An Interview With Bruiser Wolf

Will Schube speaks to the Bruiser Brigade artist about coming up from a landscaper to a rapper, setting out to be vulnerable on his new album My Story Got Stories, the wisdom that's gone into each of...
By    March 19, 2024

Image via photog

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Will Schube still can’t believe Larry David got Salman Rushdie to say ‘fatwa sex’ on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Bruiser Wolf cherishes his victories. He relishes his underdog status because he’s been one all his life: from trying out for arena football to owning a small business with six mouths to feed at home. As a rapper, he’s a Motor City E-40 raised on Iceberg Slim. Though the flow may be nice and the delivery funny, beneath the surface lies the residue of a lifetime of trauma and struggle.

You might have first heard it on “Mama Was a Dopefiend,” the powerful closing track from his 2021 debut, Dope Game Stupid: “Momma was a dopefiend/ I used to dream, she kept her nose clean / I needed somebody to console me / Got me thinking that the whole world owe me.” The tales of addiction continue on his latest LP, My Story Got Stories. Take a look at “Dope Boy,” where he raps: “I wonder if they can tell I’m a dope boy / My first toy was a scale, I had no choice.” On LP2, though, the moments of heartache and depression are offset by a picture of a rapper humbled by his success, eager to be thankful for his blessings, and an appetite to be the best.

Like Dope Game Stupid, My Story Got Stories was forged from tragedy. During the recording of his debut as Bruiser Wolf, his mom passed. “She was a beautiful person,” he explains. While recording My Story, he lost his pops — his right hand man, the person in his corner whether he was struggling as Big Wolf or touring with Danny Brown’s Bruiser Brigade. These two losses inform both albums, no matter how cold the one-liners. “There’s so much wisdom going into this that people don’t even know,” Wolf adds.

Bruiser infuses a generosity into everything he does, whether that’s recording a verse or answering questions for an interview. At one point during our talk, he speaks glowingly about his six children, noting that his eldest is into music and his youngest is into basketball. None are following him into his first love of football — a sport he spent much of his adult life playing and coaching — but that doesn’t matter. “I don’t like forcing kids into nothing. They got to go off their passion,” he says.

“If you believe in it, you can do anything,” Wolf explains. It‘s something he teaches his children every day, whether by offering advice to them or as they watch his career grow as he enters the age that most rappers explore different creative pursuits. With My Story Got Stories, he’s created both a champagne toast to his success and something that announces his arrival as one of the most original rappers working.

At the moment, Wolf is thrilled with where he’s at, but resting now would do a disservice to himself and the things he’s told his children. “Nobody believed in me. Nobody gave me a chance, gave a f*ck how cold the bars were,” he recalls about his early days in the game. “That’s where it all comes from. I’m hungry, but I’m happy.”

The record has been out for a bit. How are you feeling?

Bruiser Wolf: I’m feeling like Dope Game Stupid all over again. There’s just so much love, there’s so much understanding this time. I’m blessed to even be discussed, man. I’m just blessed.

When Dope Game Stupid dropped, were you expecting the response that you ended up getting?

Bruiser Wolf: No, I didn’t. I’m not going to lie. Everything is a learning curve to me either way. The way fans break down my lyrics, bro, it’s like I’m in a fantasy. I can’t believe the way they dissect the music and listen to it. I love it. I just never thought that they would latch onto it like that. I’m thankful to have Danny and the Bruiser Brigade with me. It’s all love man.

What were you doing when you first decided to start rapping but before you dropped Dope Game Stupid, what was your career like? Back in the Big Wolf days?

Bruiser Wolf: I always believed I could rap. I heard a lot of wacky MCs. I can f*cking do this shit. But I had had to be realistic about things. How do I provide for my family and not mess up the bag and go to jail or do dumb shit from hustling? I was dibbling, dabbling, hustling, but I got smart and I started my own business doing landscaping. I was doing landscaping and working really hard. I was making enough money for me to provide for my family and be able to stay out the way and not have to do desperate things to get money. All this time, I was trying to figure it out in the rap game.

