“I Like to be Part of the Hero Rising:” An Interview with Breeze Brewin

In honor of the release of Breeze Brewin's new solo "Hindsight" LP, Zilla Rocca speaks to the emcee about emerging from behind the paywall and the indie rap crossroads he faced along the way.
By    March 17, 2021
Photo courtesy of Michael Greenberg

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Breeze will always be a “rapper’s rapper” the same way Doc Rivers will always be a “player’s coach”.  It’s usually the highest praise given, a way to say “yeah us insiders who live and breathe this craft…this is OUR guy. Not YOUR guy.”

Breeze Brewin is a rapper’s rapper in the truest sense. He is a common language among a certain kind of indie artist and indie fan. He is for insiders.

And being for insiders isn’t too shabby. People now pay premium for insider content. There’s value in appealing to the most serious of disciples. But Breeze no longer wants to live behind a paywall – he’s open for all business now that he’s released his long awaited solo LP “Hindsight”.

If you’re reading this piece, you’ve already listened to “Hindsight”. You’ve likely devoured every podcast interview, blog post, and essays written about the man who has inspired thousands of MC’s since 1997. You know why this album is special and how lucky we are that it exists.

What you may not know is how Breeze creates, how he has juggled his time spending two decades as a father/educator/artist, what crossroads he faced when the indie rap bubble popped, and how excited he is to still get props from working with new artists today. — Zilla Rocca

That’s the first thing I want to ask you – it was like you and J-Treds, “Who’s going to be the one to drop first?” Then, once Jay Electronica came along, it’s like, “Who’s going to do it first? Who’s going to do it first?” Then, in one year, Jay Elec and Breeze albums come out! I was thinking of you kind of like the Cubs and the Red Sox. You were like those teams where the biggest thing was what didn’t happen yet. Now, Cubs win the World Series, the Red Sox win a bunch, and so as a fan, it’s like, “Oh, good. I don’t have to think of you in that sphere of, ‘you’re remarkable because of something that hasn’t occurred yet.’” On your end, how did that feel, all of that time versus how it feels now to be like, “Ah, I have that achievement.”

Breeze: Honestly, it felt really good. I was surprised – it got a lot of love. I thought it was good music, but the feedback was like, “Yo, this is what this dude’s about,” and that’s all I wanted. Just to have it out, it was like, “Aight, one down.” I’m always putting music out, there’s collabs and all that, there’s always a little bit here and there, but just to have a bulk batch of my music out at one time – 2 or 3 joints have been teased before, but the rest of them joints hadn’t been heard – it felt good. I felt like it was an honest representation of who I was; I definitely felt like it was unadulterated, it was what I wanted for the most part. Not that other stuff I’d done before – collaboration is beautiful. But it was just my shit and the way that people have been digging it, it feels good. It’s really encouraging and energizing to be really honest.

Have you had the response now, because what I’ve noticed as a person that puts out records and being around people, I feel like we’re in a binge culture with everything, so it’s like, “Breeze, this is good, where’s the next one?” Have you gotten that?

Breeze: I just think that’s the nature of the beast right now. It’s been out for less than a month, I’m glad I have music on deck – I’m not totally in control of it, it’s the EP with Sebb Bash – I recorded my rhymes, they’re all there, it’s just on him to mix and make him feel good as a producer. I’m itching for that. At this point, I’m itching for that. I’ve been writing more, I’m trying to – there’s a bunch of collabs that come out, and every time one comes out, it feels good. Thank God for stuff like Instagram where you can showcase and be like, “Yo, new verse alert” and all that.

There’s actually, between the Sebb project and the collab, it’s almost a comparable amount of music that’s left to come out. I’m excited to see what people take from that, and it’s just writing more and possibly a few more collabs, but I really want to focus on getting a next project out. I want to push and I have ideas of what those projects could be, but I try not to get caught up in ideas because, like, “Hey, I want to produce a whole project,” but if I don’t, I might be halfway through it and I hear beats from other people. At this point in my age, I’m just like, “I’ve got to get content out.” I just want to develop my catalog at this stage in the game.

How has your writing progress shifted as a parent, as an adult, husband, teacher, in this climate? Is there any difference you’ve noticed? I know you’ve said about wanting to get more content out, and also COVID, how do you make time for it now? In the past, when we’re younger we’re unattached and unhinged, we can just hang out for 3 hours, watch basketball, eat some food, maybe record a verse, maybe not, “I’m going to go to my man’s crib and see what he’s got,” and 3 weeks go by. Just chilling, nothing important’s happening, whereas now, there’s laser-focus of very small pockets of time. How has that changed, first becoming a family man, and now, COVID?

