A Study in Brown

Jul 7, 2004 at 12:00 am

Call :Brownstudy (aka Jason Hogans) crazy to his face and he laughs. Tell him he’s a gifted musician, he frowns. If you want to see him blush, tell him he’s sexy, and expect him to return the compliment. You can call the man many, many things, but all the guy wants to do is tell you about bubbles.

Exactly. He’s crazy.

Hence, it’s almost impossible to define the sound :Brownstudy creates. It certainly falls under the umbrella of hip hop, but in reality, it’s an amalgamation of electronic, D&B, downbeat, house and some genres you’d be damned to classify. See, the dude’s in a sonic wonderland all his own. And his international fan base is growing because of it.

The recently married soon-to-be pop (baby Hogans is due this month) is about to release a highly anticipated follow-up (Tell Me More About Bubbles) to 1999’s Peter and the Rooster (Planet E).

With so much to say, we just let the ever-effusive :Brownstudy do most of the talking.


Metro Times: What music got you going early on?

:Brownstudy: Leaders of the New School, Hieroglyphics, circa ’93-’95: Saafir, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul. Typical backpacker fare. I was into Too Short and some gangsta ’ish [things] too.


MT: What type of music did you set out to make?

:B: Things that emulated what I loved, with some of my own substance infused. When I first started making beats, I was into a lot of Southern bass, trying to tear the bedroom walls down, Magic Mike and stuff. Then I got into more boom-bap flavor after I got a sampler. I started with just a drum machine, a Boss DR660. Good, but limiting. Got a bunch of secondhand gear and just built on it. Basically, I wanted to take the sounds I loved hearing from folks like Native Tongues and pepper it with my worldview. I was a devout Christian at the time. Now I’m a straight-up apostate. Hee!


MT: What about the strict Christian upbringing? Your father is a pastor. That must’ve played a role.

:B: It was a necessary thing to go through. I gleaned. I don’t regret it. Hell, I may join the choir one day ... not!


MT: So you were at one time deeply religious?

:B: Yeah. Hardcore thumper. I was amiable enough to the pagans. However, I’ve learned a lot about myself, other people, history, the world. All that. It was my everything, but at some point, I just wasn’t convinced, or maybe I finally admitted to myself that I was never convinced. Ever read Kersey Graves’ The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors? Fascinating.

MT: Did the spirituality fit in, if at all, in your music?

:B: Oh, yes! It was all intertwined and mashed together. Inseparable. One unit. It’s still the same way, just more of a pantheistic/humanist bent.


MT: When did the views start changing? What caused them?

:B: Well, I was going through one of my hyper-inquisitive periods, and I was like, ‘Damn. I just can’t honestly swallow the whole Jesus story.’ I even studied apologetics [defense of the faith] and stuff. No dice. It’s something you just have to believe. Faith and all. I wanted proof. Dubious texts and all that freaked me out.


MT: So, what changed?

:B: People change. There’s still something to be said for conviction, right? Not enough conviction in the world, short of vindictive pilots and Christian war kings, I mean, our good president. I had conviction and people respected that. Balls are balls. I’d like to think that I’m still pretty ballsy in my own way. A nihilistic, hippie, existentialist philosopher or something.


MT: Who were your early fans?

:B: D&B heads. Mo’Wax buffs. People adventurous [enough] to appreciate electric relaxation in a 9/8 time signature.


MT: Not to mention a certain techno pioneer.

:B: Yeah. Carl Craig. I even did some drum programming for Kevin Saunderson. That was fun, and a bit stressful. I got lots of comparisons to Squarepusher, etc., back then.


MT: How old were you?

:B: Shit. Um, it was ’99. So, that would make me 22.


MT: And Carl actually found out about you through another Detroit techno statesman, didn’t he?

:B: Recloose. Me and Matt were buddies.


MT: So Carl signed you to Planet E when you were 22?

:B: Yep. I guess I had a fairly young start. Matt was fun. I’d go to his house parties and preach to his friends. They loved me, though. Carl did too.


MT: What do you think it was that Carl loved?

