Closing out an interview with brandUn DeShay in Downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district comes with a late curveball.
“I changed my name to Ace Hashimoto,” he says over Johnny Rockets hamburger and fries. “That’s going to be super official when the album drops. This project I’m putting out is as Ace Hashimoto, not as brandUn DeShay. That alias was a good time or whatever. I did my thing with it. Now, I’m in a whole ‘nother era. I’m gonna rock with that because it’s a brand new me.”
Before all that, we spent nearly an hour talking about his storied past producing fan favorites for Casey Veggies, Dom Kennedy, Danny Brown, Mac Miller, SZA, Chance The Rapper and a host of others. Anyone following DeShay for the past several years understands what makes him special. Besides lending out some very slept-on beats to high-profile artists, his whole hood Otaku vibe made him very approachable in an age where artists are starting to let their geek flag fly. We even partook in drinking young LA’s favorite non-alcoholic drink, Boba.
Though he’s yet to have a real breakthrough moment as a solo artist, the upcoming GoldUn Child 2 mixtape may finally do it. DeShay has grown wiser since his incredible early-decade run and eventual hiatus that included him finishing up school at Chicago’s Columbia College.
Why? He once wanted to become President of The United States.
He’s also tried developing his craft as a singer/songwriter, which is definitely noticeable on his recent “Long Time, No See.” Somewhere in the conversation, we touch on everything from the differences in how American and Japanese media handle sex and violence to how the Drill Music explosion is making him look cooler.
Clearly, DeShay has evolved while staying almost completely under the radar. The end product is a new alias representing the totality of his personal and professional experiences.
DeShay or Ace Hashimoto — you’re going to know who he is one way or another.
DeShay On His Early Years In Production & Almost Getting Into Politics
HipHopDX: There were moments between 2009 and 2011 where I was introduced to most of my favorite rappers at the time through your beats including Dom Kennedy, Danny Brown and Casey Veggies, among others. Looking back, what was that period like for you?
BrandUn DeShay: That was interesting because I was new. I had just started making beats and rapping in 2008. Everything started happening really fast. I literally came from zero to all of those placements. From ’08 to ’09, I did the Curren$y and Dom Kennedy shit. In ’09 – ’10, it was Casey Veggies and…
DX: You were working with Rockie Fresh too.
BrandUn DeShay: Yeah, we actually had a whole EP that was supposed to come out that we didn’t do. There were a few projects with other cats that we’d start and get distracted like artists. We’d be mad excited to do some shit and two months later, things get in the way. I can only imagine Kanye having 15 collaboration albums that you wouldn’t even know about. They all happened kind of fast and it was an exciting time for me because I was new to beats. I was new to it all and it was weird to me. That’s when I started to realize that it’s not about how good you are, but where your connections lie. I put more effort into making good rap friends and connections.
DX: I remember you got into some controversy with Tyler, The Creator.
BrandUn DeShay: That was around the same time. I would say 2010 or so. I was friends with them. That time was a learning experience in how to deal with teams. I was never good at working with teams, to be honest. I always felt like it was better to do me because I wasn’t a team player. That taught me how to be a team player. It wasn’t a big issue honestly. It could have been something that would have been defused if we both were mature about shit.
DX: You guys were pretty young too.
BrandUn DeShay: Yeah we were like 19 or so.
DX: Plus, you guys were making a ton of money and traveling the world.
BrandUn DeShay: That happened after I dipped because they linked up with a new management and that was the catalyst to them getting their shit together. When I was a part of it, it was something, but it was easily passed over. Whoever came into that situation shook shit up and turned it into another level.
DX: You sort of took a hiatus around that time as well.
BrandUn DeShay: I didn’t take a hiatus, I moved back to Chicago from Los Angeles and finished school.
DX: Finished school?
BrandUn DeShay: Yeah, I finished college. I got a degree in Marketing and Political PR. I wanted to run for president. That was my goal. You can ask my teachers how serious I was. Obama was almost ending his first term at the time I believe. That was my goal originally. What he was doing was dope. He wasn’t my inspiration and I wanted to do it anyway. Honestly, it was the double side of me. There’s always two sides, who people see you as and who people know you as. People who know me know I have deeper morals, stances and opinions. People see me and think BrandUn is a happy-go-lucky guy who wouldn’t think twice about politics. A part of me cares about the people.