Breeze: I can never really separate the family man from my career because as long as y’all have heard me – I was a father at 18 with my oldest son, and I can compare that fatherhood to now because at that time I was 18. I was in school for a little while with him, with him in school, shoutout to Adagio, my man Big Supreme, Carter P aka the Obvious Wonder, big cousin. They would watch my son while myself and his mother had class. I think about that and I think about now, and in some ways, I feel like I’m in a much better position, obviously. But you ain’t lying, the COVID thing is real. I feel like I’m always on-call with the students, and I’m trying to work on my boundaries with that, but there’s mixed levels of success with that; it’s hard. I’mma tell a kid, “No, I can’t do this now,” but if that 11:30 at night, I know by 9 o’clock the next morning, then I’m reaching out and I can’t get them because their whole rhythm is f’d up.

The COVID has made it extra extra weird, but like you said, you’re grabbing for moments. Technology helps; Pharoahe Monch put his notes in a tweet, and I was like, “You bastard, motha-f’r.” It was so ill! It was 4 bars of insanity and that’s why he’s Monch. I’ve got a couple of those that I look at, 4 bars/8 bars, copy and paste copy and paste copy and paste, and before you know it, you’ve Betsy Ross’d a verse together. That’s really how it is. You’re right, I remember times when I would – 17/16 – I would be at my man’s house writing for 8 hours. I’d fall asleep on the floor of the studio, get up, write write write. Do whatever, go out and get something to eat, holler at a female, do what you’re doing, but those windows – you can’t even call ‘em windows, they’re like vents now; they’re like a little vent that you sleep in. You’re an artist, you know how it is. We’re committed, it takes discipline, sometimes I be using the little To-do List function on my Google and write it down somewhere and list and list and list, but stuff does get done. I tell everybody, production before perfection.

At this point, I’m a big believer in the imperfect, not as much as I was before. I wish I had been a believer for a longer period of time because I would have had a lot more music. It’s just like vision, revision, vision, revision, and shoutout to Wordsworth, he put me on that. That’s how it gets done now.

It sounds like you were a victim of “perfect is the enemy of good” for a long time.

Breeze: I had stumbled into some music that, for better or for worse, that first project was a beautiful thing, and it was a curse at the same time. It was like, you’re doing it, you’re doing the work and you’re young and unbridled, and then it gets received and it’s like, “Yo, this is that ish.” I agree, I love it, but I thought everything was going to be like that. I wasn’t even thinking of what it took to get it to that place. It’s like you said, it was me, my brother, my crew, we was just young, happy-go-lucky, relatively, but some of those songs we did – we had a deal, we would give ourselves allowances. For a year, I wasn’t working on nothing but music. Then we get dropped and I get 4/5 jobs, I’m hustling, I’m doing all kinds of stuff, but I forget, you’ve got to honor what got you to that point, and if you don’t have that set-up, ain’t nothing wrong with it, you just get another set-up. Even some of the joints, mix and chunking, it’s a different thing.

For a while, I was reaching for that, but I wasn’t looking around and really honoring and seeing what was available to push in that direction. Now, at this point, I feel like there are so many tools out there. There’s YouTube videos, there’s this, there’s blogs, there’s this and that, there’s dudes that really specialize just in mixing. We have every specialty out there, and I don’t really have to do everything; I don’t. Back in the days where I used to sit at the board and do mixing and lower it an infinitesimal number lower, like, “I hear it now.” I’m not doing that. I’m just going to let my man rock it and I pop in like, “Yeah, that sounds good,” and I’m out. I’m going to go make lunch the next day for school.

It’s really trusting other people that are specializing in stuff. Back in the days, there was attention to become a specialist as much as possible, but we’re here for a finite amount of time, and as you get older, you respect the concept of using the time to the best of your ability and not getting caught up trying to do everything.

I think what’s really dope about you and your career, thinking about the goodwill from the Juggaknots records and the Prince Paul records, and your features on Aesop’s record and “Fire in Which You Burn” and all that stuff, you’re of that caliber of dude where if you decided every single 8 months that you’re going to make a record, I don’t know who would turn you down. Not like, “I can get Diddy on the phone,” but I feel like when I look at the track listing on “Hindsight,” yes, Marco Polo, [DJ] Maseo.

Breeze: That felt really good, honestly, because those are heroes.

Even Parallel Thought, I think they’re really phenomenal.

