Welcome To The Bruiser Brigade House

Welcome To The Bruiser Brigade House

Posted up at their Detroit compound, Danny Brown's crew has spent the pandemic crafting one great record after the next

Many rappers brag about how much time they spend recording. Bruiser Brigade? “We literally live at the studio,” quipped Bruiser Wolf over Zoom from the kitchen counter of the multi-story Detroit home that serves as headquarters and barracks for the budding Bruiser Brigade Records.

Such a zealous approach begins to explain the Detroit crew’s 2021 hot streak and rigorous release pace, which consisted of six solo projects and one group compilation album, Tv62. Each 2021 Bruiser Brigade release was masterminded within the walls of the Bruiser home studio. Bruiser Wolf’s March 2021 release Dope Game Stupid garnered particular critical acclaim for the rapper’s aspirated, vivace flow.

The brainchild of Danny Brown, Bruiser Brigade has existed in some form or another for over a decade, first appearing as the title of the seventh track on Brown’s 2011 album XXX. The Brigade spent the 2010s as a loosely-defined rap crew with rotating membership before being converted into a formal label at the beginning of 2021. Today, the group lists a roster of six rappers: Danny Brown; ZelooperZ and Fat Ray, both holdovers from the early Bruiser days; J.U.S, who served as Brown’s engineer on 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition; and relative newcomers Bruiser Wolf and Quentin Ahmad DaGod. In-house producer Raphy keeps beats flowing with help from frequent collaborators Black Noi$e and Skywlkr.

Having taken their name from the 1997 video game Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, Bruiser Brigade is perhaps unsurprisingly built like a superhero team. As with any great super squad i.e. the X-Men or the Avengers, Bruiser Brigade’s powers complement one another without overlapping or becoming redundant.

Raphy’s vintage, loop-based production unites a crew defined by its stylistic diversity. The ever-presence of a sample loop and drums on Raphy’s ’90s-reminiscent beats is the musical backbone that maintains a cohesive sound for Bruiser Brigade while still leaving room for some genre experimentation. Not only does the Bruiser Brigade share a house, they also live under the same roof sonically speaking.

Bruiser Wolf and ZelooperZ take after early Danny Brown, highlighting unique vocal textures and delivery. Both are instantly recognizable: Bruiser Wolf’s blunt, brisk, wordy raps stood out instantly on Dope Game Stupid, while ZelooperZ’s toolkit of high-pitched wailing and Auto-Tune was on full display throughout last July’s Van Gogh’s Left Ear. The only member to drop two albums in 2021, J.U.S is the technician of the group, constantly applying lessons learned from his work as a pro studio engineer to his relatively nascent rap career. The exacting nature of his approach has earned him a degree of creative freedom; his GOD GOKU JAY-Z, released just over a year ago, was the only 2021 Bruiser Brigade project to not be executive produced by Brown.

The remaining Bruiser rappers, Fat Ray and Quentin Ahmad DaGod, approach their craft from a more traditional MC perspective. On his February 2021 release Santa Barbara, Fat Ray pays tribute to his mentors J Dilla and Proof, skillfully spitting straightforward bars over hard-hitting, in-the-pocket work from Raphy. Quentin Ahmad DaGod is similarly focused on delivering high-quality raps. DaGod’s September 2021 project N.O.A.H. is an introduction to the rapper’s jazz-influenced beat selection and uncanny ability to slide over Raphy beats.

Equipped with a decade-plus of industry experience, Brown has given his Detroit crew a blueprint for success. The rapper served as an executive producer for the solo Bruiser projects throughout 2021. Brown’s longtime collaborator, the legendary LA producer the Alchemist, gave the Bruiser Brigade a co-sign in the form of a posse track appearance on his October 2021 EP This Thing Of Ours 2. The producer also crafted the beat for the November 2021 J.U.S single “Bruisers At The Door,” which boasts a music video shot at Disneyland.

Guided by Brown’s spiritual leadership, Bruiser Brigade is on a mission to match the trajectory of one of its greatest inspirations, the Wu-Tang Clan. The Detroit rappers have taken to referring to themselves as “Bru-Tang,” a nickname coined by Fat Ray. The comparison arose from Raphy’s RZA-like ability to tailor his production to each Bruiser’s rapping style. Like Wu-Tang, Bru-Tang is both a collective of solo artists and a family.

The Bruiser Brigade house is a living extension of this analogy. Every member of the group lives on the premises except for ZelooperZ and founding member Danny Brown. We sat down with the four rappers that live at Bruiser HQ — Bruiser Wolf, Fat Ray, J.U.S, and Quentin Ahmad DaGod — to discuss the inner workings of the Bruiser Brigade and their fruitful inaugural year as an independent label.