DX: I’m assuming you didn’t have to worry much about student loans at the time.
Building SZA’s Sound & Why He Stopped Being A Producer For Hire After Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap Classic “Na Na”
BrandUn DeShay: Oh yeah, it was more than school. That was the first year I took a break. The other three years, I went to New York. I started honing my production skills even more. I hadn’t dropped an album or anything in four years. I was working on production and that’s how I ended up working with SZA during that time. I helped build her sound.
DX: What was it like helping to build SZA’s sound?
BrandUn DeShay: It was great because like Pharrell had Kelis, I had SZA. He was a catalyst to her sound and I got to do the same with SZA for her first project. It was my first time doing R&B and those beats were very “me” beats. Like I had done Hip Hop shit. I was lending beats to Danny Brown and Mac Miller. I got to sip all that cool shit and show off my other side. It was a good time. I started working with Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era at the time. I started working with Chance The Rapper at that time and The Underachievers. You’d have to start looking at my Wikipedia page.
BrandUn DeShay: I remember making that beat clear as day. I had a girl at the time living in Detroit. I was living in Chicago so it takes about four hours to get there. It was my birthday actually. I’m with her and I think to myself to hit up Danny. I hit him up and he told me to come through the crib. I set my laptop up and started fucking around with the “Radio Song” beat. It was hella minimal and unfinished. I started working to finish it up and he was cooking some chicken. By the time he finished, I had to get up out of there and head to the next spot. He was like just leave it like this for now. Going back home and a few weeks later, I tried to finish up the beat and he had already laid his verse. He told me it sounded dope the way it is. That’s why the beat sounds like that. He left it that way and thought it was dope. I wanted to do more piano chords and stuff.
DX: You sort of disappeared, but made these random appearances.
BrandUn DeShay: I disappeared as an artist and person, but my name was still floating around as a producer. At that time, I signed my publishing deal situation with BMG. That’s what changed everything. Once I started songwriting, that’s why I became who I am today. I wasn’t happy with where I was and who I was at the time. I knew I wanted to do something dope and different, but my execution wasn’t fresh enough for the masses. People thought I was dope, but I got tired of hearing ‘This is dope real Hip Hop’ and that people were sleeping on me.
That’s the type of shit they say about niggas like Joe Budden. Not to knock him or anything, but I don’t want to be a Joe Budden type of artist. What I always wanted was that general acceptance that Ye, Pharrell or Drake has. They found a way to take their message — as weird as it was — and make it translate. That’s what I’m trying to do right now is translate the message. I want to make my shit understandable. I think I’ve gotten to that point now and songwriting helped. Just falling back and watching how people do shit.
DX: Last year you dropped the GoldUn Child mixtape and you’re already set to release a sequel already.
BrandUn DeShay: Moving to L.A. was the other part. I was finishing GoldUn Child before moving out here in May. I was wrapping it up for the most part. That was my transition to getting ready to drop. I got a studio apartment that I dreamed of in regards to my space. My decor is literally like walking into a Tokyo apartment. All my anime is there and my recording booth is set up. It was the perfect living situation. I felt rejuvenated and that nothing was stopping me. I didn’t have to rely on studio time and labels telling me to wait. I didn’t have to wait on engineers to be available. I produced the whole shit myself. It was time to go.
DX: How do you even make that push as a solo artist?
BrandUn DeShay: People in my squad hated it when I told people I wasn’t making beats for artists anymore. When I gave Chance the “Na Na” beat, I told him he was the last person to get a beat off of me. Dead ass. That was the last time. I was doing that shit, balancing the stems out. I would sell beats, but I’m not going to be a just a producer.
DX: I remember J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League alluding to Chance not even paying producers. Did you ever experience that?
