New World Order

Photo by Brinson+Banks

“They can’t rhyme like us, they can’t grind like us, they can’t ride grime like us,” says Prince Rapid on “World’s Mine” by Future Brown. His guest verse on Future Brown’s self-titled debut album amounts to a vision statement for the production supergroup. “The music is timeless, we’re worldwide, I’m pushing the limit the world’s mine.”

Future Brown’s new record is every bit as eclectic as the four friends who put it together, all established artists in their own right: Senegal-born, Kuwait/London–raised producer and performer Fatima Al Qadiri; Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda of the L.A. production duo Nguzunguzu; and Jamie Imanian-Friedman, aka J-Cush, founder of the label Lit City Trax.

Qadiri recently explored a sonic journey through an imagined China on her own debut album, Asiatch; Nguzunguzu routinely destroy dance floors worldwide with their productions and DJ sets, while J-Cush’s Lit City Trax shines a spotlight on regional genres with releases spanning grime, footwork, and kuduro.

Hopping on a Skype call with Future Brown, you expect them to beam in from all around the world, but all four members are together in Los Angeles. Despite the high-tech cool of their icy synth chops, Future Brown songs are mostly made live when they’re all together in the studio with minimal online revision after the fact. They’re currently prepping for a show with rising Chicago artist Tink, featured on both “Wanna Party,” the first single Future Brown released back in July 2013, as well as on “Room 302.”

Solomon Chase of DIS Magazine came up with the term “Future Brown” while he was tripping on mushrooms in upstate New York. Chase also designed the album artwork in conjunction with David Toro of DIS and D.V. Caputo. Since adopting the moniker to describe their collaborative effort, the members have explained that Future Brown refers to “a shade of brown that cannot be defined by nature.” Which works because the group’s music defies definition with its redolent hints of miscegenation and racial ambiguity.

By curating an eclectic cast of vocalists and embracing multiple production styles from grime to house, Future Brown are eluding genre pigeonholes and making sure that their journey continues for a long time to come.

Part of the secret is enjoying maximum creative freedom from your label. Fatima describes Warp Records as a place where artists “can do whatever the fuck they want to and get the support.” With such an ambitious creative vision, Future Brown needed an independent label with a history of supporting innovative artists. Warp championed the early works of Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, and more recently Hudson Mohawke and Rustie. Charles Damga of Warp invested money, time and effort into Future Brown, booking studio space and bankrolling the features that made the project possible.

When initially conceptualizing Future Brown, the members created a dream list of vocalist collaborators. “Some people were friends, others were people we were fans of and reached out to,” said J-Cush. Above all, the project is a democratic one, with all members possessing equal say in the creative process.

Both Asma and Daniel of Nguzunguzu pushed hard for Shawnna to appear on “Talking Bandz” after the release of her mixtape She’s Alive. The Sicko Mobb collaboration “Big Homie” was made specifically for the Chicago bop duo. Fatima says they were “very lucky Sicko Mobb liked it and ended up doing the vocal.”

In what Fatima describes as “a beautiful coincidence in nature,” the completed project consists of equal parts male and female collaborators. From the boy-girl-boy- girl production quartet to the even spread of vocalists, the gender balance of the completed project seems meant to be.

“With the wide array of music scenes we follow there wasn’t a conscious effort to pair this and that,” Daniel elaborates. “The project just naturally came together.” Fatima swears there was never a situation where the group thought “Oh no, we need one more track with a guy or one more track with a girl.”

“One of the benefits of having such a diverse group of collaborators all over is the ability to work on surprises for live performances,”says J-Cush. Their guest list spans across the United States from NYC R&B singer Tim Vocals to New Orleans rapper 3D Na’Tee and even across the pond to Riko Dan of U.K. grime collective Roll Deep and Ruff Sqwad’s Dirty Banger. Besides writing for each member’s own projects, there’s also a plan to execute Future Brown collaborations that may not have come to fruition yet—though the group’s holding those names close to their chest. Last time around, J-Cush recalls, “We let people know early on who we worked with, and a bunch of different producers started reaching out and working with them.” That’s how it goes when you’re crafting an indefinable future sound while the world watches in real time.

Future Brown’s self-titled debut hasn’t escaped controversy. A critical Pitchfork review by Meaghan Garvey called the album “a bunch of intriguing ideas left to drift off inconclusively,” and complained of its “vague art-school conceptualism.” The Red Bull website published an even more scathing piece by Alex Macpherson that decried FB’s “co-option of ‘hood’ artists into a thoroughly bourgeois milieu for the sake of street credibility.”

Fatima wasted no time addressing these critiques, labeling them “attacks” on the group and calling the writers’ opinions “theories and false notions of a malicious nature that have no factual bearing.” The group collectively countered, “there is no ‘thesis’ behind Future Brown. We made a record with our dream vocalists. It’s that simple.” Red Bull subsequently took the piece down, redirecting to a more positive article titled “Five things you should know about Future Brown.”

There is no reason to criticize Future Brown for their choice of artists to work with. Bemoaning the fact that FB’s featured guests don’t receive much press or critical acclaim would appear to be more a problem with music journalism than anything else. When you are dealing with a group with such a strong vision, naysayers are inevitable. Sticking with the approach described on Track 4 of their own record, the group should have no hesitation (musical or otherwise) in offering “No Apology.”

This story appears in Mass Appeal Issue 56, which is available for purchase here. Read more stories from the issue here.

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