“The Intro and The Vibe”:
I was about to leave a party at my friends’ apartment in Williamsburg. Sometimes you stay late at a party sometimes you don’t. Nothing negative, but sometimes it’s just not totally your vibe so you make an appearance and exit early. Then my friend (who I think could sense I wasn’t around people I’d vibe with) walked up to me with this girl and said I think you should meet my friend Ana. It was clearly not on some I think you’d be “into my friend” he just thought we would get along. And we did. She said what’s up and almost immediately changed the music. She played some early 2000s rap specifically one of those Remy Ma songs you forget you used to hear on the radio and nod your head too. She played a couple more songs and I was feeling loose off whiskey so I decided to go for it and ask if she’d want to hear some of my music (I know slightly lame of me). But she was down so I played some tracks from my album. She seemed into it at least from what I could read in her face and head nodding. Then this guy came up who she introduced as her boyfriend. He nodded his head and made what i would characterize as a subtle yet approving stank face and said, “Yo is this you?.” I said yeah and he said he liked what he was hearing, then proceeded to tell me that he made beats and rap and sung a little. But specifically, that he was getting much more interested in playing with melody.
Yup I found my people.
I asked him to play some of his tracks. As soon as I heard the first one it really hit me. There was something familiar yet unfamiliar about his sound that I deeply understood. He had roots in the core of hip hop but with live instrumentation and samples that breathed melody and tonality. He reminded me of this one producer Oddissee (which I later told him) who’s beat tape I had freestyled to alone in my Miami house one lonely summer. Thus, pretty naturally though surprisingly our playing music for each other thing turned into a freestyle session. A three hour one. Everyone else at the party left. I don’t remember if he started or I did. We just connected. We later realized it was just that his beats had questions that I had answers too naturally. Also, as he said later, I wasn’t trying to “go in” or “kill” his beats I was just naturally finding my place in them. He was impressed by my melodies. I was refreshed by his sound.
I was absolutely going to leave that apartment five minutes later if my friend hadn’t introduced me at that moment.
The Discussion and The Second Intro:
We finally grew exhausted. Sat back and chilled, smoked a few cigarettes on the little cement stairs outside, and talked about life and the music industry. Somehow, we got into him telling me that he plays live MPC at beat shows. He told me the shows were producer based. They oppose the industry standard and make the producer the main artist and performer. They get back to the core of hip hop. The one rule to perform at the shows as a producer is you must create something on the spot, not just press a button. For him it was his finger drumming. We also at some point actually exchanged names and instagrams. He told me his artist slash producer name was The Phronetic but that people call him Phro which I still call him. He also told me about the next show which was the next Friday or Saturday and I said I’d try and pull up then made my exit.
“The Reflection and The Confirmation”:
I hopped in my Uber on a sort of art high. I checked him out on Instagram and realized he had a following bigger than most friends of mine. Then I actually really took in his two albums he dropped in 2018 in my headphones. All I can say about his music is I just got lost in it. I remembered some stuff he played and then some I discovered. The thing is, listening by myself in my headphones was just the confirmation that I needed to grow this relationship and make sure I made it out to the show. I can say I honestly played those two albums and not much else for two straight weeks.
“The Shows and The Experience”:
I have gone to two beat shows. The first was at a bar run by a group called In Plain Sight. The second was at a warehouse space that i went with my girlfriend too that was run by my friend The Phronetic and his collective Brooklyn Beat Syndicate. What I can tell you is once you go to one show you realize you have stumbled upon something exciting, different, and empowering. Both had a range of different types of people I’m talking races, ages, and vibes. They both had wildly talented on the spot beat making producers. At both my now homie The Phronetic was the star. He mixed that core hip hop blend with a totally modern sound and tempo with his own take on melody and energy in a way that just made everyone move. You could just feel it. Every new movement or vibe in music has a face and to me he is it. He is also wildly humble and open which makes him the perfect candidate for that position. At the warehouse show run by BBS through the set up they also really embraced the original Bronx hip hop shows but in way that felt naturally reinvented in 2019. There were people making graffiti portraits and even a 20$ tattoo artist. Me and my girl got tats. I’m never that impulsive. She led the charge but it was really the vibe and the energy I was just caught in. The shows don’t force themselves on you they just exist as something that feels new yet quintessentially NYC and Brooklyn in a modern way. Go out to one they are once a month.