BrandUn DeShay: I did and that’s not to knock Chance or anything because he’s a cool dude. I get it, his project is free. I knew that going in and the music was so dope. I love to support Chicago acts. I’ve seen Chance come up before nobody believed he was going to be any type of notable artist. He was dope, but niggas didn’t look at him like that. I would be in the studio with him and Vic Mensa. Chance would be in the back and come out the blue to show us something like his “Brain Cells” video. I was like this nigga is nice. I didn’t mind giving it away for free and supporting music. That was a big year because I had the deal and didn’t need Chance’s money anyway. I just didn’t want to be cornered as just a producer anymore. For years, I did nothing but make beats and dress well. I was quiet while everyone thought I just made beats. I was really working on my shit trying to make better hooks and lyricism. This GoldUn Child 2 is going to prove that.
DX: Seems like you’re chasing radio.
BrandUn DeShay: I’m not chasing radio, but I learned how to translate my message. It’s going to sound like radio because that’s what radio is. They give you precise, simple messages to relate. Look at Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep.” It’s simple and emotional. That’s where it’s at now.
BrandUn Explains America’s Love For Anime & Violence
DX: You’ve been inspired by Japanese culture out the gate. You’re a huge “Dragon Ball Z” fan. Seems like it’s been popular out in the States for decades.
BrandUn DeShay: I think it’s pretty easy to get why people love the series. It’s an easy formula. It’s the Shonen Jump formula. You look at any Shonen Jump anime or whatever, they all have the same storyline type theme. It’s all inspired by Greek Epics. There’s always that main character trying to overcome something who is usually pure hearted. Then, there’s an antagonist that turns into a friend or whatever.
DX: Like Vegeta right?
BrandUn DeShay: Goku, the protagonist, and Vegeta is the antagonist that turns into a friend. There are so many moral lessons in that. Everybody isn’t purely evil and they may just come around. Just walk that path of righteousness. If you come together, you can overcome a lot of great obstacles. The same happens in “Naruto” and “Bleach.”
DX: Compared to the original Japanese version, the American version of “Dragon Ball Z” was heavily censored.
BrandUn DeShay: Japan is interesting. They’ll let you get away with blood and killing a bunch of people. I believe in the American version of “Dragon Ball Z,” they changed the color of blood. On the opposite side, we’ll show way more sex than Japan will ever show. Even the porn in Japan is censored.
DX: Yeah, pubic hair is blurred out.
BrandUn DeShay: Here, we’re more sensitive to violence because we’re a violent country. In Japan, they’re more sensitive to sex. That’s how they trade off. They put their effort into blocking out sex and we put our effort into blocking out violence. Japan doesn’t have to worry about violence like that. Police aren’t killing people in Japan like that. I’m Black — I walk around Japan, like nobody is stopping me for shit except directions. It’s mad chill.
DX: I asked Rockie Fresh a while ago if the Drill explosion overshadowed everything else emerging from Chicago’s scene in the earlier part of the decade. Did you notice it yourself?
BrandUn DeShay: To be honest, it didn’t matter for me musically. It didn’t affect my career at all. I wasn’t working with Drill artists or making Drill beats. It did have positive effects. Hella bitches were on my dick because I was from Chicago at that time. The minute I said I was from Chicago in New York, females were falling from the sky. Do you know Chief Keef? What’s it like out there in Chicago? I kid you not. When I meet that nigga, Imma let him know. He did something great for mad niggaz.
DX: He lives out here too.
BrandUn DeShay: Yeah, I talked to his manager so we might be doing something soon. That would be amazing right? Imma link up with him this weekend. I love it because he made Chicago cool as fuck.
DX: However, it did make Chicago the scapegoat for the Black-on-Black violence debate.
BrandUn DeShay: You know how America is. We love that violent shit. It was being used as a scapegoat for violence because it wasn’t a good or positive thing. People are getting killed and it’s not a good thing at all. But, let’s be real, it’s the bad boy in school. He vandalizes shit, bullies people, has the tattoos and he’s disrupting the community, but bitches love that shit, especially young bitches. Chicago Drill was the bad boy of Hip Hop at that time. They hated it, but also admired it because it was so “not give a fuck.” You had to respect how real that was. That’s what it was. It gave a splash of color to everything around it. Even me, I wasn’t into Drill music, but being from Chicago made me more sought after. Chief Keef did some great things for Chicago. I understand why people could hate on it, but he did some great things.