Even the great ones, if they were great before they made it they knew they were great. It’s a feeling. I felt like I was good enough to risk it all. At the end of the day, you got to be realistic and you got kids to feed and a wife to take care of. You just don’t want to gamble all of that on talent. That’s the whole rollercoaster. That’s the whole beautiful thing about it, to believe in yourself, have faith in the bet, that it’ll all work out. It’s a beautiful thing man.

You know it’s something you really love if you’re doing it when you’re tired, before kids get up, after work, that sort of thing.

Bruiser Wolf: Yeah. It is a beautiful thing. It’s so fun. I try to be competitive. I just try to challenge myself. It was worth it, because now I’m waking up every morning knowing that this is my career.

Did you want to do anything differently on My Story Got Stories versus Dope Game Stupid?

Bruiser Wolf: Yeah, everybody want that second album to be like the first. Having Danny Brown guide me was important, because he let me do whatever I thought was best. What we’ve been doing with Bruiser Brigade is experimental. What I came in on was trap music, I was trying to make people move. I was taught to make stuff that makes the audience want to move. I wanted more vibes. I wanted more hooks. I always knew that no matter what I did for the second album, people were always going to compare it to Dope Game Stupid. I wanted to be serious, be a little weirder on My Stories.

Everyone thinks I’m this funny guy and shit. I’m not funny. I’m being serious. I can be serious, I can be heartfelt.

Some of this album is very personal and intense. Did it take a certain amount of courage to be that vulnerable?

Bruiser Wolf: Well, if you go back to Dope Game Stupid, it was already there. My father raised me and my brother, one and two years old, my mama left. She was addicted to drugs. How much more vulnerable can I be? Mama was a dope fiend. That’s me. Everybody shine on themselves in this narcissistic type of way where everything is perfect. Hell no. We can’t even be humans if we don’t go through some shit. That’s a part of art, that’s a part of my literature, my poetry. I want to be sincere because you can’t just relate to the celebrations. You can relate through sorrow, you can relate through pain, you can relate through your life and your development. You know what I’m saying?

Did your relationship with your mother ever change? Or after she left, was she gone for good?

Bruiser Wolf: No, it’s so funny. People take that song and think that I had a terrible relationship with my mom. I love my mom. You got to think about my father taking care of me and this woman leaving him with two boys and he got to take care of ’em and his sons grow up and don’t give a shit how bad or whatever their relationship was. My dad wanted his sons to love his mother. I love my mother. We had a great relationship. She had two other kids outside of my father’s relationship.

When I came back from playing football and everything my mama was in need, I went to go take care of her and get everything together with her and the boys. She had my little brothers as well. I always loved my mama. Her wisdom. She was a beautiful person. So pretty. She was in the nursing field. There was so much good stuff about my mom, but it was so much stuff I didn’t know because my father had to raise us and she left.

And Is your father still with us?

Bruiser Wolf: Naw, he passed away. He just passed away six months ago. I miss my father so much, man. I lost my mom during Dope Game Stupid. I lost my father during My Story Got Stories. There’s so much wisdom going into this that people don’t even know.

But at least your father got to see Dope Game Stupid do so well. That must’ve been really special to share that with him.

Bruiser Wolf: He loved Dope Game Stupid. My dad was one of my biggest support systems. He believed it, man, that was my dog.

Did he introduce you to rap music? Is that where you learned?

Bruiser Wolf: I wouldn’t say rap music, but he definitely had his favorite rappers. He would put on Snoop Dogg. He loved Snoop Dogg. He loved Future too. As kids, we listened to The Stylistics. He always liked the tender voiced jazz stuff. He had very exquisite taste in music and he only liked hits. We would be up late and shit getting in trouble listening to him play The Whispers and The Stylistics. A lot of my music came from my mom too. She loved Sade. My mom used to sing and want all the brothers to be the Jackson Five.