Breeze: They’re slept on. The joint they did with Tame [One]. They’re hella dope, they’re hella cool, and I was glad that that record got the response that it got. I remember when they played me the beat, that was a trade-off; we had did “Ice Cold” on their project, which was dope, and then when I got it, I was like, “I need a track,” they sent me a belly of joints. Everything was me, but I knew that I needed a certain tone for that joint about teaching, and they nailed it.

So, you don’t think…

Breeze:No, because I’ve reached out to certain dudes and they got real business with it. It’s cool, because at this point, I don’t get caught up in that, like you know who me heroes are, I’m not going to put their names out there. I tried to go the business route, I know dudes that I grew up with, I tried to have them dudes play, but it’s just like, at the end of the day, I’ve worked with my heroes and if I don’t get to work with all of them, I’m not losing sleep. I feel like, in a way, I like to be part of the hero rising, the dude who did “Eye Poppa,” my man Megalo, we met in Red Oak, I was teaching and he’s still there as a guidance counselor, and I think he’s dope. I’m just honored – he’s put out a couple of things, but I think this is a step up for him and I’m happy to be a part of that as well.

You know, we out here, you hear people, you see the grime, you listen, and I’m a fan first. There are certain dudes who I would rhyme over one of their joints, rapping over a Maseo joint was a dream come true; I’d work with Paul and I thought that the beat was nuts. It’s definitely an honor to still be doing it. To be straight up with it, I’m 46, and I’ve been rhyming since I was 12. When you look at that record, it just feels good as a culmination, and it makes me want to do more, to be perfectly honest.

What I liked about your record is that you were not bashful about saying, “Hey, this record was recorded at this time. This record is referencing this old president.” You can even hear in some parts, your voice and your flow, different parts in your life. What was your thinking of being open with people and being like, “Hey, this was made over a journey of 10+ years” rather than “I’m not going to tell people, this was all recorded new,” just sticking out there and let them guess. “No, no, that’s not true. I made this last week.”

Breeze: In a way, what’s new to you is a real phenomenon at this point right now. You hear about how Nas did The Lost Tapes 2, one of the Pete Rock beats was from ’97, and at the end, does your ear care? No. That should attribute to what the music is. I’d rather know it and be cognizant of the fact that this music continues to resonate in some way, shape, or form. Whether in my life, and if it can touch other people in theirs, well, that’s saying something. We were supposed to be this, fly-by-night, flavor-of-the-minute thing, and we ain’t that no more. Hip-hop is beautiful, man. It’s all tradition, it’s folk music, it’s funk music, it’s poetry, it’s all of that. At this point, why are we dancing around that shit?

This music is extremely powerful and important and I’m here, I’m here for the dates. I’m glad I’m here for it. You look at Big L, they talk about his passing, I would love to hear a Big L song from 2007 that would later come out in 2020. It’s just like, “Why are we hiding?” As far as my story, I felt like it made sense; there was a cyclical nature to it. The Bush thing, it was real. When cats was out and we heard about Bush winning again, we thought it was apocalyptic, damn near, justifiably. I wanted to start it there because honestly that’s kind of where it started, and I wanted to finish it, thank God there’s not another 4 more years from another threat, even though the threat persists. I like that nature of it. I felt like that rounded it out, and I had other songs, but I didn’t put them. I felt like these were the songs that told the tale.

When you look at losing friends, when you look at stress, “Road Rage,” and you look at “Eye Poppa” – relationships, and even earlier than that with “Bumpy Johnson,” I felt like the thread was still me. I wasn’t mad at it; I think at this point, you have a lot of cats that are like, “That’s a throwback style beat.” Is it? Nah, it’s just a damn beat. If a cat comes and decides to put a 30 second time hi-hat on it, is he futuristic? No, he just wanted those hi-hats on the beat. I’m not worried about all of that. I’m going to like what I like, and that can change.

We allow that, as hip-hop artists, and I’m not here to front for nobody. 3 of the joints we leaked for a couple of months, and then we pulled them. As far as making a video for “Road Rage,” I’m still proud of that video, but a lot of the stuff has just been losing those vents, those cracked windows. It took a little while, but it never really stopped, so why front about it?

I can’t remember what happened with the Juggaknots’ second record Use Your Confusion and where you guys were in the industry that time since that era was when the indie bubble started to burst complete. I remember buying the CD at Best Buy on release day for sure. What was your feeling about those times of the indie rap boom fading out and Dipset taking over and the Clipse taking over and Pitchfork becoming prominent while CDs going extinct?

