Beats & Bossa: Kev Brown Discusses His Dedication to Brazilian Music

Harold Stallworth has selective hearing. Kev Brown had one hell of a Christmas vacation. Last year, the hip-hop producer spent the better part of two months gallivanting around eastern Brazil,...
By    October 29, 2013

Kev Brown

Harold Stallworth has selective hearing.

Kev Brown had one hell of a Christmas vacation. Last year, the hip-hop producer spent the better part of two months gallivanting around eastern Brazil, soaking up the warm tropical sun and programming beats featured on his latest instrumental album, Brazil Dedication. More than eight months removed from what Kev describes as the experience of a lifetime, he’s hunched over production consoles scattered about his childhood bedroom in Landover, Md., reminiscing over his wayward travels. “It was crazy,” he says. “I really can’t even find the words to describe it.”

Long-time fans would recognize the makeshift studio from a quasi-viral Youtube tutorial titled “Kev Brown Chopping Samples.” The video has amassed upwards of 347,000 views and counting. In the distance, a succession of faint roars echo from FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins; the stadium is within eyeshot of Kev’s backyard. Unfazed by the hubbub, he’s scrolling through an Akai MPC-2500 sampling drum machine, searching for beats that were left to rot on the cutting room floor. Brazil Dedication was conceived on this very workstation. Back in mid-December, when Kev boarded his plane en route to South America, it was the only piece of equipment he bothered dragging along the 10-hour flight.

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Brazilian promoters invited Kev to perform at two venues in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. What was initially slated to be a week-long trip unfurled into an extended stay, prompting him to call his current day job—Record Exchange’s quaint Silver Spring branch on Georgia Avenue—to inform the staff manager he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence.

“It wasn’t that difficult to convince me to stay out there,” Kev recalls. “One of the cats was like ‘Yo, you ain’t been to the beach yet?!’ I stayed with promoters and artists. I lived in hotels. I got some more shows too. That was the whole point of staying out there. It wasn’t just about having fun, because I was out there by myself trying to make money. I hooked up a couple more shows and sold some beats. And in between all that I was making [Brazil Dedication].”

This isn’t the first time Kev devoted an entire project to foreign soil. In 2011, he recorded South Africa Dedication, a two-song EP created for the sole purpose of supplying merch on the Party People Reunion Tour hosted in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Due to popular demand, it was later pressed on wax by Redefinition Records and released stateside. By comparison, his foray into Brazilian-flavored beats was a labor of love and product of happenstance. The samples heard on Low Budget’s yellow translucent seven-inch vinyl were recommended by locals; the obliging people of Brazil practically co-produced the project.

“People would put me on to Brazilian artists and I would just look them up online,” he says. “Real talk, with this project I was pulling a lot of stuff from Youtube—which is something that fans might think is blasphemous to hip-hop. A lot of the areas where I was at, cats didn’t even have turntables. Even my man Fernando, [a Brazilian rapper] whose house I stayed over for a bit. His record player was broken, but he had mad CDs. His father owned a crazy CD collection. Like, you know how over here [in the States] we have the Time Life Collection? He had the Brazilian version of that. I sampled some stuff from there as well. There’s only one session on the album where I actually sampled from vinyl.”

Despite his part-time gig at The Record Exchange and reputation as a sample-based musician, Kev admits he’s never been an avid vinyl collector. He’s a self-proclaimed cheapskate, so music purchases are generally few and far between. At the foot of the desk supporting his machinery lies a modest stack of record sleeves and CD jewel cases, bookended by Syreeta Wright’s 1974 self-titled LP and J Dilla’s Welcome 2 Detroit.

Kev takes a break from scouring his drum machine to reach down and thumb through the pile of albums, eventually turning up with an 80-minute recordable disc. The CD contains the original studio session from “Baile Black,” an uptempo dance anthem released last year by Brazilian soul legend Hyldon. He remixed the song—with Hyldon’s utmost blessing and consent—into something of a neo-funk groove and pinned it on the tailend of Brazil Dedication.

“Hyldon handed me the live sessions himself,” he explains. “I did a show in a part of Rio called Madureira. It was out in front of a clothing store, literally in the streets. I don’t know if he was there to see me or what. We took a picture together and he was like ‘Yo, I want to work with you.’ I was [in disbelief]. Fernando set the whole thing up a few weeks later.”

When Kev finally locates the elusive batch of unreleased instrumentals, he warns that they still haven’t been mixed properly. The drum machine’s narrow LED screen reads “Zappa,” named after the undisclosed Frank Zappa sample now blaring from small monitor speakers perched atop the desk. It’s perhaps even more impressive than any of the production featured on his last few retail albums. After allowing the programming to run its course, he cues up two more similarly triumphant beats, “Gentle Giant” and “Açaí,” inspired by a British progressive rock band and a pulpy species of South American berry, respectively. The latter was sold to Fernando over the holiday season.

Encouraged by his unlikely collaboration with Hyldon, Kev is determined to shop these beats to artists beyond his inner sanctum. “I’ve kept it very close knit thus far,” he says before deactivating the equipment. “I get that all the time, like ‘how come you don’t work with such and such?’ So now I’m just trying to branch out and do something different.”

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