It’s been three years since I last checked in with J. Brookinz to talk about his annual Beat Battle. That’s when I learned exactly what a beat battle is (“Think of [it] as a brother to the emcee battle in the competitive hip-hop world,” I wrote) and came to understand how important producers are to the rap game. The difference between the two types of battles is that producers compete with original tracks, instead of improvisational lyrics, and it’s set up in a single-elimination format with 16 competitors going head-to-head.
The J. Brookinz Beat Battle, now an iconic piece of the Naptown hip hop scene, began five years ago when DJ MetroGnome was approached by Broad Ripple Music Fest to plan something for the event that would represent hip hop. MetroGnome solicited the help of Heavy Gun’s J. Brookinz and Grey Granite, who booked a solid afternoon and evening of live, local hip hop sets as part of what would become the first annual J. Brookinz Beat Battle.
After a successful first year at [now defunct] Northside News at 54th and College, the event relocated to an outdoor DIY stage (literally- a wooden pallet and a pop-up tent) in the yard of Savvy Salon, located on Broad Ripple Avenue across from the high school. It was a notable move that brought the battle much closer to the BRMF hub of activity in the heart of the Broad Ripple village. The J. Brookinz Beat Battle graduated again in 2011 when they took their show into the village and set up shop in the dark, murky basement known as The Casba. Last year’s event was again held at The Casba, still an official event of BRMF.
In 2013, Heavy Gun has decided to relocate the battle to Victory MFG, a clothing company and boutique at 10th and Lynhurst on Indy’s west side. The move to a different quadrant of town is a natural progression in the trajectory of The J. Brookinz Beat Battle. For one, it’s no longer associated with The Broad Ripple Music Festival, who itself graduated to a bigger venue in 2013 and re-branded as WARMfest. Secondly, Victory has been a regular haunt for the Indy hip hop scene as of late and has a kind reputation for being very accommodating to large, diverse crowds. Moreover, the event will recapture the light-hearted energy of childrens’ presence not felt at the event since the relocation to The Casba two years ago; Victory and The Beat Battle are proudly all-ages.
Last Saturday I asked Brookinz and Granite over for mimosas at The Butterfly Bar & Lounge in my basement to get all the details on the beat battle’s new home base. Coincidentally, the pair were already in the Broad Ripple area, out to promote the battle by riding bicycles from The Village to Victory to prove wrong any naysayers who have issue with the relocation. The entire journey was documented on Twitter, Vine and Instagram via #VCTYorBUST and
When I asked what someone who has never been to Victory should expect, Brookinz and Granite couldn’t say enough kind things about the hospitality of the establishment.
“They’re awesome,” Brookinz explains. “It’s got this huge backyard. They have a tree house where the DJ plays. They have a stage. They have everything there. It’s this huge, crazy backyard.”
Granite adds, “You got a gas station over here, you got a strip mall with Little Caesars and Dollar Store, and behind all that, tucked away, is this store.”
Brookinz also says the fact that they’re putting on the battle independently of BRMF in 2013 won’t have any impact on the quality or attendance levels of the event.
When I comment on how packed the battle has been the past two years, he confesses, “I felt like we outgrew The Casba.”
“That’s fair. I mean, the line was out the door and down the street,” I reply.
“Yea, it was good,” Granite says. “It’s like, we speak on various different levels. And there’s a level that’s just for the people- and for the people, The Casba was awesome. But on the levels of making money and not being able to get those heads in the door because it’s so small… not working for us. We had to go someplace bigger.”
In a city full of active beat-makers, making the cut to be one of 16 producers invited to compete is no easy task. I ask Brookinz if the battle, despite all of its success and the awareness that it brings to local hip hop, ever creates feelings of ill will.
Brookinz later continues to comment on the subject of bad feelings after a beat battle champion has been declared.
“There are no bad feelings on my end,” he says. “That goes back to what I was saying before about there being levels. I don’t have time to worry about what’s going on with people that don’t have any clue about what I’m doing or any clue about what I have to deal with, any clue with how much work I have to put in. I just don’t have time for it. There’s no bad feelings on my part. I can only hope that when they get to where I’m at, they can see where I’m coming from. If you can’t see where somebody’s coming from then you’re not going to understand their struggle.”
At this point, I’m convinced he’s heard more than just a few rumors floating around and ask where all the fuel to this fire is coming from, to which he replies, “I’m a man that stays on the internet damn-near 24/7. I can’t help but to see everything. I see everything; I don’t speak on it, though. I understand how a man might feel if he’s never been on my show and he wants to be.”
