With much excitement, I’m pleased to highlight Brain Rapp, an aspiring Hip-Hop artist from Columbia, MD. He has been pushing towards his dreams by not allowing anything or anyone to stop him from conquering his goals. He has also been able to graduate with a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science and Policy from the University of Maryland. Which means he has a high appreciation for the environment and everything that ties this crazy world together. That’s literally the closes you can get to being Captain Planet in real-life.
I managed to gain an opportunity to sit down with Rapp and hear his thoughts on overcoming the fear of failure, falling in love with Hip-Hop, and developing himself as a new artist. I’m hoping that this feature will inspire you or anyone else that has ever doubted themselves and/or have been putting off their dreams for the daily grind.
How did you gain an interest to pursue creating Hip-Hop music?
I initially got started creating music as a form of therapy and as an outlet to escape some of the hardships I faced early on in life. It’s hard to really even call it music at that stage, I just loved writing to beats. Writing allowed me the opportunity to channel my energy and turn negative situations into positive ones. If I felt some type of way I could write and if I came up with some clever way of talking about whatever my problem was, it made me feel good. At that time I didn’t see music as a means to an end so I never really went out of my way to make lyrics that appealed to the masses. My writing was (and still is) purely an expression of my emotions.
When did you decide to get serious about creating music?
I didn’t decide to pursue music seriously until my final years of college. I looked at the direction my life was heading and realized that this was something I had to do. Hip-Hop isn’t something you can just pick up during your midlife crisis and expect any level of success, it’s time sensitive. It was a now or never situation.
What took you so long to decide to pursue music as a career?
What held me back from being serious about music earlier in my life was fear. I was afraid that nobody wanted to hear what a white, middle-class kid from the suburbs had to say. I felt as though my story wasn’t important, that my voice in Hip-Hop didn’t have a place. I was afraid that putting all my time and effort into that endeavor would never get me where I wanted to go.
As a child and a teenager, I was held back by fear. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I learned to use a different kind of fear—the fear of regret—as a fuel. I figured that trying and failing was not as bad as never having the opportunity to try at all. I envisioned myself at forty years old wishing that I at least gave music a shot when I was twenty. If I continued to fear failure then I would never try and if I never tried I would always fail. By not pursuing my dreams I was living in failure.
When putting together music do you anticipate which crowd will enjoy it most?
As I get deeper into the business side of music I do increasingly consider what will resonate with a particular crowd. That being said, it’s not the main driver behind my creative process. The balance I always try to strike is saying what I want to what I think people want to hear. It’s a give and take relationship that always requires compromise. It’s scary sometimes trying new songs out for different crowds. I’m always surprised by what people like and don’t like, I can never predict it. There’s songs that I’m sure people will like and then they’re just kind of “ehh” about it.
What are some of the things that influenced your music?
My parents divorced at an early age. As you could imagine this was a very traumatic experience for everyone involved. Trying to wrap my head around something so complex and intricate at six years old really shaped who I am which would later influence my music. To make sense of the situation I had to think a lot, I had to understand what was going on. The thoughtfulness, the caring and concern for others, and the ability to look at one thing from multiple angles are all things I learned just trying to make sense of my life. Because my music draws from my life experience it necessarily reflects my character traits, most notably my thoughtful nature.
What made you fall in love with Hip-Hop?
The first hip-hop song I ever fell in love with was Rosa Parks by Outkast. At that age I really wanted to be a cartoonist and so many elements of that video had a cartoony feel to me. The bright lights, flashy clothes, upbeat instrumental, and rapid-fire lyrics drew me in. What amazed me was Andre and Big Boi’s ability to rap so fast. At that time I’m not sure I even knew what rapping was, I just knew whatever they were doing was awesome and I wanted to hear more of it.
How did going to college help push you along as an artist?
While attending the University of Maryland College Park, I was a member of a Hip-Hop student organized called The Undergrounduates. Our group would meet outside of Jimenez Hall (It just so happens that Juan Ramon Jimenez was a renown Spanish poet and a prolific writer who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956 “for his lyrical poetry, which in the Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistical purity”—now tell me that’s not coincidental) with a boombox and have freestyle cyphers for a few hours each week. This was probably the most quintessentially Hip-Hop thing I’ve ever done. People from all different backgrounds would just walk up to cyphers and hop in. Even Logic, who did some of his first shows at UMD, would pop up from time to time. We were truly connected through the music.
What this did for me as an artist was rid me of stage fright. Prior to joining the group I was nearly petrified to rap in front of other people. Once I attended a few meetings I began to get over that fear. Free-styling in front of complete strangers on the campus sidewalk taught me a valuable lesson—failing isn’t all that bad. There were times where I just couldn’t think of anything, I stuttered, I repeated words, got caught in loops, all the things that happen when you’re afraid. What I realized is that those feelings weren’t all that bad. It might suck in that very instance, but it didn’t kill me.
Overcoming the fear of rapping in front of people was like opening Pandora’s Box. If it wasn’t for the Undergrounduates there likely would not be a Brain Rapp here today.
How has the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, area) influence you?
Growing up in the suburbs of Columbia, MD, in between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., I was exposed to the full spectrum of the area’s music. Listening to the radio at night, especially on the weekend, I’d hear Go-Go as well as Baltimore Club. The DMV is also a meeting place of sorts, the Mason-Dixon line literally joins the North and the South. As a result, I spent equal time listening to Nas and The Fugees as I did Three 6 Mafia and Ludacris.
The Next Phase
What’s your advice to people trying to get over fear?
I’d suggest starting out small. Fear is something that you have to chip away at, especially if it’s something that you’re really afraid of. For me, I was afraid to rap in front of people. At my first meeting I built up the courage to rap in front of like four people. After that I rapped in front six people, six turned to twelve, twelve turned to fifteen and eventually I was freestyling at Juke Joint (a large campus event) in front of a hundred or more people. What I realized is that fear is stupid. It exists for a reason but a lot of times our fears are irrational. Every time I do something that scares me I leave the situation feeling like “damn, what was I so afraid of?” Once you encounter that feeling enough times fear becomes silly, it doesn’t go away completely but you’re able to put it in it’s place. When something scares me now I acknowledge the fear and keep it moving. I spent much of my life in a shell, not truly living, because of fear. I vowed some time ago to never let that happen again.
What makes you a Stereo Champion?
What makes me a Stereo Champion is that when people finally get a chance to hear me or see me live they really like it. I’m not a master of the digital universe like other artists, my personality shines the most bright when I’m heard and seen. Performing live is my favorite, it’s always refreshing. I’m glad that my music is able to resonate with people when they come out to shows. I appreciate the instances when I’m able to be someone’s first step to bring them closer to Hip-Hop culture, to introduce them to the art form. When people see me live they’re able to see my passion.
What do you want people to know about Brain Rapp?
I want people to know that Brain Rapp is just kind of a regular guy, I’m human. We tend to put artists on a pedestal and while that’s cool for our egos, it’s kind of weird at the same time. I just want people to see me for who I am. I want to be able to make music that reflects the fullness of my humanity. I want to share stories from my life, things I’ve been through, reflect on Hip-Hop through the lens of a kid from the suburbs. I want to be able, as an artist, to talk about the environment, education, under-served communities, and all the things that are important to me as a person. If I gain any financial success with music I want to give back to the communities that created the people that I look to as heroes and heroines. I hope my music makes people think and feel good. Hip-Hop is beautiful because it’s all-inclusive.
I hope people listen to Elevator Music and appreciate the diverse soundscape that me and my brother, Nature Boi, put together. Nature produced the entire project—infusing it with elements of soul, trap, and EDM. We made a project that truly takes listeners for a ride.