Breeze: Going straight to Use Your Confusion, I never quit. I never stopped, but the most discouraged I was, was after that record came out. We put a lot into that record, and I’m not sure why it didn’t do- I think it was the shift that you mentioned. Even without an album, I think I had something going there, and I think they just missed a step. I think they really jumped at the Joe Budden opportunity, and for better or for worse, I think they just said, “We’re just going to go this route,” and we were still on the road with them. It was like, “Alright, cool.” We’re about to shoot this video for our “Strip Joint.” We were going to do a video for “Strip Joint” in New Bedford or one of them spots in Massachusetts because that’s where they were based out of, and it just never happened. I honestly feel that video could’ve done something, I felt like that was a dope song.

You’re right, it was in Best Buy, it was one of the Apple Music-featured songs, and it just didn’t take off the way that I thought it would have. I thought it was a good, solid album. I look back at it now and I still think that it’s a good solid album, but that took a lot out of me. It’s not that I was going to stop, but it was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this man.” To be perfectly honest, that brought a little bit of tension within the crew, and in turn, that’s within the family. I wouldn’t say that it made me hate it, but it stole some love; it definitely stole some love, because at the end of the day, I want to talk to my brother and my sister, and if we’re going to talk and it ends up being an argument over music, then let’s not do music.

I just kept listening, I kept handled, and I got a lot of people who support – cats like Misled [Children], I still talk to Trezz, shoutout to my man Doug Cohen, my brother, my sister, we had our distance and then I started supporting my sister individually; she put out a project and my brother’s just like, “Whatever y’all need, I’m just going to get this Matic thing together. If y’all want to do it here, we can do it here.” I look now, we’ve been trying to provide that outlet for dudes, and I took advantage of it. This project came out on Matic/Fatbeats. It hurt man, because I thought it would have been a different ending, but I started putting joints on the side and I’m going to have something soon, and it worked. It took a minute, but it worked.

What do you think now, after being in the industry and spending $200 an hour to be there to mix one snare for 2 hours, to now being able to be in your crib and having a quick set up for under $1000 ? There’s a lot of charm to that. Now, it’s like, you can be at home and do it, but there’s pros and cons to it. What is your place now, thinking about these times and places and technology? Do you find a lot of charm in the old ways, or “I’ll never go back to that, I love being on here, but people on Twitter can call me an asshole and I don’t like that?”

Breeze: I think it’s amazing. I was horrible with most forms of media and social media. I was horrible. I was a dude that wanted to write my shit, record my shit, and just handle my business. That part of it, I was late to the party. I never had Myspace, I still don’t have Facebook, but something about Twitter and Instagram is immediate enough that I think I can interact with people and I can read stuff and I can laugh and it’s a quick little bit and I’m out. You can praise people and you can say thank you. Just that act of saying thank you, it means a lot to be able to do that, for me.

With Instagram, it’s even better. People send me stuff – I recorded a birthday message for someone the other day. It took a minute to figure out, to set up a ZOOM session, I put it in Quick Time, and I sent it back, and it was like, if that makes someone feel good, it makes me feel good because they’re only asking because there’s love there. You’re right because the emergence of the Bandcamps and all these other things that you mentioned, you can do okay. I feel like the industry is the one catching up now. I feel like they’re going to have to come and do something competitive.

It’s not about, “I’ve got a million views on YouTube, but I can buy chopped cheese with it.” You can actually do something with the Bandcamp joint and with the others, and before you know it, you’re really truly independent and thriving. There’re still the distributors, there’s HHV, domestically there’s others, there’s FatBeats domestically and there’s a rise of others. I feel like it’s what it should have been initially. It’s my music, I hope you dig it, get at me. That’s where it’s at right now. It’s not the easiest thing to get on top of, I’m not going to front, but it’s a gig. It’s your love and this and that, but if you’re assuming that role, then assume the role. I think it’s not a bad role at all. It’s not like, “I’m going to the labels and I’m at their mercy.” You don’t have to do that.

Look at these cats – Ka and Roc Marc[iano], they’re just putting out hella fire music. Backwoodz [Studioz] is destroying everybody, great music. You ain’t asking anybody for nothing, there’s no critiquing, that’s the beauty about “Hindsight.” Shoutout to FatBeats, they’re just like, “Do what you do.” Nobody sat down like, “Hey, what’s the single?” It’s not like, “I listened to this and I think if you tweak this and this,” it’s not that world no more. If people really like it, they’re really liking it. I don’t know who’s going out there, and at this point, if you’re doing anything that’s not yourself, you’re an impersonator. I’m not an impersonator. I’m giving y’all what it is and if y’all dig it, cool. You can let me know; we can actually talk about it. It’s a brave new world.


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