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Brainorchestra is a content man right now, and deservedly so. The Elizabeth, New Jersey born and bred producer just dropped his now fourth project his year, all excellent, and he has at least four more in the works that he can’t help but excitedly mention over the course of our hour-long Zoom. Brainorchestra, born Andrew Melo, seems more hyped about each new tape he mentions than one before it, feeling each is a tangible step forward from the last. When Brainorchestra makes a beat, raps, or even paints the only person he is trying to impress is himself. His guiding mantra is “creating carelessly” which means he isn’t precious with his art; he just creates what feels right to him in the moment. Funnily enough, creating as frequently as he does means he is often tired of a project by the time it’s finally making its way out to the world. However, it’s clear that his dismissal of his previous works isn’t out of an actual disdain for the sound but a continued excitement at how his current shit is his best shit. Not remorseful at what he used to sound like but rather impressed at how he continues to self-actualize through music. This is part of why he is always eager to share his work with the world, even knowing that he will inevitably create something even better that’ll eclipse what he just put out. That is the fun of it in the end for Brainorchestra, every day he wakes up excited at how he’ll outdo yesterday. This drive has pushed him to quickly become one of the most creative and interesting producers in hip hop right now. He’s constantly trying to find a new way to approach the genre and impress himself, and he’s amassed an impressive legion of fans in the process.
The Wizard Scroll, his latest release, is the physical embodiment of that “creating carelessly” mantra. The EP is a one of a kind narrative beat tape, following the trials and tribulations of an apprentice wizard searching out his captured mentor who is guiding him via the titular scroll. While he and the voice of the wizard, Jersey rapper Pootie, completed the tape in just one day, the concept took a good while to ferment. COVID left Brainorchestra chilling in Baltimore at his girlfriend’s crib for a few weeks. They were bored, watching movies and playing video games. Brain felt uncharacteristically uninspired. He had some beats he liked but knew they weren’t done yet, he just didn’t know what to do with them. And then one night it hit him – why not make a tape to match the video games and movies they had been cooped up with, use a beat tape to tell a fantasy story. He was in the middle of playing The Immortal, a 1990 Sega Genesis RPG about a wizard going through a seven-layer labyrinth. Brain had also always loved and appreciated wizards, commenting that “Wizards got shit under control 100% of the time,” and even often gets called a wizard in the studio with how magical he can get with his loops, so a story about a wizard finding his mentor just made sense. His girlfriend drew up a mock of the wizard that Brain sent it over to his boy Mario Yakovi who got working on a comic, which will come with every vinyl purchase, giving a visual to accompany our journey. Each track features a quick ten second snippet into where we are in the adventure before pouring into the beat. Brain is masterful at creating moods, from the bubbling cauldron, to the creaking doors, all the way through to the beats themselves matching the vibe of our point in the journey. It’s that ingenuity and dedication to outdoing himself that elevated this project from a ten-minute beat tape to the score for an HBO show that needs to be made.
Late Tuesday night Brainorchestra opened up a Zoom where a few dozen of his closest friends, fans, and collaborators hopped in and out to hear him play the new tape and a handful of other tracks he had been sitting on for too long. His excitement to be performing again was palpable, as was the group’s excitement to hear Brain work. It had been four long months since he had the chance to play music live or interact with receptive ears in this capacity and it was evident he couldn’t wait to cook, but the community Brain was building was clearly just as important as the music. Brainorchestra had told me that one of the most enjoyable parts of creating music for him was releasing it to the world and having the music no longer be his, but the fans’. He loves hearing how what he had created affected those who heard it and wants to give as much as he can to those who show love. On Zoom Brain reveled in the opportunity to see how people were taking to The Wizard’s Scroll and to catch up with the homies. He asked for honest feedback before teasing a Wizard Scroll Part 2, which seemed to be the only thing that had people more hyped than the original. He then opened up the floor for someone else to play music they had been working on, just as juiced to hear his friends’ new shit as they were his. He is a man living his life exactly how he wants to be living it: Creating art that he loves, sharing it with people who appreciate it, and reciprocating that love back to them, all while finding a way to make a living off of it. It’s truly some wizard shit.
Below is a condensed version of our conversation. We talked about growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the journey that led to The Wizard’s Scroll, and the whole scope of his hip hop career.
GSC: Thank you again for taking the time to do this, I really appreciate it. I am also from the 908, I grew up in Summit.
BRAINORCHESTRA: Hell yea.
GSC: And you are from Elizabeth, a city with more of a rich history than people give it credit for. Marsha P. Johnson is from Elizabeth, Kyrie Irving, I remember when Tay K got caught in Elizabeth.
