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Future Brown: inner city sound clash

The hip hop supergroup that have created a unique lens through which to see the world and feel its rhythms

Taken from the Spring 2015 issue of Dazed:

Springing from the same loose scene that spawned DIS Magazine and Hood By AirFuture Brown are a supergroup like no other. Comprising audiophile innovators Fatima Al Qadiri, Jamie Imanian-Friedman (aka J-Cush), and Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda of Nguzunguzu, the quartet not only embody a global-minded approach to genre – and the politics tangled up therein – but thrive on this creative conflict. More than four producers in their prime coming together, Future Brown is about creating a unique lens through which to see the world, and feel its rhythms.

Meeting the four-piece in Silver Lake, Los Angeles one afternoon, the band set about unravelling the mass of influences they’ve conjured on their debut self-titled album, out this month. In a flash, we’re plunged into a discussion of the social and cultural conditions surrounding their influences. It’s a bit like being at the coolest ethnomusicology conference ever. “Grime was created by a Caribbean diaspora largely in London, in the same way that rap was created by Caribbean diaspora largely in New York,” says Al Qadiri, smiling beneath her impeccable soft-serve hairdo. “With reggaeton and dancehall, it’s coming from the source. I just feel like this is the only time when you can collectively call these musical forms ‘urban’, because they were born in city environments. They were not ‘country’ music, you know? And I think that’s what you search for when you live in a city as a musician – this clash of civilisations. The music of the uprooted is very interesting. The music of kuduro from Lisbon, specifically, is different from the kuduro that’s coming out of Angola. I think there is a lot to be said for the music of displaced populations or people with identity crises, because people feel alienated by where they are, and they’re trying to recall the ‘motherland’, but what’s coming out is completely different.”

Check the video for Future Brown's album opener “Room 302 (ft Tink)” we commissioned as part of the the Converse x Dazed Emerging Artists Award above

Imanian-Friedman adjusts his cap, brow furrowed. “That’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s a reaction to their urban setting,” he says. “And the situations going on around them. Definitely with grime and rap – with something lyrical, the content was more influenced by people’s surroundings than where they were from.” “Yeah, for sure,” says Al Qadiri. “Especially if you’re first or second generation. There’s a multitude of stories; this is just one perspective. I just think the music of diaspora is interesting and very prevalent in this project.” Ideas of memory, nationalism and power have informed much of Al Qadiri’s work to date. She is part of an artist collective, GCC, which takes its name from an Arab economic alliance, and she explored the idea of an “imagined China” on her 2014 release Asiatisch. She’s known Maroof and Pineda for years. Working as Nguzunguzu, the LA-based pair drew praise for their white-hot production work on M.I.A.’s Vicki Leekx mixtape (2010), and subsequent releases on Fade to Mind, where they think nothing of welding baile funk and 90s South African kwaito house to a potent ghettotech beat. It squared neatly with the work that Imanian-Friedman was doing as founder of Lit City Trax, the NY-based label behind releases by late footwork legend DJ Rashad, DJ Spoko and grime artist Visionist.

While Future Brown’s members may live hundreds or even thousands of miles from each other depending on the day (Al Qadiri was raised in Kuwait, but is currently between apartments), they create a new kind of electricity when they come together. “All these genres on the record work because they come from the same cultural family,” says Maluca, a New York-raised singer of Dominican descent who features on their song “Vernáculo”. “We’re taking our shit back – the look and the music. This music is the future.” On the track, Maluca seductively sings in Spanish about language, and how if you don’t like what she’s saying, you can kiss her ass (the Spanish word for ass, culo, rhyming with vernáculo). “The hook is cheeky,” says Maluca. “‘Look at my ass, kiss my ass, and  get in my vernacular.’”

The song’s video, an artwork unto itself, was conceived by DIS Magazine and released at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) during Art Basel in December last year. The clip presents a faux-beauty ad that looks legit at first, but becomes subtly more ridiculous, to the point where one model grotesquely smears lipstick on her face and another slathers cream all over her backside. “(An editor at DIS) used to work for L’Oréal, so he knew intimately how to construct the video,” says Al Qadiri. “For instance, with beauty commercials, there’s this structural element called ‘reason to believe’, which is when they show you the bogus science.” At the PAMM launch, flyboarders in Future Brown shirts did jetpack-abetted flips over the city waterfront while Kelela, Maluca, Total Freedom and Ian Isiah performed.

The band’s long-time friend Kelela features with NYC singer Isiah on “Dangerzone”, the smoothest R&B moment on Future Brown. “I’m inspired by all of the sounds present on the record,” she says. “It takes a range of elements and artists and brings them into a single context, rather than ‘doing’ a different sound for each track and calling it an album. This is inspiring on so many levels, but mainly because it allows the group to make connections between genres of urban music that aren’t usually illuminated. It dismantles ideas of who we think is allowed to make grime, reggaeton, R&B, dancehall and so on.”

As such, their debut album is packed with unlikely credits that twist their productions in startling directions. From emerging stars like Kelela and Tink to established players such as Riko Dan of Roll Deep and onetime Ludacris protégé Shawnna, everyone wants to be part of Future Brown’s crew. On “Talkin Bandz”, Shawnna displays the same pottymouthed aggression she channelled on her 2006 solo hit “Gettin’ Some Head” – but in the radically different context of a dystopian grime beat. Meanwhile, hip hop’s hottest new voice Tink features on two tracks: the club banger “Wanna Party” and the trapped and tricked-out “Room 302”. Go to Dazed Digital this month to watch the video for the latter track, exclusively commissioned by the Converse x Dazed Emerging Artists Award, a prize which champions the most exciting new talent in the arts.

 “We’re taking our shit back – this music is the future” – Maluca

With this taste for the unexpected, it’s no surprise that Future Brown’s moniker came during a mushroom trip – in this case, taken by DIS founder Solomon Chase in upstate New York. The four members have worked with the NYC post-millennial media collective extensively over the years, and Al Qadiri hosted an eccentric dance radio show, Global .Wav, on the site from 2011 to 2013. Long story short, Chase was tripping; he envisioned a colour that didn’t exist on planet Earth, called it ‘future brown’, told Al Qadiri about it, and it just kind of stuck. But the group doesn’t like to dwell on the name any more than Pearl Jam wants to answer questions about cum, especially because people pathologically try to read some hidden racial innuendo into it. “One interviewer was like, ‘Are you sure it’s not about race? Because I’m convinced it’s about race,’” says Imanian-Friedman. “And then he tried to explain to us why it’s about race.”

Even so, the idea of dreaming up new shades feels apt in light of Future Brown’s approach to music, which gives a platform to global sounds and genres rather than blindly appropriating them. “I want to be really honest about what I like and what aesthetic choices I make,” says Pineda. “I feel like the question of (musical) freedom – ‘Oh, why are you free to do that?’ – is a matter of taste. How does it sound? Does it sound good? I feel like you should have freedom to make the music you like.” As for their next album, the group have already laid down four instrumentals, and Maroof is dreaming of a feature with ATL rap upstarts Migos. Almost certainly, it’ll include a patchwork of vocalists that might seem unrelated, but end up sounding like they’re cut from the same musical cloth. Therein lies the trick: Future Brown’s divine missives feel alien, magical and intangible, but at the same time worldly in a way that feels inclusive. In short? Kiss their ass, or get in their vernacular.

Future Brown is out now

Fatima Al Qadiri wears all clothes her own; Asma Maroof wears top by Diesel, jewellery Asma’s own, Jamie Imanian-Friedman wears all clothes his own; Daniel Pineda wears jacket by Stone Island

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