We can start with Tv62 because you guys are all on that. I read somewhere that this was a loosie mixtape. How many songs did you have to choose from and how did you go about narrowing it down?

J.U.S: I feel like all of us got a good work ethic as far as recording, so really it’s like we’re in a constant state of recording. So some of the stuff fits the vibe of the project, and there’s some stuff that could be a great song, but it just doesn’t go well with the other songs that it’s playing off. When we picked Tv62 everybody had a nice amount of songs that could’ve went for whatever.

How many extra songs do you guys usually end up with when you’re working on albums?

J.U.S: Danny likes to tell us to start at like 30. Regardless if your project gonna be 10 songs, 15 songs, we try to get to like 30 on a flash drive. With 30 on there’s a lot and we won’t be so nit-picky when it comes to narrowing down what fits for your album.

FAT RAY: Like J said, anywhere between 30 and 50 records.

That is a lot of beats to pick from. Last time we talked, Ray, you told me you gravitate towards beats that sound like “Bruce Lee’s Game Of Death meets The Godfather.” For the rest of you guys, how would you describe your beat-picking process?

BRUISER WOLF: It’s gotta be like funk and trap. It just got to really stick out to me, obviously, and make me move.

FAT RAY: Wolf leaning back more to his street shit though. He going back in on the concrete side of it, he just wants the hard and aggressive shit now. So he gonna turn the character on, you know what I mean? So he’s gonna make it sound beautiful, but he want that hard aggressive shit. Basically, you know, a universal song but just hard and aggressive street shit.

J.U.S: I just try to pick a track that I can sound good on. I’m looking at it from more of an engineer perspective, like I know what harmonic and key my voice hit at. So when I listen to beats, it could be the sweetest beat in the world, but if I can’t hear my actual tone of voice on there, then I don’t need to be listening. So usually, like if my voice fits with that beat in our head.

FAT RAY: That’s the thing about J though, because he’ll rap to the beats that I don’t particularly like and make me like them. I don’t be hearing it on everything. It takes a lot for the beat to compel me to want to rap.

Speaking of J, you were the first to drop in January 2021 with GOD GOKU JAY-Z. You dropped GoFundMe Corvette in December. You’re the only group member to release twice last year. Why was that the case?

J.U.S: “I’m in a training state, amazing pace.” I haven’t been rapping that long, like coming out of my little engineer, producer, advising role. So it was like, when I caught the hip-hop Holy Ghost, I just started recording at a real high clip because I can record myself. I’ll pop up and just make songs on myself, pick beats, make ideas and shit. So I always got a lot of materials. When we had the idea for the label Bandcamp page, I had the project basically ready, so that was just the reason I came first because it was ready. And then as far as my second project, that was just something that everybody was interested in. Because my first project was short, so they was like “Yo, everybody else had like 15 tracks, 16 track projects, you got the songs.” That was more reason just to do it. I had the clip ready and I’ve been working on GoFundMe Corvette basically all of 2021. It was already in the making. It was time to drop it.

I was super interested by what you said about how you pick beats. Do you feel like there are other things as a rapper that are informed by your background as an engineer?

J.U.S: I definitely got an advantage, man, because you know, not only was I an engineer for us but I had a studio in an office building, a popular office building in Michigan where a lot of studios were. I recorded people and over the years I just saw people struggle in the booth. Rappers will pay me by the hour to come in and then they got this song and then they rap it to me and I’m like, “That’s cool,” and then as they rapping on it and hearing it back, you could see the twinkle go out their eye like, “Why it doesn’t sound like in my head knows, what’s going wrong?” And they can’t figure it out. But me, I figured it out. Like, “Yo, you just a bad harmonic for the beat.” I can EQ the shit out of it, cut all the bass out of your voice. I’m gonna have to do shit to make it listenable. I feel like the best songs man. You don’t even really got to do a lot of tricks and shit. You don’t gotta mix. It just sounds good damn near naturally. So, you know, that’s one thing about that. I watched a lot of people struggle with trying to rap on beats that didn’t fit their voice or rap style.

Danny was an executive producer on all of last year’s Bruiser Brigade projects except GOD GOKU JAY-Z. Why was that the case?

J.U.S: I record a lot on my own. I write on my own, it ain’t like a group thing. So when I come and share my shit it’s just like already done. He executive produced GoFundMe Corvette though because at that point I had a lot of songs and I needed him to kind of arrange it and tell me what video to pick. I did rely on his help for GoFundMe Corvette, but yeah, he didn’t executive produce GOD GOKU JAY-Z just because I came up with it on my own. The album was already done on my own. I played it to him basically like in its entirety he was just like, “Yo it’s fire.”

FAT RAY: Danny didn’t expect GOD GOKU JAY-Z. That was like a real Kamaya-maya.

