For this installation of #NewRules we sit down with the rapper/producer duo Koncept & J57 of the Brown Bag Allstars. Deciding to step out as a solo act, the New York natives have just recently finished up recording their upcoming LP Flight with Red Bull at their LA studio, and are now ready to take the world by storm. We find out about their come up, what it was like working with Red Bull Studios and of course, finding out what advice they have for all you potential musicians.
Mass Appeal: How did you guys start off in music?
Koncept: As a kid I grew up in Queens and my older brother was a graffiti writer, so I actually started writing graffiti first, that’s how I got the name Koncept. Then, I started DJing. When I was 11-years-old I got my first turntable and I was DJ Koncept – fun fact that not many people know. But, I’ve always like writing, I used to write short stories. Then I started freestyling as I was DJing and then it just sort of became natural that I started writing rhymes, because I’d always loved writing in general. So once I started really taking the rap thing seriously, and started writing it just became natural. I walked in and stuck with it.
J57: So, I was always into all kinds of music. My older cousin got me into Wu-Tang and Onyx and stuff like that. I was always a huge fan of hip hop, a few really good friends in high school got me into underground hip hop as well. I was really big into graffiti as well, we didn’t even know each other yet, but we had a really similar past with that. I loved it so much, I’d be in English class, and I’d be writing stories about going out bombing but as lyrics. And, that’s what actually got me into starting to write verses, telling these stories.
MA: J57, how did you come up with your name?
J57: I used to go by J Logic, and I tried to stylize it with the number one for the letter “I” and all this stuff, but I just didn’t love it. I had the name for like 10 years, I came up with it when I was really young, so I was like, ‘Let me just change this up,’ because I kind of had this really weird style, so I figured something weird would work. And, Audible Doctor from our group Brown Bag Allstars, he was like, “Yo, your name’s James and your last name’s Heinz?” He was like, “Yo, J57.” And, I was like, ‘Why?’ He was like, “57 varieties.” And, I was like, ‘Done.’
MA: So, in the beginning when you were first starting out, how were you able to make music? Did you get studio time, did you record in your own house?
Koncept: When I first started recording, more for fun, I started recording right onto a cassette tape. I was just rocking off of instrumentals that I had on vinyls. And then, I started using a friend’s studio. And eventually, another friend’s studio, that’s where me and J57 started working together actually, at our homie Belief’s house in Williamsburg. That was like our studio that we used on a regular basis, so he was leaving for California and we were like, ‘What that hell are we going to do.’ Once he was leaving, I knew that I had to, so I went a built a studio basically, and have had one ever since. I think it was probably the best thing I ever did.
J57: So, growing up in Long Island, I used to record on a 4-track, like real crappy, you could only do one take kind of thing. I used to do it with my homie High Q. He was the one who showed me how to make beats and that kind of thing. And then, me and High Q and our crew at the time, we used to help out with these older homies from Long Island called Crisis Center. And they were on like, Stretch with Bobitto, they were doing their thing in the late 90’s. We looked up to them and when we were really young we used to roll with them. They hooked us up with Charlie Marotta, who’s like a legendary engineer for EPMD, Redman, all these dudes. So, we used to record at their studio at like 16 years old and that shit was nuts. It was all analog tape, at 16 years old at my first real studio, we recorded on actual tapes and DATs and stuff. And people were using Pro Tools, this wasn’t like 20 years ago or anything like that. So, it was kind of a surreal thing. And then, Koncept and I hooked up a few years later and it’s the same story he told. Once he built the studio, it was a game changer.
MA: How did you guys book your first few shows?
J57: Our group is called Brown Bag Allstars, and we were all in different groups before that, but we left those groups to join this one. Our first show was in Albany, so our first show was on the road. And, it was actually a packed house, because we had a small little fan base at the University of Albany and shit. It’s a big party school, and we are the Brown Bag Allstars, we talk about drinking, so it just made sense. Our first show was like hugely packed out, it was awesome, we killed it. And after that, we were just like, ‘Let’s be a group, like for real.’We were getting like two or three shows a week, all throughout the city through 2008. By 2009, we had a little buzz going on and the shows just kept coming in, now we’re touring the world. But it all stemmed from that Albany show, which led to us getting booked all around New York City.
MA: So did you guys reach out to the venues or did they contact you mostly?
J57: They would reach out to us. We all worked at Fat Beats Records, Brown Bags all met there. Like literally, I met Koncept there, I was playing beats and he walked in and was like “Yo, can I rap to this?” But whatever show’s we were on we’d promote it really fucking hard with Fat Beats. Just worked our asses off to make it happen. So people started hearing about it, and were like, “Yo, those are the Brown Bag kids.” And, then we’d do this thing called Brown Bag Thursdays, where every Thursday we would throw these shows. The homies BIC, we gave them a show back in the day.
Koncept: The first Brown Bag show we threw was us, Mr. MFN Exquire, Action Bronson, and Homeboy Sandman.
J57: Yup, and nobody knew who any of us were.
MA: Tell me about working with Red Bull.
Koncept: So we have an album and an EP coming out. Red Bull brought us out to LA and we recorded our album with them. Red Bull had hit me up to be a Sound Select Artist, so I did it. And then they had this contest, so basically my rep hit me up to be in it. Usually I don’t do contests because I feel that they’re usually not done properly. So, I actually wasn’t going to do the contest. So, my rep hit me up the day the contracts were due to say they hadn’t received my contract, and so I explained that I don’t really do contests. And, she was like, “No, this one is completely done legit, there’s no cheating, there’s nothing like that.” So, I handed in my contract a day late, luckily they let me do it.
I ended up winning the contest in terms of votes. I think there were like 30 artists, or something like that and I ended up coming in first. So, they brought us out there in May and we recorded the whole album in a week. We had prepped it for like four months over here, I recorded the vocals and things like that over here beforehand. But we really went in there and put our whole vision together.
J57: We had a bunch of musicians come in, and DJs and stuff like that.
Koncept: We had DJ Rhettmatic and the Beat Junkies come in and mix some stuff. Exile came in and mixed some stuff. It was a life changing experience really. Since then, we’ve sat down with Interscope a bunch of times. Atlantic is interested in the album. We’ve talked to people from EMI, although EMI is actually closed now, they’re setting up a new label. So things have been going really well.
MA: What advice would you give to folks who are trying to come up in the music industry?
Koncept: To be themselves, don’t try to be anyone else and do you constantly.
J57: And work your ass off. Like, you can be born with talent but you’re not born with skill. You have to work your ass off to actually have skill at something. You have to just work until you don’t sleep anymore and it’s just your life. Unfortunately, you don’t see family and friends all the time because of it, but it’s like this is your life. This is what you do.
Peep their video “40oz Spliffs J57 Remix” below and let us know if you’re feeling it in the comments section.