The group of super-producers calling themselves Future Brown has come under fire recently by those wondering if their “shtick” is real and then concluding it isn’t. They’ll cite a few things, including Fatima’s art world connections and the interest of corporations in their music. Then, in staid style, they’ll sprinkle those nuggets on to the truth of the music itself. That’s how the game is played.
Future Brown is made up of producers J – Cush, Fatima Al Qadiri, and Nguzunguzu duo Daniel Pineda and Asma Maroof. Pineda and Maroof met at the Art Institute of Chicago where they decided to take their love of blips and beeps out of their heads and into the world. Fatima received a B.A. in Linguistics from NYU in 2004 and speaks like a true believer in the words and sounds of humanity. She should know better. And Cush is the founder of LitCityTrax and looks like the guy you’d want in your corner in a dive-bombed bar fight. The effect is not quite disparate, but not so much The Avengers either. Sort of like a gently moving beam of light settling on a dark wooden night table, then. An effortless blend of odds and ends strangely packaged.
The whole thing seemed to have come together “organically.” The word — now so much overused — implies a uniquely complicated causality. Like they were drawn together through a series of weirdo events. You imagine someone’s apartment getting broken into and someone late for work and they end up at the same bagel shop in Manhattan — on a grimy corner on 1st and 1st — their eyes meet and nothing. They see each other again though at a rally or a performance and a seed pops into their minds, which their unique combinations of genre-less moldings come to amplify. Poof, they’re here! On Warp! And, seemingly, creating an eponymous album that is more a litany of their favorite vocalists over zoomed out twitches and melodic drums throbbing, swelling and then disappearing like a tide. And, above all else, they are not what you expect them to be: neither in sound nor in interview. Especially because they want you to rip open your concepts of things and throw them away. Be free. Be limitless in your expression of your own sound, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Welcome, then, to Future Brown.
Future Brown & Meeting A Star Named Tink
HipHopDX: Tink’s “302” was the most R&B of the bunch. How did that collaboration come together?
Daniel Pineda: That was one of the first ones that we worked with. That was the first one we worked on with Tink. We had just met and she just came in and kind of destroyed it. That was sort of a magical moment.
DX: The sounds (which were sort of unplaceable) added a rhythmic electronic sound to the song. Can you talk about the production behind the track?
Asma Maroof: The track first started with a melody. And, as far as the percussion, we were kind of double-timing the beat; it was more of like a housy type flow. Then it just didn’t seem right because the melody felt more like the driving part of it. So that’s when we were like, nah, we have to half time it. So when that happened, you just wanted the kicks to be big. So you wanted that reverb snare and the kick so that when it hits it sounds like it has a tale and it just keeps going.
Fatima Al Qadiri: To me it just sounded like the most R&B instrumental on the entire record. Like, clearly this was for someone who was going to ride it that way. Tink recorded all the vocals for the track in two hours. Finished it.
J – Cush: Heard the track and wrote to it in two hours.
Fatima Al Qadiri: It was done. She didn’t have to redo any takes.
J – Cush: Everything was like her first take. Even the ad-libs, she just nailed it.
Asma Maroof: That was the coolest part. She went in the booth and did the whole thing. And then she was like, “Alright, let me get another take to do the ad-libs.” And then she went in on the ad-lib and the harmony. It was insane how much she was on it.
Spontaneity Is The Future
DX: Where did you all record?
J – Cush: It was recorded at The Space Pit in Brooklyn. That was [Tink’s] first studio session outside her basement in Calumet City in Chicago. To see her work like that, it was like how long had she been making music to be that talented and so gifted to like flow.
Asma Maroof: She was 18 at that time, too. So it was like, “What?” [Laughs]
DX: How did you guys split that up? You’re all amazing on your own so who did what?
J – Cush: Just taking turns, really.
Daniel Pineda: Yeah. Kind of taking turns on different parts. But it’s not really like what’s decided who’s going to do what so much. We’re just kind of chiming in and then figuring out who wants to participate.
DX: I’m just trying to figure it out because the sounds are so different in the Hip Hop space. So is the collaborative aspect is important? Or does each go off to be in their space?
Fatima Al Qadiri: Every time [you do something] it’s different. You start with one little idea, and then one person adds something on top of it. Then, someone else builds on top of that. It’s like building blocks. And, what’s most exciting is that when something really exciting happens we all go crazy like, “Woo!” [Laughs] That’s when we know we’re on to something. If we don’t have that feeling, just the initial ideas being made we’ll just scrap it and do something else. But most of the time it doesn’t take a lot for us to get excited. That’s when you know you’re working on a really exciting project: when we’re really vibing off each other’s energy and input, you know? There are very few tracks that we make together that we don’t really feel that way about.
DX: I’ve been looking into how you guys met and it’s murky. So how did it really happen?