“The Message and The Movement”:
I need to speak on what The Phronetic and his growing movement of Beat Culture represent. He and they are unwilling to sacrifice their value and worth for any level of industry recognition or success. They live by the principle that the producer, should not just be treated fairly, but IS THE ARTIST. The Phronetic leads by example and will not do music with an artist to gain notoriety unless he feels he is working with them in a capacity that makes him an equal. This movement and attitude within the world and music industry now represents what those who value artistry want to move towards. It will be a long road probably. Money won’t come quick. But the equality and progress and I think potential to gain worth and profit in a real way to them seems worth the struggle. I thought they needed an outlet to speak on what they do mixed with an outsider who has found them and is inspired by them. So, I sat with Phro and two other wildly talented producers to dive deeper.
Miki: When I was introduced to the “beat scene” or specifically you guys at Brooklyn Beat Syndicate the thing that stuck out to me was your unwavering understanding of your value as producers. Meaning producers are on the same standing as or are equal to the industry definition of an artist. The point of this interview is to get your full perspective on that as well as what it’s like as artists to exist with those “constraints” and keep your core values.
So, first question is what do your think your ideal existence is in the music industry? And how is it set up now to make it hard for that to happen?
Phro: Thank you for asking that question because people rarely ask producers that question. I think for myself I would like for us as producers to be respected on the same plane as artists and DJ’s. So similar to the way people respect Deadmaus or Calvin Harris. Or even like a DJ Khaled. I would like producers to put themselves out there as artists and for people to receive us that way. And I think what makes it difficult for us is people put us in the same mind as DJ’s so when they go to beat shows they expect background music while they party. Which has a place. But I think once people realize producers up on the stage are really doing something that’s when that barrier will be broken down. So that means doing more beat shows and showing people.
Yume: Yeah coming from a person that actually played in a lot of rock bands in high school I know what it’s like to naturally be taken more seriously. It’s a weird changeover because then I started making music by myself because I also love hip hop. I think we are not taken seriously sometimes especially in the rapper community. Where they’ll be like oh you make beats, which means I can help YOU out. When in reality that means nah, I can help YOU out. I think that’s why people maybe take our collective way more seriously because we say we are not just beatmakers we are musicians. I think it’s difficult because people don’t have that perspective. Like Phro said they lump us in the category of DJ’s who just push a button but there’s so much time and energy that goes into making these beats. So yeah, I think it’s a thing with respect. We are not just the name in the parentheses of a song. We are people that have real skill.
Max: I really resonate with a lot of that. My musical career started out in a hotboxed car spittin freestyles with my friends over Wiz and Kid Cudi beats. Then later on I got involved in the underground electronic music scene and went to see a lot of DJ acts with my friends. I loved that shit and that’s what really inspired me to start producing in the first place. But I still always had that hip hop value. So i guess when I started making my music and putting it out there it was very “rappable.” I mean I spit freestyles in my head when I make beats. But I agree that a lot of rappers will be like yo let’s work on this but it wasn’t til I met rappers that inspired me that I wanted to do it because I want to work WITH you not FOR you. And I think that’s a big change. But coming from underground bass music people idolize these DJ’s who do play all originals. And I think the divide between hip hop culture producers and electronic music producers is in this quote I heard which is “hip hop producers wish they could be electronic producers but they’re lazy” but people who say that don’t know shit about music production. I think my main point is that being minimal takes just as much skill as having a grandiose maximalist vision we hear in electronic music. And being able to show that containment is what makes a hip-hop producer stand out. So getting into beat culture it’s a shock that people don’t hold producers to the level that I’m used too though I’ve never personally felt subjected to it. I’m just happy to share my music.
Miki: Interesting. In my mind it was just that the producer was pitted against the “artist.” But what y’all are saying is that there are producers respected on that level in EDM. So why are they respected as artists in that world? And why are hip hop producers pigeonholed into being DJ’s? Then as the counterpoint what can you do slash are you doing currently to get hip hop producers to be on that same level to where you can play actual festivals etc? Lastly is there anything specific about the hip hop community that boxes you in?
