"I made that beat for 50 Cent 'cause the head A&R at G-Unit wanted production from me," says J57, a producer and MC in the New York City-centered seven-man hip-hop troupe the Brown Bag AllStars. The song he's explaining, "Say It Now," is a rugged-but-soulful production that found a second life as part of the Brown Bag AllStars' Brown Label Part 2 EP. For the crew, which also includes the Audible Doctor, Soul Khan, Koncept, E Holla, Deejay Element and DJ Goo, the release is the most convincing culmination of their talents yet, fusing together pleasingly raw beats with intelligent and heartfelt raps.
So as J57 stepped out of a studio where he was helping out DJ Premier, Hive got him to give up the story behind "Say It Now," reminisce over the Fat Beats record store the group used to work at, and let us know the preferred liquor to sup while enjoying the Brown Label Part 2 listening experience.
You produced "Say It Now." What sort of vibe were you aiming for with that track?
Honestly, that shit was really inspired by DJ Khalil. I made that beat in 2009; I've been friends with Khalil since 2005 at Fat Beats, and I keep in touch with him all the time. One day I got home from Fat Beats at night and me and Audible Doctor were going beat for beat, just showcasing whatever we had, and I so I was determined and in the mood to do some bugged out stuff. That's how it came about.
Why wasn't the track released back in 2009?
I made that beat for 50 Cent 'cause the head A&R at G-Unit wanted production from me. I met him at Fat Beats. So I sent that one over and they held on to the beat for a while but they ended up not using it. I let that one sit in a weird purgatory for a while, like they didn't say they were going to use it or they weren't going to use it. It was in limbo for a long, but it got to a point where I was like obviously they're not gonna use it and I think it's time for Brown Bag AllStars to do something crazy with it. So I won a beat battle in 2010 at California with that beat. People were digging it, and I played it like at a thing Illmind does called B.L.A.T., like a beat showcase, and he said it was crazy. So I was like, fuck everybody, Brown Bag is my family and I need to do something crazy right now. I brought it over and everyone was like, "Let's roll!" It was very much our style so the song came naturally.
What does Akie Bermiss bring to the track?
That's like our go-to guy for hooks. Fun fact: Soul Khan writes all of his hooks, whether it's for a soul song or whatever. That's something people don't know. But Akie is incredible; he's one of the best singers I've ever worked with. He'll be all over everything Brown Bag does forever to the point where people think he's part of the group. We have crazy chemistry and we just got in the studio together: Soul Khan wrote the hook, Akie went into the booth with very little direction, and this is what we came out with. He's phenomenal.
Hive is streaming "Say It Now" on the site, but why should people check out the rest of the EP?
I know it's our best work. It's the best thing any of us has ever done as a group or solo-wise. And we're really talented for different reasons, so if I don't bring something to the table then someone else will step up and add what's needed. So for us to all hit our peak with this project, I think that now it's time for us to get that recognition. The EP is a really good representation of what we've done in the past and it's the best we've been.
The EP also includes "406," your tribute to Fat Beats. What's the story behind that song?
"406" is special to the Brown Bag AllStars because we all met while working at Fat Beats a few years back. Half of us started working there in 2004 and the other half in 2007. We were the last generation of Fat Beats. It was our home. [The song] is our personal tribute to Fat Beats, which is a strong part of New York hip-hop history.
The cover of the EP features a couple of glasses of liquor. What would you recommended people drink while they listen to the project?
Honestly, we're not like the most rowdy dudes. I mean, M.O.P. is one of the greatest rap groups ever but we're not like on that level of rowdiness with the Hennessy. It sounds like a whiskey EP to me. I don't even drink whiskey too much -- I'm more of a vodka drinker -- but to me it's a whiskey project. It has a whiskey vibe.
Brown Label Part 2 is out 9/4. Watch the video for "406" below: