I’ve always admired Brad Real’s support of the local music scene and his strong, regular presence at many different events around town, as well as for his noticeable effort to dabble in genres outside hip hop. However, until recently, I had always struggled to extend that same appreciation to his music- often feeling bored with the beats, disturbed by the album art, and having a hard time believing that he backs his own work.
But on Letters to the Editor, Real’s recent follow-up to this 2010 debut Married to the Music, I was pleasantly surprised to hear how far he’s come in two years. Real has figured out what he values most in life and exuberates a new-found confidence that’s manifested in every track. “I feel like I’ve matured a lot,” Real says when asked what makes this album sound so different from his previous work. Indeed- his flow is natural, assertive, and even playful at times- a far cry from the lackadaisical, sleepy bars heard on his previous effort.
Letters to the Editor boasts an impressive cast of local producers that gives the album a well-rounded mix of feelings ranging from blithe and vivacious to solemn and candidly emotional. The diversity of the producers’ styles challenged Real to branch off into many different directions with his words and messages. He recalls, “They dictated a lot of it for me. They’re all extremely talented in really different ways so, they would send me tracks and it would kind of write itself- as far as the mood and tempo.”
An unpredictably bouncy and bright track from Ed Trauma titled “Yesterday” is a complete one-eighty from the Electric Kool Aid Experiment producer’s customary dirty dubstep.The happy, feel-good music lends itself to an optimistic appraisal of a romantic relationship by Real. Po Safe Beats’s production skills shine on “Don’t”- an irresistible, head-bouncing beat drenched in soul. Real sounds his best here, too, telling his story with conviction, honesty and an experimental flow. On “Redheaded Stepchild”, Feeray reminds us why he’s the two-time, back-to-back Heavy Gun Beat Battle champion with a song that’s exorbitant in energy, maxed out on groovability, and begs the listener to sing along with the chorus. Even future bass producer El Carnicero lends a hand on Letters to The Editor with two distinctly different tracks; the latter of which finds Real spitting at the speed of light and toying with facetious vocals.
In addition to working with an eclectic assortment of producers, Real happily invites guests onto his album. “Independent Rock Stars” leaves the traditional hip hop model of rapping over a beat and instead leans on The Holland Account to backup Real’s vocals. The catchy chorus, which instructs, “Go and get your Google on. Later, hit your Twitter up,” emphasizes the amount of work and dedication required to succeed as an independent artist. “Blind Side” features Finer’s Stacy Basner belting out the chorus with her strong, resonant voice over a Nick J beat that’s heavy on bass guitar. Letters to the Editor closes with a bang, framing a stately beat by WhoisLouis behind rapped contributions from alpha.live, TJ Reynolds, Eratic, WhoisLouis, and the legendary Rusty Redenbacher, who proclaims “Brad, my bad it took me so long to rap to this.”
At first listen, the skits on Letters to the Editor- which are really just audio clips from movies that Real grew up watching in the 90s- seem a bit out of place. He explains, “I was sitting around with my brother, my best friend in the whole world, and I said, ‘Man, this record has to be us. It has to be how we grew up and what we’ve been through together.’” He pauses and then adds, “What else is this for, if it’s not for memories?” Despite the longstanding history and relevance of skits on hip hop albums, Letters to the Editor’s effort to fit that mold feels forced and unnecessary. Though they are included in an effort to infuse the project with the memory of a formative time in Brad’s life making this album unapologetically Real, they distract from the real show which is the beats and lyricism.
Letters to the Editor proves that good hip hop albums don’t always have to come with a parental advisory label. Though you won’t see him patting himself on the back for writing clear messages with clean language, I get the sense that Real takes pride in his music’s versatility and strives to make it safe for ears of any age to listen. It’s a staple of his sound that goes beyond the simple omission of curse words; it’s Real’s focus on what’s important to him (love, family, and his personal upbringing) that dictates the wholesome sentiment weaved throughout Letters to the Editor.
IndyMojo.com is proud to present Brad Real at the Mojostock Music Festival 2012 on July 27th & 28th later this summer. Until then, check out Letters to the Editor below and swing by Real’s monthly hip hop showcase, Mashup Monthly, at Locals Only on June 9.