to Pete Rock, people are listening to me like that.
What do you mean by that?
Pete Rock put out an album called 'Soul Survivor.' This was 1998, and it was the blueprint of how to make beats to me, how to do production. When people hear my stuff, they answer like that.
When and why did you start making videos that show how you make your beats?
The first video I did, straight-up, was just promotion towards my first album. I realized, just from the comments on YouTube, that people were really interested in it. There's clips from shows, when I would go overseas and in the States. At the end of the show I would make a beat, and have cats come up and rhyme on it. It's strange to me that some people are so nerdy that they would actually want to sit there and know. But I guess I wouldn't mind sitting in on a session if I could, back in the day with Marvin Gaye or the Beatles, just to see their process of how they do stuff.
What's the craziest thing you've experienced while on tour?
Three years ago it was me, Oddisee, LMNO, DJ LD on tour. We drove from Paris to Spain, which is some crazy number of hours, like 17 hours. Oddisee did an audit of the whole tour and was like, "We could save money if we don't have a tour manager. If we don't have a tour bus, a tour van and a tour manager, we can make money." We were so broke. The first couple of days we were out there, we didn't have any soap, and I was mentally preparing not to eat. The show was the next day. We pull up at the venue where the promoter was supposed to meet us, and the club is crackin'. We just came on a 17-hour road trip with pajamas and slippers on, outside the club, and the owner of the club brings us drinks from inside. They showed us so much love after such a long trip, it was crazy.