Brookinz laughs and continues, “It aint’ about that. It’s just that I see all that shit, but I don’t necessarily comment because you can’t really put energy into that stuff because you can get caught in it. If you put your energy into that, that’s a battle that you could be fighting for a very long time. Ain’t got no time like that.”
Granite approaches the bar and lightly raps to us, “Don’t sin against the symmetry. No energy to enemy.”
Brookinz yells, “No energy to enemy! That’s a Grey Granite lyric. That’s game. But what you do have energy for is what you want to do. That’s when you get on a different level- when you realize, ‘Oh I got this mission I gotta go take care of,’ and the only thing important is the mission. That is when you move up a level.”
Brookinz takes a deep breath, reflects on everything that he’s just said, looks at my voice recorder and exclaims, “You’re gonna have so much game on this mother fucking tape! This conversation can’t be for free.
Granite chimes in, “Man, we should sell conversations.”
Before we conclude, Brookinz and Granite confirm that the formula for the beat battle on Saturday will be the same as it always has been.
“A 15-mintue explosion from each artist that you love,” Granite says endearingly.
Brookinz asks for my professional opinion, as someone who attends live shows regularly, if I can appreciate a lineup of 15-minute sets. I reply with an emphatic, “Oh, God yes,” and point out that short sets keep the energy high and the shortest of attention spans engaged. Brookinz says he’s glad that over time the performers have come to see it that way as well (he originally got a lot of complaints about short sets).
“Just 15 minutes homie. That’s all you need. It’ll be better for you and us and the crowd. Everybody will win.”
I add that the key is to keep everything running on schedule.
Brookinz agrees. “We’re dealing with something here; it’s an outdoor thing, so it’s gonna be done by 10. We’re gonna try to stretch it, but the final round has to happen before 10.”
“So when does it start?”
“6 o’clock,” he replies. “No CPT time. We’re going to be doing WPT, not CPT!”
Follow Heavy Gun Blog for spotlights on all of the producers competing in the beat battle
Oreo Jones’ new album, Betty, is for the erratic listener in all of us. In this collection of swift-moving tracks, milks’ favorite emcee runs through 12 songs in 30 minutes and welcomes guests to the microphone no fewer than four times. Just like a Jimmy John’s sandwich-maker, Oreo employs freaky-fast delivery and has something to offer everyone- no matter what they’ve got a hankering for.
On Betty, his first full-length album following two EP’s and a mixtape, Oreo turned to long-time friend and collaborator 90 Lbs to produce the beats that would create the album’s framework. Drenched in the same distinctive, futuristic synths as The Delicious EP, opening track “House Nigga” launches listeners into shock right out the gate. Rookies to the gospel of Oreo Jones should take note of his iconic articulation showcased in the lines of this song’s chorus; the flawless finesse that sets him apart from other emcees is showcased perfectly here. Just three tracks into the album, Oreo expands his skillset on the hazy, trudging song “Burnt Circles” to take credit for both vocals and production.
Producer and Heavy Gun Blog co-founder J. Brookinz leaves his soulful imprint on three Betty tracks: “Frankie”, “Needy” and “Randy Savage”- the latter bearing resemblance in production style to standout track “Rebel Music” from the southern rock-inspired Gat3way.
J-Hex (front woman for We Are Hex) haunts Oreo’s verses twice on Betty. Her bizarre vocals and eerie chants mix with Oreo’s windy rhymes and 90 Lbs’ rhythmic bleep-bloops to give “No Coast” an awesome, witchy vibe. Six tracks later, on “Option Control”, the emcee-and-crooner duo return- this time with playful vocals that seem to dance and intertwine around a radiant, levitating beat.
KO (former leading lady of Slothpop) shines brightly on “Rotate” and helps close the album on an elegant note of optimism. Written in honor of Oreo’s grandmother (the woman who the album is titled after and whose photo graces the cover), Betty’s final track veers slightly from Oreo’s traditional beat-driven, rapid style of groovy rap. Instead, his delicate lyrics are articulate and unhurried, assuring the listener takes heed to every word of his message.
And just like that, it’s over in the blink of an eye- switching up moods and tempos only half as often as the second hand rotating the clock. If you feel like you went all-in for a high-five with Betty and she left you hanging mid-air, don’t fret; when you purchase a physical or digital version of the album, you’ll be rewarded with 15 extra minutes of bonus material that I promise will leave you feeling more than satisfied (including the ever-popular Cordon Bleu and a special appearance from Andy D on “Play Place”).
Support local and put some dough in Oreo’s pocket by picking up a copy of the capricious Betty today; it’s a delectable smorgasbord of single-serving hip hop songs- sort of like one plate at the china buffet.