big head
Graphic: Kyle Petreycik

Bighead Gave SoundCloud Rap its Sound and Got Sober

In 2017, Gen Z and so-called SoundCloud rap came into their own, and new frameworks broke through. Along with Pi’erre Bourne, one of the key architects behind this movement was producer Bighead on the Beat—a 22-year-old born Brendan Murray from the rap nowheresville of Lancaster, California.

Bighead  grew up riding dirt bikes and playing drums, idolizing Travis Barker from Blink-182. Then he dropped out of school, got active as a beatmaker, and ingratiated himself in the L.A. underground (particularly the crew Gothboiclique, which shared his Blink fetish). He scored his first Billboard hit this summer with “Gucci Gang,” one of the songs he produced on the debut album by Florida rapper Lil Pump. It’s currently sitting at No. 4 on the Hot 100 chart, hovering around there for the past 13 weeks.

 

That success notwithstanding, don’t overlook Bighead’s very different-sounding work with GBC, especially “WitchBlades” by the unofficial duo of Lil Peep and Lil Tracy, produced with Yung Cortex. The dramatic ballad was Peep and Tracy’s emo/goth pinnacle and perhaps Peep’s definitive song, period. Even though Peep wasn’t performing it at concerts before he died of an overdose in November, fans sang it at his Long Island memorial and at his New York City show on Halloween

While “Gucci Gang” had sonic precedents (particularly “Versace” by Migos), “WitchBlades” was more innovative, helping open a new way for rock and rap music to coalesce.

 

Bighead further innovated in 2017 with Lil Tracy on three notable solo projects (Tracy’s Manga, XOXO, and Life of a Popstar), helping Tracy’s vision to mash trap music with kawaii, the Japanese culture of “cute.”

It’s all resulted in a crazy phase of life for Bighead, with momentum he’s trying to bring into 2018. After Lil Peep’s overdose, Bighead quit hard drugs cold turkey and was one month clean when he spoke on the phone from Buffalo, New York, minutes before DJing for Lil Pump in front of a packed house.

How is the Pump tour going?

It’s stupid cold in New York, I don’t like it. The Pump tour is going good overall. I just came back because I got sick and they sent me home for a couple days.

Not to get too personal off the bat, but was your sickness related to getting clean?

No. In the beginning it was that. The first 14 days was pretty bad sickness, like dope sick. This was a common cold, flu thing. But since I got clean, my immune system has been tripping. I was sick the whole month. It sucks.

You have a whole new chemistry now.

Yeah, I like it a little bit. I mean I like it a lot. But it’s not as fun, I guess.

One thing that tripped me out from a different interview you did was that you said once you got clean, you had beat block. Then you relapsed and made your Splice sample pack. Are drugs performance enhancing for you?

I believe this: There’s good and bad for drugs. One, it’s an addiction and could kill you, probably. Two, that shit makes you in a good mood. You don’t have beat block when you’re in a good mood because you think everything’s good. If you already have the talent as a musician, you can do drugs and I feel like you’re going to make good beats. But that’s probably just a lie, though, because I can do it sober, it just takes something to get me in the mood. Being high gets you in the mood. When I’m sober, I feel sluggish and lazy. I’m 30-something days now, since the 9th of November, and I’m really sluggish and moody now. I break things, like my phone. I’ll throw it at a wall. Part of the frustration is that I want to be able to make beats as I used to.

Maybe instead of the drugs you need a coach to yell at you to do stuff.

Nah, cuz when I went home for a few days when I was sick, I actually made some beats. On tour, maybe I’m chilling and not caring about beats. I’m on this bus and there’s a lot of people here.

More than just you and Pump?

Yeah, me, Pump, two homies, a videographer, another DJ in case something happens (or we DJ together), three bodyguards, some managers.

What are you doing for the shows?

I do a 30 to 45 minute set, sometimes switching off with Diablo. And then I DJ for Pump too. I use Serato and a DDJ. I set cue points and mix songs, but sometimes I don’t like to be “clean” and mix songs on tempo. I’m a sloppy-ass DJ, I like sloppy DJing—stopping a song, turning the crowd the fuck up, and going into a hard-ass song. Then again, since I DJ for Pump I haven’t gotten to DJ Pump songs in a minute. When I do my own shows, I DJ the songs I produced.

You held down the majority of Lil Tracy’s three big tapes this year. Based on that alone, you had a heavy year.

I’m a huge GBC fan, that’s probably all I listen to. I listen to them a lot. Even on tour, all I’m listening to is Tracy.

I’m from Seattle and sort of watched Thraxx House develop, watched them migrate to L.A. and then…

And then mostly become GBC and stuff.

It was such a weird, inspiring thing to watch.