Phro: Well when you said that I thought producers need to be doing more on the stage to be respected as performers. But then I thought that Deadmaus puts a mask on and presses play. So, I don’t think producers can ever really take that path because it’s simply cultural. But when it comes to hip hop and why did we get boxed in and it’s because of rap. Not that it’s at fault but it coexists in this culture.
Miki: Right but I mean in the early days of hip-hop DJ’s were the forefront like Grandmaster Flash. So, what the modern-day rapper is but producer should also be. So then how do we get back to that respect to where the modern producer is respected on the artist level?
Phro: Well people have compared our monthly Brooklyn Beat Syndicate show to the early day DJ parties in the Bronx. But what became popularized was the MC’s. So, the only way to break out of it is if the producers are showing more of their technical skill, which I know they have, but may be afraid to showcase. Every producer is mapping out a melody or baseline on a keyboard and just because it’s simple doesn’t mean you can’t perform it live. When people realize more that that’s what we can do we’re good. So, producers have to do more and audiences have to open their mind more and that’s how you change that.
Yume: Word. So, I listen to a lot of music I’m a music nerd. So, I know what’s goin on. But I think mainstream culture looks at EDM and thinks it’s more complex. Because to them it sounds deeper and more put together. And in reality, it’s not like that. I spend hours on my music. And I think that’s the mistake people make simplifying the hip-hop producer. I also think internet culture is kinda to blame. You had to actually go to beat shows in the Bronx. People can just look at their phone and stream. And then for sure rap culture puts us in the background. We use a lot of shit live but some producers still just use a laptop because they think that’s all they need then playing live isn’t as entertaining. But they think that because we dumb down hip hop so they think that’s good enough. But it’s like nah you could do so much more.
Max: Ok I guess where I’m a little triggered is anyone who’s into electronic music isn’t calling it EDM. That’s kind of a cringe term. But tying this into where producers of hip hop sit in the main stream. I think it’s happening and it’s lo fi but half of it’s not actually low fidelity music. It’s half of instrumental hip hop now and there are a lot of characters now being idolized like DJ’s. They are hip hop producers and a lot of them make lo fi but a lot don’t. I’m in a lot of producer communities where a lot of the old school producers are salty about young guns coming in and calling themselves lo fi producers when they aren’t. Especially because they are taking the spotlight for that style. Its like, where is the place for the people who were doing this originally with all the old equipment that we were inspired by? It’s the same with EDM DJ’s where it’s a whitewashed version of what the culture is really about. In reality it’s about where do you wanna sit as a producer and I want to be doing the raw and dirty shit with my homies rather than getting the spotlight doing it quickly and being a personality. I’m not trying to appease anyone’s taste but my own.
Phro: Yeah and those lo fi cats with a million followers don’t play shows or participate in the beat culture community… I don’t know if I want to talk about something… Alright I was sitting with an a & r at a major label and they wanted me to work with them. And the one thing he said that made me not want to work with them that made me ultimately decline the deal was that he said “I think you’re the bridge between the lo fi hip hop Spotify playlist listeners and the main stream listeners.” And I said so you think my music is like that? You guys know my music I don’t fucking make lo fi?! They don’t even know what it is. So I sat there and I realized the music industry is aware that this is a community that’s coming up. But they are also aware that for the most part it only exists in people’s headphones when they’re studying when they’re at work when they’re doing their laundry when they’re doing their chores. They are not experiencing this in a live setting so it’s never gonna blow up mainstream if that’s how it’s gonna stay.
Yume: Damn you didn’t tell me that. That’s crazy. What’s interesting is the reason I got into hip hop in the first place was because I really liked lo fi. I was on all the forums before it got super popular. I was like this is my vibe. But then when I started really looking into it, I was like this is weird this is oversaturated. When I really started producing using the things, I use now I was like this is a little too simple for me. Then I was like wait people are really just using this as a gimmick. Like this is my thing I make oversimplified beats on purpose. It’s like nah bro you’re just not skilled but you’re tryna be somebody. What’s the point of that? That’s why in the past year I really don’t like it when people say you make lo fi beats. But I’ll still catch that hashtag don’t get it twisted because I feel really attached to it.