BRAINORCHESTRA: Tay K getting caught I remember that day it was wild. We were the first official capital for the US too, back in the day though like 13 states days. It’s rich in culture, all types of people man. Lot of artists and lot of hidden gems in Elizabeth, that’s what it is. A lot of good artists, good food, partying all type of shit.
GSC: Any food spots you wanna shout out off top?
BRAINORCHESTRA: Man, any Colombian spot on Morris Avenue, that’s what I be rocking with. There is a Hatian bakery right off Broad St that sells dollar pastries with spicy chicken and spicy fish that shit be bussin bro.
GSC: That sounds delicious.
BRAINORCHESTRA: The Portuguese spots with the rotisserie chicken too.
GSC: Like you said it is a very diverse place, culturally and musically. What were you listening to growing up and who was putting it in your ears?
BRAINORCHESTRA: When I was growing up, I was around my brother a lot, a lot of hip hop. Dipset, Biggie, Big L you know all the classic shit. My aunt too, my aunt would drive around playing rap music all the time. My best friend Leo and his two older brothers would listen to the early trip hop shit, Gorillaz. That green CD, it really inspired me. The breakbeats, the double bass, “Tomorrow Comes Today” , those songs, that is what I was really listening to. I was tapped in with punk music and hardcore music too because a lot of my friends played in bands. I was always around mad stuff, always took in all types of music. Would just enjoy it for what it is. I also used to play mad instruments in school because I hated school so I used to do music shit because it was the easiest way to get out of class, but I used to play a whole lot. Snare, trumpet, viola.
GSC: Do you still dabble in any of them?
BRAINORCHESTRA: I understand all the instruments, I don’t know how to play them any more but I still play bass from time to time. I don’t have a bass here but I gotta buy one, and I still play keys.
GSC: I know you had a teacher who was very instrumental, I was gonna Narduar you with the name but I am blanking on it right now.
BRAINORCHESTRA: Mr. Sabet!! That’s my boy bro, he changed my whole life bro swear to God.
GSC: What grade was that?
BRAINORCHESTRA: Eleventh grade, 2012.
GSC: Okay so right before you started releasing music too, because 2013 is when you dropped Art of Progress.
BRAINORCHESTRA: If we’re being real I have so much stuff on bandcamp that I released in high school in 2012-13. At the time being new to the game and hearing other people’s shit I got down on myself and privated a lot. I always go back to it and will send it to people who bring it up but a lot of people think I started releasing in 2013. I think a mistake I made was deleting a lot of shit off SoundCloud when I was younger. To me it wasn’t even that good yet, not that it wasn’t good but it wasn’t me yet. So I’m not mad it’s floating in the ether but not in my hard drive. But 2013 was when I really started tapping into my music side. Putting out more work willingly and being more confident in my work. I was doing a lot of shows in 2009ish, 2010 but I was rapping 2015 or so.
GSC: Yea you tweeted out something about playing in Mass at like age sixteen.
BRAINORCHESTRA: Yea I was young as hell bro. I was playing Webster Hall at like seventeen. A little Webster Hall show, I don’t even know where the flyer was for that. We were tapped into the Soundcloud and twitter game at the time. Me and my boys, we were in a group called The Doom, my best friends me, Leo, and his older brother Dre and our best friend Fuzzy, we were all on some other shit. But everybody had to choose their way you know. Leo is a firefighter and real estate owner with Fuzzy and Fuzzy getting bread, and Dre is about to come out soon and we’ve been working on more music. It’s good to think back and like to remind people how long I’ve been releasing. But back when SoundCloud was exciting, we were just going. We weren’t worried about what was important, even though we felt like what we were doing was important, we were just going. If I knew what I know now it might have been a little different but it’s all good you know, gotta go through those times and shit.
GSC: So you kinda talked about how you put a lot of stuff on private because you didn’t feel like it was you yet. How do you feel like you’ve changed as an artist and as a person over the years?
BRAINORCHESTRA: I think the best way to explain that is to say I really tapped into what I like to make and what I want to hear. Even the other day I was listening to all the shit I’ve made since October and like I don’t even like half the shit like I did when I made it because I’ve been progressing so rapidly. The MPC live, back in October I took it on myself to buy a new piece of equipment and took a long step back. A lot of people were like why would you do that and were like don’t you think it’s backwards to go from Ableton to MPC and like sometimes you need to give yourself a different challenge to spark a new approach. I still use Ableton, I stem everything out into Ableton and do the fine tuning and mixing, but I have an MPC2000 and when I bought that a few years ago I took a step back to learn the 2000, and it showed me like how much you can create, the worlds you can create, with the space and ability that product gives you. I am a huge Dilla fan, huge Madlib fan, and they’re making masterpieces in a box. Less is definitely more, I have engineers at the studio and they’re like “Damn, you’re only using three tracks how are you making this shit sound so crazy!” So it’s like time, understanding the time and tangibility of it. That is what makes me realize where I am going, how tangible we can make this.