J.U.S: I wanted to be in the group, man. To be right here with Quentin Ahmad DaGod man. He a bad thing, these some bad boys.

Your “Bruisers In The Door” video with Alchemist at Disneyland was one of my favorite videos of last year. Could you tell me the story behind that?

J.U.S: So I’m in the studio with Al. He was like, “You need a video for that shit, man. You needa go do a video.” So when I left there I was like, “Yo, I need to shoot a video.” So me and Black Noi$e and Earl, we went out drinking and shit. There was this guy who with us, a director, and he didn’t say nothing all night, and I’m just getting drunker and drunker as the night goes by. “Video, video video video.” That was all I was saying the whole night because I asked everybody I knew because I was in LA wanted to shoot it in LA. Finally man, at like four in the morning, the dude I’ve been drinking with all night tapped me on the shoulder like, “Yo, I can do videos man. I’m gonna do this video for you.” He texts me the next day with the idea for the video, and I was still hungover [as] shit. I’m like, “Man, this dude got to be tripping.” Like, that’s crazy, maybe he tried to pull a prank on me and shit. Like it’s talking crazy. But then he sent the car for me, I went over to his house he had a Maserati in a crib off the lake and he was serious. He drove me up to Disneyland and we shot that shit man.

How did it feel for you guys to appear on Alchemist’s EP and work with him?

BRUISER WOLF: It was a dream come true. I remember freestyling to Alchemist beats before I first started rapping. Like I’m coming upstairs and I hear my bros going over this Alchemist beat, “You go the verse. You got the last verse.” I realize what it did as far as our group, you know, we get a lot of love from that song, so [it] did a lot for my career.

FAT RAY: I ain’t gone cap man. “We Gone Make It” by The Lox is one of the hardest beats to ever come out of beat machine, hands down. Al did it man. You can’t duplicate it, can’t imitate it. He got so many levels, the fact that he’s been able to match so many underground artists and mainstream artists at the same time and been able to match they feng shui is incredible. You only get those type of producers once in a lifetime. You know, Dilla was one. Al is one for sure.

So after J.U.S, Ray was the next to drop with Santa Barbara. On the project you have the song “Menacing” with the Wu-Tang-type Kung Fu sample. If Raphy is the Baby RZA, then who is everyone else in Bruiser?

FAT RAY: We all share different qualities. I feel I’m the Wallabee Champ. Wolf is like Raekwon, but not for real. He’s like a mixture between Raekwon and GZA. J.U.S is the Method Man. Brown is definitely our ODB.

Bruiser Brigade is kind of a transition in sound for you. I really like your 2014 song “Molly Whop” with Danny. Could you speak on your transition from harder party type beats like on “Molly Whop” to the more sample, loop-based stuff you’re rapping over these days?

FAT RAY: I will have to give the credit to BMO for that transition. Because I was going through a period of time where I wanted to make the music more aggressive. And I was pushing towards a harder sound, you know, more pain based sound. And BMO just pulled me to the side and was like, “Man, you represent so many things like you can’t, it’s too much stuff you can’t leave unsaid before you proceed down that lane. You gotta give this one to Detroit, you got to give this one to the people that you represent.” And I started, I thought about it, I’m like, “Yeah, you right, I owe this project to Dilla, I owe it to Proof, I owe it to J.U.S. I owe it to a lot of my longstanding friends who’ve been waiting on a solid project that represented us all in some kind of way. So, that was my thing, transitioning the sound away from being so aggressive.

I feel like Dope Game Stupid really gets at what you’re talking about, like defining one’s own lane. The album got picked up by many of the major blogs because of how unique it sounds. Bruiser Wolf, what was your response to the massive critical acclaim that the project received?

BRUISER WOLF: It’s so surreal. I watched my bros. I watched J.U.S drop, put the whole squad on our back. And I was like, “Damn, I gotta come up next.” To me, I was watching all the love he was getting. I wasn’t wondering [if it was going to work]. So really, it was all about faith, didn’t think about nothing. It still surprises me today, I watched Ray go crazy. Everybody loves it. All the big rappers, everybody who’s somebody, I watched him put that work in. The whole time, I’m feeling like baby bro.

J.U.S: You went crazy man. You’re the coldest rapper in the country.

BRUISER WOLF: I got this, you know what I mean. Everybody shows love. We’re all like this. It’s really a family. When we get love we all feel it. Every album that we’re on, I’m going to try and give it my all and look at every album like it’s mine. Watching them put all that work in and watching it come to light, I made choices to really focus on it. I was putting my heart into it. I cried making that record.

J.U.S: Arguably one of the best albums of last year.

Beyond quality of beats and bars, I feel like what set your project apart was your flow, like on “I’m A Instrument.” Could speak on how you developed your flow and what you mean by that metaphor?