Did you and your brothers rap growing up? Would you like freestyle and stuff?

Bruiser Wolf: All five of my brothers were close. I had two younger brothers that my mom had outside of my father. Then my father got with my mother, she already had an older son. Shout out to Deuces. He influenced me, my brother, I love him so much. He was a young rapper at 15. I was about seven and he used to steal the show with my cousin King Idy. I just followed his lead a lot. My brother would rap all the time. We would freestyle all the time. He’d critique us. And then my other older brother Zi, he always got us rapping and we were always freestyling in the car smoking and going to get Coney Island and shit. Those Chili dogs were fat as hell. But it definitely comes from my upbringing, you know what I’m saying?

I know you played football. What position did you play?

Bruiser Wolf: I played center. I played nose guard, played a little fullback. It was a whole f*cking struggle. I played football from the age of eight to 31. All the way to arena football. I tried to do some shit with the CFL, wound up getting cut. I left college after my junior year and just started trying my luck with arena football. I wound up being all pro, all league, whatever, playing center. I was a f*cking beast, man. I played a lot of great ones and I coached as well and I coached a lot of great ones that’s playing right now.

Where’d you coach? Back in Detroit?

Bruiser Wolf: Yeah, little league coach, high school. Henry Ford High School. Loyola. I coached a lot. I like coaching the kids though, the eight through 10 where they’re just sponges and they haven’t been taught yet. I love coaching and giving back like that man. Then to see them get a scholarship or education from that somehow, it’s a beautiful thing, man. It’s better than f*cking playing, honestly.

What’s it like being able to represent Detroit in the rap world now, too?

Bruiser Wolf: It is a beautiful thing, with where Detroit music is at right now. We always had Em, you know what I’m saying? Just at the center of everything. And to see all the other cats get on right now, shout out to all the cats in the city that’s balling, Peezy, Babyface Ray. It goes on and on. I remember being in the trenches and working, doing showcases and shit. It is just a beautiful thing. It goes back to the rock bottom days, the street days. This is just a beautiful thing to get to do. Shout out to everybody that’s working hard and representing our culture. It’s going to last for a long time.

What’s your relationship with Danny like now that he’s in Texas?

Bruiser Wolf: Oh man. It’s like my brother, man. I don’t bug him as much. I don’t call him as much, but whenever it is time, like I got a big business deal, I want to call him. Before I made a decision on the tracklist for the album, I went and saw him. We just chilled with him for a day or two, which is always cool, man. It’s a blessing to have somebody so real in your life, man. That’s my dog. It’s so beautiful to have somebody that’s thinking about you and shit and you don’t even know they thinking about you. I don’t talk to him every day. He’s doing his thing. He’s so focused right now. I’m so proud of him. And that’s my man, that’s my brother.

I know you picked up your kids before the interview. How many kids do you have?

Bruiser Wolf: I got three boys, three girls.

Do you coach any of them in football?

Bruiser Wolf: Well, my oldest right now, he ain’t into that. He makes beats and shit. He into music, so he ain’t into it like that. But my youngest two, I’m trying to force feed them a little bit. My youngest son play basketball. He can handle the rock. But we trying to figure out football because he can run fast. I don’t like forcing kids into nothing. They got to go off their passion.

You did football, you had your own business, and now you rap. How cool is it to show your kids that they can do anything they want to do?

Bruiser Wolf: Oh man, that’s one of my teaching points. You got to stand on this shit. What you believe in, no matter what nobody thinks. If you believe in it, you can do anything. I used to sit back and be a kid and watch TV shows and people would say, “Yeah, you can do anything you want to do in life. If you just put your mind to it and do it.” You hear that shit so much. It can seem corny. But really, if you just concentrate and focus on what you want to do and make it happen, you can do that. And that was a good teaching point to my kids. My kids watched me struggle and shit. Yeah, we about to blow up. Then it don’t happen. What the f*ck going on? It’s important for the kids to see that adults fail too.