GSC: Definitely, and in tune with that you’ve talked about how creating music can be therapeutic for you, especially with Domi there was a lot of tumult in your life. Why is music such a good outlet for you emotionally? When you’re making a beat what is that emotional state?
BRAINORCHESTRA: For me lately it’s just like a nice outburst of energy for whatever you might be going through. I go through phases creating, and right now I am an outburst creator. I think when I was starting I’d create every day and I still create something every day at some point but I used to manically need to create every day and now I take my time and make music when I am ready. Like I’ll take a week off recording and just paint. Making music allows me to tap in when I need to and when I really feel it now. I understand myself and my process now so much better, spiritually and technically. I can make beats all fucking day but are they gonna matter? Because I like to make shit that matters. When I am making something and it’s affecting me emotionally I know I can affect my audience with it, so I look for that energy. It allows me to, you know, express myself without words. I love rapping but I love making beats like nothing else, I will make beats forever. I love rapping but I stopped rapping to make beats and made a career for myself just off making beats. Was like fuck that and started playing beat sets during rap shows, like nobody had seen that type of shit before.
GSC: Kinda in tune with that, do you feel like you have a different approach to rapping, versus making a beat? Even painting too.
BRAINORCHESTRA: The coolest part about painting is, I tapped into a lot of biographies and documentaries learning about how these painters live and express. They paint because they have some shit to say and they weren’t worried about nothing else, weren’t worried about selling it. And now I translate that to beats and raps. Because like seeing what these artists are able to do with their visuals, just the way they move, they don’t give a fuck they just want to make good art. And that shit just made me feel like aight, I can relate to this. I don’t force nothing, I started really stepping back and realizing I want to write when it really matters I wanna write when it strikes me. I don’t write on a lot of my shit. I do but not as much as people think, and that’s because it needs to be like a magnet. Rapping and words are just different, when I add words to something it’s gotta hit home. That’s why I love rapping on other people’s shit because it’s not my stuff and they challenge me. And it builds more hype for when people hear my on my own shit.
GSC: With your last tape, when you had you and Grimm Doza on a beat, two guys who are incredible producers who are rapping, it was very cool. It’s very cool in Jersey right now, lot of great artists.
BRAINORCHESTRA: Yea, bro, so many Revenant, Grimm. Roper, J Words, Driveby.
GSC: Yea! Driveby is a legend he was the first DJ at Josh and my first stand up show.
BRAINORCHESTRA: Driveby is my boy, lowkey one of the dopest out. Derrick Braxton too, OG Derrick Braxton, he produced The Cool, Lupe Fiasco’s shit. He’s a New Brunswick OG.
GSC: Yea it seems like everyone is trying to create the best version of their own shit and everyone is hyping each other up.
BRAINORCHESTRA: Yea, when you’re around the right people, it’s like anywhere. There are going to be a group of people that are really doing it. That really care about the art and shaping history. We’re in a rennisance right now so we really gotta fuck it up. This the time. My OG Fatblood has been saying it for years, we’re about to hit a crazy renaissance, so you better be ready. I’ve been locking in for the next phase. Jersey, it’s not that we’re overlooked but we’re the shadow of New York a lot of the times, and you tell people you’re from Jersey and some people expect shit and some don’t, but it’s different than when you’re from LA. They already kinda, have a presumption like this guy must be x,y,x. but that’s all politics.
GSC: When you could travel you were dedicated to getting on the road and making sure people heard your music live to the point where your live act was hype independent of your music. So why do you think it’s so important to engage with people live? And what was your favorite city to play, and your favorite venue to play?
BRAINORCHESTRA: I think the best way to say this, if you’re gonna be an artist in this day and age you can do the online route and not perform in person but it’s the secret sauce of how you’re gonna make this shit a living. When you are able to tap into another city, wherever the fuck it is, you’re tapping into a new group of people business wise, a new market. I had three vinyls, a 7 inch, cassettes when I was touring, and that shit would sell out. And it don’t make me better but I was a step ahead. If you want to make a living off of it you need to be a step ahead with your income streams, like making music is the easiest part of it. If you wanna make music just for you to make it, then absolutely just do it. But if you want to monetize it and make music your career, you gotta really understand the power of traveling and seeing people face to face that wouldn’t normally see you. When I go to LA, or Atlanta, or Oakland, and I have a group of people who’ve already seen me before who are excited to hear and buy my new shit, it creates a different bond.
