Portland, OR, isn’t known for its Hip-Hop scene, but Hip Hop Is Music label owner and emcee Braille has still found a way to carve out a niche for himself in the state most known for its trail. His clean lyrics make him accessible to everyone, he’s toured everywhere, and the fact that he really isn’t all that interested in the fame aspect of things makes him downright likable. “It’s deeper than just trying to be ‘top ten’ of all time or ‘top ten’ on the charts,” he explains, “I’m happy playing my role and I think the music world needs a balance and contrast to what’s being pushed on the radio. If I can fill that need a little bit I’m cool with playing the background and sharing my heart whenever the opportunity comes.” This week the opportunity came and Braille shared his heart with RapReviews.
Adam Bernard: You are set to release your fourth album, The IV Edition, on April 15th. Knowing you there has to be more than one meaning for you album title. Break it down for me.
Braille: The full meaning of the album title is broken down inside the insert booklet of the album, so I’m just going to give a brief synopsis. This is my forth record and the IV does represent the Roman numeral four in honor of that. However, the title is actually pronounced “The IV (eye-vee) Edition,” not “The Fourth Edition,” so the IV represents the forth record, but it also has four meanings attached to it that represent the vision behind the music. IV is defined in medical terms as a device used for delivering solutions and medicines in the veins. This is used as a metaphor relating to social illnesses. There are a lot of “ill” people in our community, culture and world. Sometimes we need to step back and consider what role we can play in bringing healing for these social illnesses. It’s not really about me saying the music is the IV, but opening discussion through the music to discuss these issues. The album acknowledges physical and spiritual needs broken down as “water for the thirsty, food for the hungry and mercy for the sinner.” I’m digging into the depths of myself, and also the depths of the world around me, searching for redemption and healing. IV also acts as an acronym for International Vision because the traveling I’ve done over the last few years has really influenced me as an artist and as a person.
“I recorded the whole thing in my own personal home studio without any outside influence from the music industry.”
AB: Musically what can listeners expect from it?
Braille: This is a really honest record. I recorded the whole thing in my own personal home studio without any outside influence from the music industry. I didn’t even share songs with my distribution companies until the record was practically complete. I wanted to step out of my own comfort zone and challenge myself artistically, and for this album I worked with a different producer for each song. Every song has its own story and I spent nearly two years writing all the lyrics and collecting the beats. The foundation of my style is raw beats with passionate lyricism, but I also leave room for my life and my relationship with God to inspire and steer the record in new directions.
AB: I’m glad you mentioned God because at times you get the label of being a “Christian Rapper.” Do you feel this label is fair?
Braille: Trying to escape labels would be a waste of time for me. I’m a Christian, so I’m not ashamed of my beliefs at all. People can call me Christian, Underground, Backpacker, White, Nerdy, Corny, or whatever else makes them feel comfortable. I’m a musician making Hip-Hop music and I’d rather just let the music speak for its self. I grew up on the Hip-Hop of the early 90’s and the artists I really respected were the guys who stayed true to themselves. I’m not the type of guy to water down who I am in order to get more popular. I feel blessed to have made it this far and I’m not going to let any labels stop me from continuing to push forward. Hopefully people will take time to listen to my records before forming an opinion about what I do.
“Stepping into this new record I didn’t want to let my previous limitations interfere with the end result.”
AB: How have you seen yourself grow artistically from your previous album, Box of Rhymes, to this one?
Braille: I had so many more resources for this new record than I had for Box of Rhymes. I recorded The IV Edition in my own home studio, but with Box I had to drive an hour away and book late night sessions. I was physically exhausted, recording at three in the morning after working on music business all day from home. I was trying to make a sample free record without the proper budget to accomplish it. My record label was just starting to take off, so I was investing most of my time and money into that. I was touring with James Brown and I felt like everyone around me was looking for me to take my sound to the “next level.” The pressure plus the physical exhaustion put me in a place where I felt limited while I was creating. I still think the lyrics on that record are really good and meaningful, but the songs as a whole didn’t feel finished once the record was done. Stepping into this new record I didn’t want to let my previous limitations interfere with the end result. The home studio allowed me to take my time and record songs at my own pace. I didn’t feel rushed; I could take a break in the middle of a song and go eat dinner with my family. I didn’t have any deadlines or time restrictions hanging over my head. I’m my own worst critic, so I was still really hard on myself, but I was able to fit the record into the schedule of my life, rather then fitting my life into the schedule of the record. Ten years ago I probably would have never imagined my music sounding this good. I still feel like I need to improve in a lot of areas, but I know I’m giving 110% based on my resources and abilities.
AB: You’ve done some major touring recently and will continue to be on tour through mid-July. I hear you sold your house to take your wife and daughter with you on this extended trip. How many of your loved ones questioned your sanity when you told them you were going to do this and how has the plan worked out so far?
Braille: I’ve been married for six years, so my wife and I hitting the road together is nothing new. During the second year of our marriage we put all of our belongings in storage and lived on the road together for two years off and on. This is just the next stage for us. I’m confident that music is what I’m supposed to be doing right now in my life and my wife agrees. Family comes first, so if I ever reach a point where I can’t take care of my family and music is getting in the way, then I’m turning my back on music. I got a new record about to drop, so it’s wise for me to be on the road. However, I’m not the type of guy to be away from my wife and daughter for months at a time. We do things as a team and right now we are young and we want to experience these times together. I haven’t worked a job since 1999, so that’s almost ten years doing nothing but music. I started out sleeping on people’s floors and eating trail mix for dinner. Then, by the time my daughter was born, I was able to buy a house and provide that for my family. We built from the ground up, so we aren’t afraid to do it all over again. We value our relationship with each other more then we value materials and my extended family sees that and supports us in our decisions.