Max: What a good hashtag (laughs)
Yume: It is a good hashtag. But on some real shit person to person I try to step back from that and be like nah bro I make soul beats. Because that’s where people get it twisted like I’m a musician not just a lo fi beatmaker.
Max: I’m just gonna bring it back really quick to BBS and how it compares to these other music cultures that are more poisonous then about the music itself. Mainstream EDM culture is really mostly about doing drugs and partying. And lo-fi… nobody even knows what the fuck lo-fi really is. So, I think why people fuck with BBS is we’re just out here not trying to be anything other than who we are and we genuinely care about the music. Also, we each have our own individual styles. I think people are picking up on that energy that we are just good genuine people who are doing our thing and that’s the value we are trying to push.
Miki: Cool. Then how do you keep your integrity but at the end of the day expand? I will mention you have done shows like the one I saw on Yume’s b-day which included multiple types of artists graffiti, tattoo, etc… It was still producer centered but all art encompassing like origins of hip hop shows but modern. Was that an intentional choice or did it just naturally happen? Then how do you plan to keep expanding on that idea and maybe attempt for it to reach mainstream consciousness?
Max: I wanna first shout out Project Feel because they really did a lot to organize that show. They helped get a lot of the visual and tattoo artists. Anthony and their whole team kill it. They even ran the bar and helped promote the event. But also, when we pick venues, we try to pick places that are conducive to what our music represents. So that’s the goal like when I’m not playing, I want a can of spray paint to throw a mural on the wall because I’m a visual artist as well. So yeah keep finding the right places and finding the right people to continue that platform to contribute their art as well. We are blessed to have had them and be where we are. These shows are just going to get sicker and sicker every time because we ain’t slowing down one bit.
Yume: Yeah shout out Project Feel they are really good friends of mine. That show was amazing and we definitely want to continue to do stuff like that. I think the way we separate ourselves is we are always trying to come up with other ideas. Now sometimes we really have to experiment with things to see if they work and sometimes, they don’t. But that show really gave us the insight and confidence to say oh yeah, we can really do this. So, we are really big on collabs now. And anything or anyone where we can merge together to make one awesome night we are down. We are in Brooklyn where there are a lot of other hip-hop collectives around us that have been doing this for years. BBC has only been around a few months…
Phro: BBS (laughs)
Miki: Not the British Broadcasting Channel. (All laugh) We are BBS but we’re tryna get as big as BBC! That’s the slogan. That’s good.
Yume: (Laugh) Yeah man. But really quick I think our idea is to have a different formula and have collabs with people you can actually interact with. That show was so spiritual and so cool. Man, I really hope it takes us to the next level.
Phro: Yeah, I think the way to propel BBS and the entirety of beat culture is to market it correctly. I’m not saying this to be shady but you can market anything for it to be successful. A lot of beat culture has been around a long time existing before I knew what producing was. I’m a newbie and I started making beats three years ago. But what I can contribute is giving people a platform which BBS is doing a bit differently. We’ve been doing artist spotlight interview videos. We give the artists who play with us time to talk about their career. When people’s stories are heard that’s when people gain interest. Then of course like we’ve been doing put on a great show. Every artist project feel chose for that show was fire.
Miki: So, with marketing comes social media. Are there any other backburner ideas to expand through that? And also, what other types of artists would you like to participate is BBS shows?
Phro: Yeah so then besides the interviews really taking advantage of those moments you experience in live music at a beat show and capturing that more. Then keep making beat videos which is heavily saturated now but we all have stuff about us that is likeable that we can put up as our bat signal to say look this is what we have to offer. So, capitalizing on the things that make us unique. And then for the second question we wanna work with dancers.
Yume: Yeah that’d be really cool man like a breakdancing crew.
Miki: Yeah that’s core of hip hop too like b-boy culture so what’s the modern BBS version of that?