Yeah, it’s pretty sweet. I was a big fan and was like, “Hopefully I get to work with them one day.” And I did. I can’t wait to make music with them again soon. I haven’t really got to, but it’ll happen once we all get to L.A.

For people who don’t know Gothboiclique and just know Lil Peep, where would you recommend they start?

Start with the Tracy songs. Tracy and Horse Head’s “Last Night In L.A.,” I like that song a lot. There’s a song by Cold Hart, “Stargirl.” But I would start how I started, which was Peep to Tracy, then Doves. Oh Doves and Wicca Phase, that song “Kill Me,” I would listen to that. Lil Tracy’s “Pictures,” Lil Tracy’s “Minajatwa,” that’s my favorite song by him. He snapped. And the Lil Tracy and Peep’s “Gods,” that’s a good one. One Lil Peep song you should listen to, especially after he died, is “Toxic City.” It’s really crazy. Anybody that listens to it would like it.

Is your favorite Lil Tracy music the stuff you made together?

Nah. Some of it is. Some of it’s pretty good. But usually with artists I like the stuff they make with other producers. I’m barely a fan of myself most of the time. It’s funny. I always have one of the person’s biggest songs, but I’m like, “Dang, I wonder how that happened,” because I don’t like my beats.

So you don’t like “Gucci Gang”?

No, I like Gucci Gang. That was one I liked. I wasn’t even trying to make that beat. I was just half-assing it and it came out good. It’s a calmer song, I feel like that’s why it was a hit. Because it’s calm. It’s calm and catchy—it goes up when it’s really loud.

You don’t like your beat for Lil Tracy and Uno the Activist’s “Rackaid”?

Uh, I kind of like the beat. It’s alright. I got rushed because Uno wanted it done in like ten minutes. But it’s pretty good, yeah.

When I heard Tracy’s Manga I thought it was a breakthrough for Tracy and for you, too.

Yeah, that was a good project. He wasn’t even trying to finish it when I met him. He was always talking about it and I was like, “You gotta finish that.” Every time I work with him, it will be the favorite beats I make. He brings a weird creative side out of me, things I wouldn’t want to do at first. On “Rackaid” he was like, “Make this certain style that’s like happy-ish, trap-ish.” Same thing with “Like a Glock.” Oh it was “I’m Rude”! He told me to make a kawaii type beat, all happy and like an anime, but then put bass under it.

That Hello Kitty shit.

Exactly. That’s exactly how he’d explain it.

I don’t want to say Life of a Popstar is stronger, but it was definitely a progression.

People slept on that.

Well, he doesn’t promote.

That’s what it is. Even the song “Life of a Popstar” is cool. When it came out, I was in Montreal and they speak French there, and he’s saying, “bonjour,” and it was a great time listening to that song.

I love the chord progression.

It’s like an EDM chord progression. He was telling me to make a pop-ish sounding beat. That was my best impression of it.

He gets kind of French-y on “Prom Queen” too.

When we made that song, we were dying, because the lyrics are weird. We were making that in front of two bitches. We had strippers in the studio. He wasn’t trying to make that song, I kind of forced it on him. I wanted him to rap on that beat. I didn’t picture him talking about “prom queen.” That’s a beautiful song though.

What separates Tracy from being on Pump’s level?

Label backing, and him staying consistent with making music. If me and him link up to how we were at Tracy’s Manga time, I think I could get him going. I don’t want to sound cocky, but when a rapper is growing and then I come through and start working with them, I break them through to that. Not me, but I think it’s the whole energy. My tag is very known and all that, so that helps. And I’m getting my own name, so people are starting to know me. And when I’m with an artist I’m very… I guess you could call it strict. I’m like, “Finish this tonight. Don’t come back to it.” Once Tracy gets bigger, his career will last long, because he has bars, he says crazy shit for whatever you want to label him at this time, “SoundCloud rapper” or whatever. I would want him to do more emo music like he did with Peep, because of the passing of Peep and to carry the legacy on of that genre.

Have you reached out to him about that?

Yeah, I just saw him in Miami. He was up for it, he was just like, “I haven’t done that kind of music in so long.”

After Peep and Tracy’s run together, they argued or whatever, and he cliqued up with you and made really amazing music that sounded totally different. A new phase.

What happened was, I came around and started making music with both of them. And they weren’t arguing yet. But when they were arguing, me and Tracy were arguing as well, so it was me and Peep he didn’t like. He didn’t not like us, but we were all going through different things. And Tracy was just, I don’t know… We were all really close though, so that’s just how it be. Me and Tracy got back fast though, because I was not having it. Tracy’s my favorite artist and one of my closest friends. I was like, “I’m not about to have this bitch mad at me.” We haven’t had a chance to sit and make music, and that sucks, but he’s been doing shows, so that’s good. Pretty soon we’ll be in L.A. and I’ll try and get us locked in the studio and make another project.