AB: So there have been no major catastrophes, either car or baby related?
Braille: Before we started touring with my daughter we actually had a lot of complications during her birth. It was a 36-hour labor and when it was done instead of taking our baby home she had to go down to intensive care. We lived in the hospital for a week, which really isn’t that long, but it feels like forever when you are visiting your newborn with tubes and wires connected to her body every day. We’ve had specialists visiting our house for the last year and now our daughter’s development is right on track. We couldn’t even get health insurance because her health record showed that she had possible brain damage. We just recently got her re-evaluated and both doctors said that her motor skills and everything are completely normal. So in February of ‘08 we all toured together as a family for the first time. It was an incredible experience and we’ve all fought so hard to get to this point, that’s why we are sticking together no matter what. We haven’t had any major catastrophes on the road yet and we appreciate everyone who keeps us in their prayers. Tomorrow’s not promised for any of us, so we just take it one day at a time and enjoy it.
AB: What have you learned about yourself and your family through this experience?
Braille: I’m constantly learning new things and being reminded of things that I already learned a long time ago. Last year my father passed away and it was completely unexpected for me. Two months prior to his passing I remember he called me because his car broke down. I was really busy at my house, but my wife and I dropped everything to go help him out. We towed his car, took him out to lunch and let him borrow our second vehicle, which he drove until he passed. One week before he passed he was actually about to start a new job as a cook at an independent bakery where they were giving him the freedom in the kitchen to create his own lunch menu. That whole experience was a reminder that I need to keep God and family first no matter what. I’m a hard working man, but if my family needs me I need to drop my work immediately and be there for them.
“Between 2001 and 2005 I always looked scruffy and had fluffy hair. There was never really a method to my style.”
AB: Was this life changing moment inspiration for the changing of your look?
Braille: I’ve never really had a “look” to be honest. I’m a t-shirt and jeans type of guy. If anything my look got changed for Box of Rhymes. All those pictures of me with short hair, that wasn’t my idea and I didn’t really feel comfortable. Diesel clothing (55 DSL) hooked me up with some free gear and I still wear the clothes because they are fresh, but the haircut literally happened 20 minutes before the photo shoot. Between 2001 and 2005 I always looked scruffy and had fluffy hair. There was never really a method to my style. I was a kid living on the road and most of the clothes I’ve ever worn have been given to me for free. I started growing out my hair late in ‘06 and I haven’t cut it since. I’m now fortunate to be sponsored by Jedidiah (www.jedidiahusa.com) and 3Sixteen (www.3sixteen.com). Both of those companies have been very generous and helped keep my wardrobe fresh. Otherwise I’d probably still be rocking my old Ecko gear from high school from back when the shirts came with free mixtapes.
AB: In addition to being an MC you also run a record label, Hip Hop Is Music. Who are some of the other artists you’re working with and how has the label grown over the years?
Braille: I’ve always been independent minded and approached music with a “do it yourself” type of attitude. I’ve been putting out my own tapes and CDs for a long time, so the label just felt like a natural progression. The artist roster includes Sivion (Texas), Surreal (Florida/Cali), Theory Hazit (Ohio/Oregon), Othello (Michigan/Washington), Poems (Los Angles), Big Rec (Oklahoma/Atlanta) and a handful of other producers and artists who we’ve worked closely with. During a lot of my tours, I would meet like-minded artists who were crazy talented and deserved more exposure. I’m not in a position yet to necessarily “blow up” any of my artists, but I’m willing to make all the resources that I have available to them. The first goal is to just help them make the best records possible. Once we accomplish that the music will eventually create its own buzz. For example, Surreal put out a record called Future Classic on Hip Hop Is Music. It came out in ‘06 but he’s still getting good royalty checks to help him out while he’s in college. I give my artists a really good percentage and I just love seeing my friends get a chance to share what they do.
AB: A lot of people feel this is the toughest time ever to look to be in the music industry, so what gives you hope when it comes to being an artist and label owner?
Braille: The current status of the industry doesn’t scare me at all. It just means I need to play my cards right. A lot of record labels and artists already made their big money. They spent it on stuff. They lived lavish and now it’s gone, so the industry is crying about it, but I never got into music to try and buy out the bar. I didn’t get into music so that I could floss with my cars or whatever. I did music without getting paid for most of my life. Free songs, free shows, that’s no biggie for me. Small crowd, big crowd, I’m ready to rock. This is something that I love doing, so I’ll be doing it to some capacity for the rest of my life. Right now, I’m in a situation where I am able to make a living off of music, so I’m just doing my best to maintain that faithfully. All the money I make, I’m using that for my family. I’m trying to make wise investments, and even if what I make is only equivalent to a minimum wage job I’m going to do my best to be a good steward over it. Right now I’m just a middle class guy, and if that never changes then I’m okay with it. Happiness for me isn’t about how much money I make. I’m satisfied in my relationship with God, my relationship with my family and friends, and I’m satisfied to be doing something that I love for a career. I’ve been encouraged to hear from others that my music has made an impact on their lives. It’s the people and the fans that keep me passionate about this.