BRUISER WOLF: When we was doing this it was all new to me because, like Ray said, we wasn’t feeling that different changeup or formula of beat. Thank God for Raphy. I had to be animated. I had to bring out the most sensitive beats, that’s how I felt coming from my more aggressive shit. With the instrument analogy, Brown was always talking like, “Your voice an instrument bro.” I heard the beat. Raphy was sitting making beats and that beat was supposed to be for Brown. He wasn’t fucking with it. And I’m like, “Who the fuck beat is that? Let me get that one for the record.” Raphy was like, “It’s yours.” I did it on Christmas Eve. I sent it to Brown on Christmas and he had his verse by New Years. It’s like all the music we did for that was straight from the universe, straight from the gut.

When Danny came out he was also noted for being super unique. What is it like to be in the studio with him, given that you’ve come at rap from a sort of similar angle, would you say?

BRUISER WOLF: Going in there with him, he’s a hell of a leader.

FAT RAY: These motherfuckers was laughing through the whole process like I didn’t know when the laughing was gonna stop because that’s all we did. We laughed and pressed pause on the recording. But like, everything got recorded like all the backtalk, all the behind-the-scenes shit, everything got recorded and utilized.

BRUISER WOLF: Danny laid the blueprint, and we just had no choice but to follow. We was in one hell of a zone. Because of the pandemic, he was able to be here because he wasn’t traveling as much. We were all of us together. So we miss that. It was like partying and working at the same time. We had fun. It’s so much to talk about, a book about the process of that.

I was curious about how the pandemic influenced everything. How much of a factor did being inside play in you guys forming as an official group and record label?

BRUISER WOLF: It really pushed the pin for it. It made everyone feel like a family. We ate together and the camaraderie just was there. We made the best out of that. We recorded some damn good music.

FAT RAY: It lit the fire under everybody, because we didn’t know what was gonna happen with the world, but we knew what we wanted to happen with us. We wanted each other to know. So we just focused on that, you know, and the camaraderie. We used that to block anything else out that was really going on outside or outside of the door of the Bruiser house. We use the house as our safe haven, in order to really get away from all the pandemic shit.

[At this point in the Zoom, as if to remind us that the Bruiser House is indeed Bruiser HQ, Quentin Ahmad DaGod walked into frame. The rapper dropped his Bruiser debut N.O.A.H in September 2021.]

Quentin, I was reading you that you grew up in New York. Could you tell me how you linked up with Bruiser?

QUENTIN AHMAD DAGOD: My mom’s from Michigan, my dad’s from New York, so I’m half and half. I got with Bruiser because I been on J.U.S for a very long time. He been always helping me on my solo career. It was his album and he said he wanted to make sure I was on there, so I came to the house for the first time and worked on that. And then relationship just formed and shit, we’ve been family ever since as far as everybody else around, but I’ve been on J.U.S for years, probably before I had sideburns connected.

In another interview you guys did, Danny was talking about how he sees your style as jazz-influenced? How does that comparison factor into your creative process?

QUENTIN AHMAD DAGOD: It is like tap-dancing, jazz, you know, sort of — like that type of feel. I really was just pouring my heart out on whatever Raphy was providing me. As far as the beat selection, me and Raphy really went back and forth for this or this or this. And we just experimented and just had a good time. So it came out real well.

And N.O.A.H went #1 on Bandcamp for a little bit. How was it to see that response?

QUENTIN AHMAD DAGOD: Oh, it was beautiful. A lot of people reached out to me said they love the album. I love that album. And it was just good to see the response. And everybody fucking with it. It was a beautiful feeling. Honestly, it’s just a beautiful feeling all the way around. And then everybody included on there. Everybody put their heart on it with me. And seeing the process of me making it you know.

Can you explain the album title?

QUENTIN AHMAD DAGOD: Well, the idea for the album. The title is is a line out of the Django, when they’re in a small town, he’s walking in with the horse, he’s on the horse, and they start making conversations like, “You see that n**** on a horse?” So N.O.A.H, “n**** on a horse.” That’s what that means basically. And that was just the expression of who was this person with this collection? What are they here to do? I think I came to do what I’m supposed to do

On the song “Waves” off GoFundMe Corvette, there’s that outro where it spells out Bruiser Brigade as having six members. But you have guys like BMO and Black Noi$e that are frequent collaborators and around you all a lot. How many Bruisers are there really?

FAT RAY: If we had to compare, the Bruiser Brigade is like Ruff Ryders. You know who the Ruff Ryders is, but you don’t know who all the Ruff Ryders are. Like they have motorcycle gangs and this is Ruff Ryders, and that is Ruff Ryders. They’re in every city. That’s how the Bruisers are, more like the Ruff Ryders. Every city has somebody who’s a Bruiser, everywhere in the world.

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