Yume: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of cool Japanese dance crews I don’t know… Put a little cardboard thing in the middle and have breakdancing while we are doing beats…
Phro: Or like jerking right jerking is a modern version?
Miki: Or also maybe a fashion thing too?
Yume: Yeah actually what I’ve been touching on recently is also having a set sense of style. Then every month we have like one big artist. That way we can showcase two smaller artists as well. Like you know you’re about to see JBlack but then boom you run into this kid you’ve never even heard about. We also started a new group thing on Slack with the other collectives. It’s a workplace app used in a lot of offices. And we had a group meeting with them to share secrets of how we put together shows. And it’s cool because we are now all helping each other too.
Max: Yeah if you have any type of art that you think could go in tandem with any of our events please talk to us. We are all very friendly and cordial people. (All laugh) Also I do want to say we aren’t against working with rappers. We are here repping producers but we are talking about switching up and expanding and I don’t wanna give too much away but we have some different style show formats that we’ve been planning to get the crowd to interact differently. So be on the lookout. Some ideas of mimicking a studio environment or making events highlighting specific elements of production I mean we got some secret sauce stuck in the fridge. Some special blend. (All laugh) And yeah, the community we are trying to foster is one of mutual support of artists hustling to get music out there so reach out. But also, as far as what we are doing to push ourselves if popularity comes that’s fucking cool but we are all about the music here. For me it’s all about autonomy and not having to answer to anyone and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
Miki: Ok so to close it out answer this individually and then for the beat scene and BBS. As far as you see the movement or yourself what would signify success? Also are success goals for those separate or intertwined?
Yume: So, for myself and the collective I would be happiest if we were just doing really big shows and then touring. I just really want us to play some like semi decent venues. Not top echelon like I’m not tryna play Caesar’s palace or some shit. (All laugh)
Miki: Or like the Versace mansion in Miami?
Actually, that’d be a wild BBS show! Let’s put that out into the world.
Yume: I mean our music is that good man. But yeah us going on tour and having a significant following would signify success. Just a good amount of people there every single time. I’m not thinking in terms of how much money I’d make. That would be nice but that’s an afterthought. And that brings me back to why we started BBS. I was just tired of hitting people up for shows and just shuffling my music around the Internet. I really wanted to meet other people doing the same thing in person. Me and Max met on a Facebook group “More Beats Less Sleep” and it just grew from there.
Max: To me it’s just humbling to be interviewed. But yeah, my definition of success is autonomy. Freedom to do what I want when I want with the people I care about. Doing this music thing in New York I gotta say there are a lot of sharks. I had a lot of experiences that made me not trust people especially in the music industry. I used to run a label I saw a lot of industry people trying to manipulate artists into doing things for them so they could be successful. The whole landscape is changing though with distrokid you don’t need a label to put out music. I don’t wanna take advice from someone who wants to control me or get something out of me. It’s great to know I have some friends I can trust and success for us is having fun, playing shows together, and seeing where this journey could potentially take us. I’m so thankful to be surrounded by such talented people who inspire me and like my music. That’s still a shock. They say your homies don’t start supporting you til it’s too late. So, this feeling is really heartwarming. Because when I first started making music nobody fucking believed in me.
Phro: I haven’t thought too much about tangible goals. But what I do know is the intention which is simply showing other producers this is possible, showing other producers they can be in the spotlight, showing other producers they can perform, and that all of these things aren’t out of reach. And in a lot of ways I think we have reached that goal. And I don’t want to speak things out of existence but there are people internationally who tell me that BBS and I have inspired them to do similar things in their countries. But yeah, I mean it’d be dope to do Irving plaza. It doesn’t have to be the biggest venue in the world but a show with a couple hundred people would be dope. And we aren’t even that far from that. Our biggest show had almost 200 people. None of us really care about mainstream success as far as BBS as a collective but what we really want is to ride off with the satisfaction that the awareness of us is there and that whether or not you attend our shows you know that we exist.
Miki Hellerbach is a Baltimore raised Brooklyn based independent journalist. He is also an independent alternative r&b artist under the name Miki Montebello and as a part of his group PM. His writing focus is Music’s intersection with Culture, Politics, and Personal Discovery.