Daniel Pineda: I think we had a lot of friends in common and we kind of met through music. Probably a lot like us visiting New York. And Jamie still lives in New York and we just kind of became friends through that.
DX: New York used to be really sharp and now it’s sort of smooth. How do you feel about the energy in the city now?
J – Cush: We’ve worked in both New York and L.A., but I think we all prefer to be out on the West Coast. There’s warm weather, good food and we all have a lot of friends here. It’s easier. But we don’t mind working in New York. It has great energy, and, you know, it really depends on where the artists are.
Asma Maroof: We don’t choose one, but let’s just say we’re not sad that we missed that blizzard that just happened. [Laughs]
Fatima Al Qadiri: I mean, I’m a die-hard lover of New York. I feel like that city is so enormously inspiring. It’s just really sad that what’s happened, as far as the real estate is concerned it’s becoming like London. It’s becoming a millionaire’s city.
J – Cush: It’s already there.
Fatima Al Qadiri: I am so in love with Gotham city. It’s the most beautiful place in the world. I’ll never stop being inspired by it. But, the nightlife has been suffering from the beginning of 2001 — since Guilianni — kicking out Peter Gatien and the introduction of those dancing laws. All that crazy shit. It’s like; the spirit of New York is fighting against it. And people that seek to kill that spirit, there are people fighting that fight. So even though I feel as pessimistic as anybody, I just feel like the city is always bouncing back somehow.
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Bleeps?
DX: I was listening to the album and it feels inclusive and humanistic. Like, electronic-humanism or something. Were you going for that?
Fatima Al Qadiri: I feel like it’s not a question of inclusiveness, it’s a question of freedom. When you don’t have any boundaries or limitations or restrictions on whom you want to work with or what kind of music you want to make then you’re free to do whatever you want and work with whatever you want. And that, as a result, included a lot of scenes and a lot of genres that would rarely be on one album that’s not some compilation or something.
DX: The album is a lot of genres at the same time, and some songs are even multiple genres at the same time.
J – Cush: To go back to what she was saying about freedom… Not being stuck on any one idea of doing this type of beat. Just going in and making what you make.
DX: But is that an overarching philosophy of Future Brown?
Asma Maroof: It wasn’t necessarily the intention. We weren’t like, “We have to make all these different kinds of genre specific songs.” It was really just fluid in the way that just… Whenever someone was like, “Oh!” or something in the studio. Really, that’s what helps us gauge what we’re doing more than, “Oh we want this to be that” or whatever.
DX: Do you think music is moving toward a kind of singularity, then?
Daniel Pineda: That kind of sounds like everything would be the same, then.
DX: More like things seem to be crashing into each other.
Daniel Pineda: Yeah, that’s definitely happening. And I think that’s been happening. And I think it’s really interesting — the cross-pollination — which results in making something new. We all have different tastes and different kinds of music scenes that we follow a lot.
DX: Your iconography is also really interesting. It looks just like the Facebook logo. [Laughs]
Fatima Al Qadiri: We tweaked it with the album cover. [Laughs]
DX: Slightly. Was that a shot?
Fatima Al Qadiri: The Future Brown logo was actually designed by our friend Nick Scholl. He just sent it to us and we were like, “Oh this is beautiful!” He designed our Facebook page. He sort of developed our visual identity. And he was apart of this magazine.
The idea came from and the name Future Brown came from another editor of this magazine. That logo specifically was someone else’s creation and then for the album we italicized it [Laughs]… To really own it on the next level. [Laughs] But you know FB is FB.
Oversharing, Underwhelming & The Many Voices Of Social Media
DX: We talked about all these genres coming together, but how do you feel about the oversharing on social media and the oversharing generation?
J – Cush: Let them do them. It doesn’t really affect us in our day-to-day. [Laughs]
DX: Do you guys interact with social media a lot?
Fatima Al Qadiri: I feel like there are pros and cons to everything. Before you were just reading a newspaper and you took it as gospel. Now you’re realizing that newspapers have agendas and they’re owned by… I just saw this beautiful documentary about Rupert Murdoch and the Packer family in Australia and how his newspapers made Prime Ministers. It was really fucked up. [Laughs] One of the greatest pros about social media for me is having access to so many different points of view about a so-called historic event. Before you could just read it from one agendas point of view. So people do over-share, but you can just mute them. [Laughs] There’s that option. You can just unfollow them. [Laughs]
DX: Is there an element of sameness on social media, now, however?
J- Cush: It’s like another mechanism for control and watching people instead of a connection or whatever… It still does it, I guess.
Fatima Al Qadiri: Like I said, there’re a lot of pros and cons in each. And I’m just… I’m trying to be optimistic, boo. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs] It’s the idea that your logo does look like a corporate logo. So it looks like your saying this isn’t freedom, and that freedom is something else.