Where do you record in L.A.?

We used to record at our manager’s studio, but he’s a bitch and I fired him. Big-E. I hope he reads this. I remember I’d known Tracy for three weeks and we met up there and made “Pictures” the first night. It was our first song. It’s actually a funny story. We had just woken up, it was 6 or 7pm, and we were like, “We should eat.” And he goes, “Nah, let’s not eat and spend a bunch of money on cocaine.” And I was like, “Sounds like a plan.” We put this big-ass pile of coke on the table and we made that song. After that, about a month in, Tracy had a show in Arizona and it was like, “How is he going to get there?” He had no I.D., and I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll drive my Benz there.” I have like a 2010 Benz and at the time it was pretty not fucked-up. It was clean. So we drive to this Arizona show and that’s where I met Peep. Then we do some shows with Peep, where Tracy came out as a special guest. I really believe in Tracy, that’s why I drove him there, because I don’t really even like to drive to L.A. from Lancaster. It was like five hours to get to Arizona. That was really fun. I was such a big fan, I was like, “I’m with Tracy!” Fanning out every minute. Now I don’t know where we’re going to record. We used to record at Peep’s house a lot. We made the whole Castles II mixtape there.

I love your love of music.

I love music. I would be fucked without it because I dropped out. I was like, “Something’s gonna work out.” I didn’t know what it was going to be, but after I started making music I was like, “It’s going to be this.” It felt right. A lot of producers are way better than me, but people have a purpose in life, and my purpose was to do this.

Your purpose was to make “Gucci Gang.”

Exactly. “Gucci Gang”! That’s funny. I want more of those. You get on Billboard, and you’re like, “Fuck, I gotta stay in that category of hits.” I want more hits.

Doesn’t it trip you out how thin the line is between having a hit versus selling $20 SoundCloud reposts without stable housing?

Yeah! Sometimes getting a little money from shows. I’m still like them, though. Although when my royalties come in, I’ll probably be balling. I know in 2018 fat ass checks are gonna come in. But I’m still broke right now. But I know I’m about to have money. But I want to make hits to get money and be comfortable. I haven’t been comfortable my whole life. And I still don’t feel comfortable. I’m always stressing about something. I just want to ride dirt bikes again. I’m gonna buy a new car and a dirt bike. Being sober, you have to do exercise or have a hobby, because music doesn’t cut it. I was more into getting high and doing the music thing.

Are you worried that talking about your sobriety will jinx it?

No, I actually over-talk about it. To everybody. Like at a venue, I heard one of the bouncers talk about methadone, so I go over and butt in the conversation. I’m not on methadone, I went cold turkey. But especially on tour, you can’t go to meetings. Talking about your addiction is the best way not to do it again. You can fantasize about being high. It’s almost like doing it. That’s why I like it. Actually my favorite thing to talk about is the addiction. It’s like reliving it, so it’s kind of cool. And I was doing some hard shit. I escalated from the pills. Pills is nothing to me. Most of the rap scene is pills, lean. I got to a harder level. I was acting like I was Anthony Kiedis. He’s an idol of mine, because of his struggle with addiction and he’s just cool as fuck.

Have any rock stars reached back and said, “Hey, I notice you’re sampling my shit?”

No, but I did DJ at Travis Barker’s house for a Pump show, because Pump got booked by his son. I was like, “I need a picture with Travis!” I was a drummer and Travis Barker was a huge influence on me. That guy’s like my idol. We ended up talking and we still text. We talk about making beats together, because he makes beats now. He’s doing an album. We talk about beats and addiction as well. When he hits me back, I’m like, “Yes!”

You do a lot of beats in collaboration with other producers. What are those collabs like?

I have a set of producers I like and I’m fans of. Gnealz, I grew up with him, we went to middle school together. I make beats with him, I got him to make beats when we were living at my mom’s house. And Captain Crunch is another one, because he’s just hella smart. We would do a bunch of Adderall and make beats together. “Oh, I got a melody! Oh, I got bass!” It’s cool working with other minds, because I’m boxed in sometimes. But when when you do things with a different producer, things come out differently.

On Pump’s album you did “Molly” with Ronny J.

That was a crazy night. I didn’t sleep for 24 hours. We made the “Molly” beat, and then Pump hit us up and I was like, “Oh shit, this is going to be a long night.” I did the main melody, and then when the beat drops there’s a dubstep-ish wobble sound—I did that. I did the claps, the first set of hi-hats. Ronny J did the bass, he did the 808, and he added a bell melody—this cool-ass bell, high-pitched, ice cream sound. It’s a signature sound, he had it in some other songs.

Ice cream sound?

I don’t know, I just call it that because it reminds me of an ice cream sound. It sounds cool, it’s a really good bell. I always wonder where he got it from. Oh shit, I gotta go perform.

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