:B: It was weird seeing him lose his shit while listening to one song. I think he loved the fact that my boundaries were rather loose. I wasn’t part of the electronic community or anything, just a kid who loved beats. A funky-ass beat-sponge. No peer pressure.

MT: What was the response to Peter and the Rooster?

:B: Lovely. Got good write-ups all over. Good comparisons, even Weather Report. It was Planet E’s heyday. Good time to be on the label. On the low, I think that EP had an influence on the whole West London/broken beat sound. Don’t know if my head’s getting’ a lil’ big there. I’ve been trying to get some of my experimental edge back lately.


MT: Why no second EP? What was holding you back?

:B: I wanted to put another out, after I stopped being so wishy-washy, but other releases came first. Then there were some creative differences. It just kept dragging on. I was thinking about not even putting anymore music out after that. I was so confused, in large part because of spiritual flux and whatnot. I was mad, stubborn then, too, because I knew what I liked. You couldn’t tell me shit about my music. My way or highway. Did that hold me back? I dunno.

I’m grateful for the exposure the first release got me. It’s all good. I got my own [record label] now: Really Nice Recordings.


MT: So you left Planet E, and started your own label. What was the vision?

:B: I wanted to do more hip hop. Carl wanted more of my acoustic, jazzy stuff with melodic vocals. I love that stuff to tears, but it’s not what I wanted to concentrate on at the time. So, after being put on the back burner for long enough, I just started to put my own hookup together. No hard feelings. I love Carl. I wanted to give him a serious noogie back then. That’s all. I filled out my paperwork in ’02, and this year will be my first release.


MT: What’s Tell Me More About Bubbles all about?

:B: An EP of six songs. Mainly my quirky take on hip hop, with a couple instrumentals. It sounds like ADHD on wax. Jazzy, beat-ridden ADHD.


MT: What will people expect when they sit down and listen to Bubbles?

:B: It depends. I hope they don’t expect Peter and the Rooster II. I think that it’s been bubbling in the underground for a minute, so some folks might be familiar with where I’m at now, as far as emceeing and stuff. Lots of people still don’t know that I’ve been writing lyrics since late ’93.


MT: Your lyrics are, uh, eccentric.

:B: Ha! I just let my thoughts come out how they must. I’m not the most ordinary dude, so I guess it shows. I have fun with syntax, multiple meanings, wordplay, subtle humor, etc.


MT: How would you define your musical style now?

:B: Damn, let’s see. I’d call it urban eclectic. That’s the best I can do.


MT: What does the Detroit music scene mean to you?

:B: I think the Detroit music scene is compact, cliquey as hell, potent as a mofo and unknown in its own back yard. It’s good.


MT: Who do you like?

:B: There’s different genres. Electronic: Malik Alston, Jeremy Ellis, John Arnold, Recloose, Kenny Dixon, John Briggs, Dabrye, and a lot more. Hip hop: J. Dilla, Waajeed, Lacks, Invincible is amazing, Elzhi [Slum Village] is a monster with the words, DJ Defiant, and much more. Folk: Audra Kubat. Oh, I’m diggin’ Amp Fiddler too.


MT: Do you think the U.S. will embrace you like the U.K.?

:B: Some pockets. College kids and adventurous grown folks. Hard to say. I’ve got a lil’ buzz here, but they seem to be pumpin’ me up a bit across the pond too, quite a bit. The younger U.S. folks might dig it if it ever reaches their ears. I need a Mitsubishi ad. I think that my songs talk about so many different things that something is bound to resonate with someone. I’m not abstract all the time.


MT: Where do you see yourself in five years?

:B: Wow. I see myself having toured, put out a few records of my own, some records of my friends, started my own distribution, playing with my kid a lot, living in a bigger crib to accommodate the family, driving a [Porsche] Carrera GT — yeah right — getting into some other business ventures. I don’t wanna stick with just music. It’s just a starting point.


MT: But in the meantime?

:B: I’ll hope for the best. Hoping I’ll always have a core audience of a few thousand crackpots like myself. Us crackpots gotta stick together, dog.


Tell Me More About Bubbles will see light in the coming weeks. For more information and downloads, visit homepage.mac.com/reallynice.

David Valk is a freelance writer. E-mail [email protected]