That’s hard to admit.

Bruiser Wolf: You got to teach ’em through that. It’s one of the biggest teaching tools that I had. As a man, I want to be a provider for my kids. But to see them watch you struggle and strive for something and see you get it, man. It’s one of the biggest teaching tools. That was my certificate for being a man and a father of my kids. That’s what it’s for, bro. That’s what this is for. F*ck all of this shit. This is about the next generation and morally being a standup guy, showing them what’s possible.

What’s the first thing you bought when you got a little bit of rap money?

Bruiser Wolf: I never thought about no money like that. Before money came, it was so tight. I was doing anything. I was worried about gas money and shit. Just trying not to hustle, to do things the right way. You worry about gas money to get the kids to school, feeding the kids and shit. Your son asked for a f*cking happy meal and you can’t get it, man. Motherf*ckers ain’t going to be real and say this shit. When the money came, I took a deep breath, and just felt happy to be able not to worry about gas, not to worry about bills, not to worry about food and providing as a man. That’s what the money’s for. I guess I just took a deep breath. That felt better than any purchase.

Did the landscaping provide security for you or was it only once you started rapping that you were able to feel that comfort?

Bruiser Wolf: Landscaping was good. Landscaping was just something like music. You have faith in it, you made a plan, you did it, you got it going, you invested. And it is doing okay. It’s doing real good. I always thought big, though. I thought about signing up for school so I could cut the Detroit Tiger Stadium and learn how to do designs and shit. I was thinking like that when I went to cut everybody’s f*cking yard. But I was happy to succeed and be able to do good. I was just proud of myself to do something that was legal, something positive that I could show my kids. You can work hard but it was still f*cked up.

Six kids take a lot of money.

Bruiser Wolf: F*cking landscaping school and all that. You can’t pay anybody, so you’re doing your job yourself. That business was really just to keep me from f*cking up.

Did you have to hustle growing up before you had a family?

Bruiser Wolf: My daddy, man, we struggled so f*cking hard, bro. He brainwashed me like, don’t do it. You ain’t going to be dead or in jail. My daddy kept coming with the values every day and I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to play football. So when I was going to college, a lot of my homies was getting killed and going to jail. When I didn’t flourish in football, I came back and tried to go back to school, but that shit wasn’t enough. So I had to grind. I had to do what I had to do to make ends meet. Then I started making some money, man. And then I never wanted to really grind. I never wanted to be that n***a. I always just wanted to make some money. But when I made that money, I was good. I was like, damn, that shit easy. Then the next day, more bullshit came up. It just took a while to find peace.

Can you take me back to the first day you discovered that rap voice? Do you remember it?

Bruiser Wolf: Yeah, I do. Exactly. I was in the studio. I was paying for a block at Mix Factory One Studio. I’d been practicing all the f*cking time over every beat. My voice was sore and shit at this point. I don’t know what the f*ck I did. I got sick, I was arguing and shit and my voice was gone. I went to the studio and did this song called “God Bless How I Chew This.” When I did it, I was like, ‘Damn. I can’t ever go back again.’

I always was hip to falsetto singers and tenor singers. I was talking to my little brother, Pillsbury. He was like, ‘Bro, you can’t go back. You might have to stay like that.’ I used to rap really slow, have a deep tone, but I always had that in me. If I yell, it’d be loud. I ain’t no yelling motherf*cker like that. But, I could always do that falsetto. I got to rapping like that and then it took a while for me to control it, but I always had it in the bag.

Even with all your success, you still talk about your story with a really inspiring humbleness. Where does that come from?

Bruiser Wolf: It comes from my father and my upbringing. Also, being older in my career and making it, I appreciate it. I appreciate every interaction. I appreciate every fan. I don’t take nothing for granted because there were times I didn’t have shit. Nobody believed in me. Nobody gave me a chance, gave a f*ck how cold the bars were. That’s where it all comes from. I’m hungry, but I’m happy.

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