We took a minute, well several, and sat down with independent hip-hop artist Braille. We met for lunch at the Wild Pear in downtown Salem. He ordered hummus. Then we drilled him on life, hip-hop and his latest album. This is what he had to say.
RETHINK MONTHLY: SO IS IT RAPPER, HIP-HOP ARTIST, OR AM I COMMITTING A SIN BY EVEN ASKING?
BRAILLE: It all depends on who you talk to. I’m not the kind of guy who gets all caught up by labels. Labels are objective – just somebody’s opinion. So, I’m a rapper but rap is just one of four elements of hip-hop. You have break dancing. You have graffiti. You have rap and you have a DJ. So a hip-hop artist is someone who embraces all four elements and therefore embraces the culture of hip-hop. So I’m a rapper but I’m a part of the hip-hop culture. But I don’t care at this point – I’m fine with someone just calling me a musician or a poet – because ultimately your product is going to speak for itself.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN THE HIP-HOP SCENE?
I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. My parents split up when I was young. My mom got a job over in New Jersey, so we packed up and moved over there during high school. After high school, I didn’t go to college but moved out to L.A. – sort of my college for music – and became a homeless musician; sleeping on floors, gaining life experience. You know, life experience in music is just as important as learning to make the music. You can train someone how to make the music but if there’s no life behind it, no experience behind it, then they really don’t have anything to share with their audience. It’s when you get past the training and get to the ‘living it out’ that you start having something to say.
SO YOUR LIFE STORY BECOMES YOUR TRADEMARK?
Yeah, it’s like this is who I am, this is what I do and if you relate to this and like this, then I’m going to keep feeding it to you.
THAT BEING SAID, WHAT IS YOUR TRADEMARK?
Passionate lyricism. There’s more curiosity to who I am as a person than how good of a rapper I am. I started out rapping as a thirteen year old kid. And a lot of people saw me try to do my thing when I was young, awkward, but they saw that I was working hard and going for it. Now thirteen years later, I’m married, have a kid and people are seeing that I’m still going for it and still standing for what I believe. For me, my trademark is just me. I sit down and make songs. I don’t look at what’s popular in the industry, I do what I like and do what sounds good to me and I’ll keep moving forward and keep trying to develop.
ALL YOUR MUSIC HAS A SPIRITUAL SIDE. IS THAT INTENTIONAL OR DOES IT JUST COME OUT?
As much as I’d like to say that it’s this huge intentional, well thought out plan of how I represent, I’m not really into that idea. I’m not in to manipulating who I am and what I do to make it appealing. I make a record like anyone else would make a record. The Bible says “from the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” So I’m like, “whatever is in my heart, that’s what I want to come out.” And when it comes out, if there’s not enough God in there, it’s because there’s not enough God in my heart.
YOUR LATEST ALBUM, “THE IV EDITION,” IS IN STORES NOW. THAT’S GOT TO FEEL PRETTY GOOD, DOESN’T IT?
Right now I look at it as progress. It’s not like there are twenty copies on every Best Buy shelf in America but it is available. I have a bigger machine behind me now but I still have to work hard to make it successful. Like if I were to go to sleep for a year, I don’t think my record would progress on its own during that time. I have to promote it to make people aware that it’s out there. It’s feast or famine.
WHAT DOES THE “IV” MEAN ON YOUR NEW ALBUM?
It’s the fourth edition – my fourth solo record – but at the same time, its word-play. In hospital terms, the IV puts medicine in the vain. It’s a metaphor relating to social illness – medicine for social illness. Our society is ill and we see the effects of our illness – like water for the thirsty and food for the hungry. We have people in our society who are ill because their simple basic needs are not being met. In that same sense, a lot of the other illnesses that are going on in our world, roots from being ill with sin and that sin is causing us to do things that are destroying ourselves and each other. Because of that, we need mercy and grace for our illness. And ultimately, this album offers Jesus Christ as the remedy and the redemption for our illness.
SO WHAT WOULD BE THE ONE THING YOU’D LIKE TO LEAVE US WITH?
I’m not sure who’s reading this and what their situation is, but I know that God is capable of turning their situation around, their problem around. I don’t know what that looks like for everybody but I can simple say that I’ve seen the turnaround in my own life. From the regular old kid with double XL clothes that didn’t fit his body, braces on my face and then seeing the transformation happen as I started following God. Taking all my passions and desires and shaping them into something that has value and bringing me to a place where I can see that value and taste that value. The point is that I’m aware of God and want others to be aware of him too. Again, I don’t know where people are at, but I do know there’s is a God who loves them.