GSC: You had alluded to it, something close to this is you’re big on the physical production of your music. You make vinyl and cassettes and I think that is just as instrumental as the touring. Why has that always been such a high priority and for artists who aren’t doing it what made you start thinking about it and who do you work with?
BRAINORCHESTRA: Absolutely, I think what first changed my whole perspective on it was when I dropped Patterns (2016). Fat Blood was the first guy who was like, “Oh cool you are going on Soundcloud, why not put your work together and drop a tape?” So I did just that, made fifty copies and that shit sold out, so I made another run of fifty and they sold out. Then after that I realized the power of becoming eternal, you know what I’m saying? When you put something physically together it’s infinite, you stamped yourself on another level. It isn’t a link, it’s something that you can feel, you can show a friend forever. Vinyl, for a while I didn’t have a lot of money, I still don’t be having a lot of bread, but I found a company out of Paris I can send you the link to called VinyldeParis.fr I’ve been sending it to everyone, and I didn’t get that link from anyone I found them myself so any questions on the process you can reach out to me, but when I first dropped a vinyl that shit changed my whole view on how we can distribute music and the importance of it. Like it is the best listening experience and you can present it in so many ways, you just expand the palate of whatever the project is so much cuz its not digital, its an artifact. I know I am gonna keep doing that. Who knows if Spotify and Apple Music last ten twenty years down the road, but I know that those vinyl records and cassettes will.
GSC: I guess in a very literal sense how did this idea come to pass?
BRAINORCHESTRA: I was in Baltimore for a week, I was visiting my girl and shit, we were chilling and I had these beats ready. It was at the beginning of corona and I was planning shit, not doubtful of times but in a moment where I was trying to figure shit out. I was listening to these beats and I was talking to my shorty like “shit I need to come up with some concept for these beats” so the whole week we were chillin, smoking, and it just strikes me, right before I went to bed one night I was like “I need to make a story about a wizard” because people make jokes all the time like “Brain you be on some wizard shit” so like I was like I gotta make some shit. So I woke up the next morning like “alright I am gonna put some shit together” and like when I listened to them I was like “these shits sound crazy, how can I make a story out of this shit.” So I thought about a wizard who needed to find his master, but on some crazy shit. So I called my boy Pootie, because he’s not just an amazing rapper but a funny ass dude and he is always on some funny voice acting shit. Like whenever we’re in the studio he’s always making jokes with funny voices. So we met up and took some acid and recorded all that shit in one day, did it all in like six hours. I was like “Aight, I am gonna create the world around it. I went on splice and downloaded some video game sounds and little. I produced all those scores, like the crazy ominous shit, and then the bubbles the door opening, I created all those sounds and used those to make the story. We did a draft and we just did it and finalized it all that day. We wanted to make it not like cheesy but fun, like not that we weren’t taking it serious but we wanted the fun we were having to come across. We were high as hell and made some funny shit, but the music is amazing and the way the story builds its like pshh. It recharged my whole brain and gave me a completely different creative spark. Now a few of my projects down the line are more conceptual, turning it into more conceptual shit. So there will be a lot more of these kinds of things from me coming forward.
GSC: Yea it was very like Wu Tang or something with their kung fu shit but like on another level.
BRAINORCHESTRA: Yea I wanted to give people a short and sweet listening experience that is very straightforward. Not a lot of stopping going on, it’s just eleven minutes that feel like a movie or something you know?
GSC: Yea I was gonna say it feels like a movie. And speaking of which, how did you get linked on the visual level because it takes the whole project up a notch.
BRAINORCHESTRA: Yea so, my boy Mario man. So my shorty did the cover and made the original wizard, and I sent that to my boy Mario.
GSC: Yea it’s gorgeous, it makes the whole thing pop. Like it has its own wizarding world it comes from, like he reminds me of Gandalf but from his own universe.
BRAINORCHESTRA: Yea, I mean I made this shit because I fuck with guys like Gandalf man, wizards are just boss.
GSC: Yea and the comic really takes things to a whole other level.BRAINORCHESTRA: I feel like this is one of my best projects not just because these are some of my best beats but because it was made without me caring. I was just doing something fun with my friends. My shorty is involved, Pootie is involved, I got Mario involved, and I got Fat Blood involved because he helped put the comic book together. We just like, it’s that tight knit. When you got the right people around that’s all you need.