Fatima Al Qadiri: I mean, we’re hijacking the corporate… [Laughs] I mean we hijacked. This is in the past. [Laughs] The problem with also so much of the creative industry is that a lot of people want you to do things for free. So much of the creative industry is a freebie-based industry and people that are swimming in billions want you to do things for free. It’s like, “Oh, we have a limited budget.” How many times have you heard that? [Laughs] Everybody that works in the creative industry, ‘We’re so sorry. We have a limited budget.’ Every time you reference something from that realm it’s like…
Fatima Al Qadiri: I’m a personal fan of indirect attacks, and indirect attacks at somebody else’s expense. The whole point of satire is David and Goliath. You’re just trying to bring down the giant but doing it in a softly, softly way. Or in a way that is slippery. [Laughs] Because that’s the game they play. So we gotta play their game. They have all those PR people. We just have ourselves. So, I don’t know. I feel like these are things that are not directly part of the project, but I feel like it’s a duty for artists to occasionally understand and be transparent about these things. We’re not always going to be able to do things without that corporate sponsorship, etc. They’re the new patrons of the arts, you know? So we have to be able to shoot them in the face like Dick Cheney sometimes. [Laughs]
Eating In The Digital Age
DX: Fair. That is more than fair. [Laughs] How do you feel about Pandora and Spotify? And what do you think about the trend toward streaming?
Daniel Pineda: I think it makes it more difficult for artists in some ways. Like, i think it gets music out there and gives more access, but I think it could be different where it would benefit artists more. You get more opportunities for people to access your music more, but I don’t think anyone’s really making money off Spotify, no, or the royalties off that.
J – Cush: I mean you make money but it’s marginal compared to what it was.
Daniel Pineda: Now there’s more pressure on artists to tour and play shows. Where, before, you’d play shows to try and sell records.
J – Cush: I miss record stores. Being able to go and just browse there rather than on-line. You miss that human interaction where you could ask the clerk what they’re listening to, or whatever.
DX: We spoke a little about social media, and it really comes in handy when causes happen like marches in Hong Kong for example. Do you think it’s difficult to get to the bottom of something using social media?
Fatima Al Qadiri: I think so much news is actually breaking on Twitter. Some ruler of a country dies you first hear about it on Twitter before the national news agency. For breaking news Twitter is really becoming the source.
J – Cush: I think more people probably check their Twitter than watch the news.
Fatima Al Qadiri: Me, too. And in terms of what’s been happening in the last year, I think Ferguson touched a really faw cord that’s been building up over decades, centuries, and now it’s now transparent [and] naked nobody can deny it anymore. And I think that social media is so integral to that coming to the fore. It’s like exposing the lies on such a major scale, a national scale.
J – Cush: It’s international, too. Syria or situations that aren’t really getting covered in Western media frequently enough, but you can find out about it through…
Fatima Al Qadiri: But as far as the noise, I don’t see it as noise. I just see it as a sea of concern, voices joining together in protest against injustice. It’s really tangible. You can see it happening voice by voice when you’re searching a hashtag on Twitter. I just think it’s really beautiful.
DX: Music used to be able to speak to those kinds of things. Do you think the Future Brown album will be able to speak to those kinds of things?
Fatima Al Qadiri: The thing is with lyrics and words, that goes back to the vocalist. They are mostly the one’s that are writing the lyrics. And it’s however they feel, it’s their voice and they are expressing what they want to express. So I think it’s a vocalist-by-vocalist case.
Like with “Vernaculo” for insistence… I don’t know how much Spanish you understand or how much Dominican Spanish you understand, but Maluco is saying about her vernacular, and the ability of being bilingual and owning herself. The music industry is really dirty for women. It’s a really nasty industry where women constantly… Someone said something really beautiful on Facebook and he’s not in the industry, he’s an academic. He said, “In the industry you either have to appear fuckable or be invisible.” I was like, ‘Yeah, whoa. That’s exactly what it is.’ I really appreciate that battle. There’re so many battles to be fought in the music industry. That’s just one. Getting money for your music is another one.
All the pressures about syncing music to advertising or playing shows is pretty much the only way to make money. And like actually selling music to your fans is no longer viable. It’s like paying your grocery bills or something.
J – Cush: I mean it’s weird to be grateful to people for buying your music but now it’s kind of come to that.
DX: What Hip Hop producers are you guys inspired by?
J – Cush: There’s a lot: Alchemist, Southside, 808 Mafia, Metroboomin’. [And] Young Chop is a beast.
Asma Maroof: I will forever be inspired by The Neptunes.
Daniel Pineda: Zaytoven.
DX: So how would you sum up the album?
Fatima Al Qadiri: The one thing I want to say for producers is try to make something that… People are always saying that this “doesn’t sound like rap.” You’d be surprised on what rappers want to rap on. If you make something that sounds good, it doesn’t matter if this is the correct hi-hat pattern or whatever. Don’t limit yourself. If it’s cool then someone is going to want to get on it.
J – Cush: The coolest stuff is the weirdest stuff.