69 Love Songs for the MPC Set: Brown v. Board’s Normal Biases is Playful Instrumental Hip Hop

by Nick Hanover

Brown v. Board Normal Biases

It might not get enough love in bigger outlets, but Austin’s beat scene has been subtly building into something genuinely remarkable, stocked full of intriguing crews like BoomBaptist’s Applied Pressure and budding pop giants like Eric Dingus, but the best sign of the incredible growth of this pocket of ATX music is in the trenches, where the unknowns are quietly churning out tapes, their masterpieces going overlooked for the moment. Brown v. Board is one of these secret samplesmiths, a literal unknown who I caught on to while working the hidden gems beat over in From Our Living Room to Yours and have been checking in on ever since. At 10 Soundcloud followers and less than 20 Facebook likes, Brown isn’t setting the world on fire, but you get the sense Brown likes the obscurity– these are crate digging jams and you should do some digging of your own to find them.

Normal Biases, one of three new releases Brown put up on Bandcamp this month, seems to make a more obvious bid for attention though. I’m not sure how many releases Brown has actually churned out (I first wrote up a Brown v. Board track in May of 2014 but it and the rest of that page have since been deleted), but most of the new material since October’s Film Etiquette EP has fallen in this month, making Brown a fitfully productive beatmaker. Most of those releases have been a little scattershot though, often just abstract soundscapes and ideas rather than fully fleshed out. Normal Biases, which features “14 beats for February 14th, with a little something sweet” is a lot more cohesive than the bulk of Brown’s catalog, structured like a legit album with distinct peaks and valleys. Maybe that’s the romantic theme, a kind of 69 Love Songs for the MPC set, point is this isn’t a Whitman’s Sampler of a beat tape; there’s a strong jazz undercurrent holding it together as it explores some of the stylistic diversions that have made Brown an act to keep an eye on since day one and also an upward trajectory for the producer showing maturation and growth.

Some of the stylistic diversions are new to the Brown sound, however, like the Go! Team meets Flying Lotus sonics of “Sortano” or the Eastern tinged “Colours Inconceivable,” where an almost alien vocal loop rubs up against a Golden Panda sounding beat and some mewing robot voices that seem to have wandered over from Kid A. There’s even a warped Kaleidoscope sample on “Sixth Letter,” initially kicking the song off with a complete grab of the chorus before mutating into something unrecognizable, just a jagged loop of an acoustic riff that gets disrupted by a noir jazz interlude. The effect is like walking into a home that used to be your family’s and noticing that not only is a new family living there, but they’ve kept all your family photos and rearranged them– disquieting in its familiarity, still warm but now also awkward and tense.

Still, the crumbly jazz samples that Brown favors are the most used tool in the box, whether in the form of the extended upright bass intro on “Structures” or the wild flutes sparring with the jangly rhythms on “Worthwhile.” I know, it seems pointless to emphasize the jazz elements in an instrumental hip hop release, but in Brown’s hands these go beyond samples and sonic signposts, the producer also works in a jazz mode, letting the music carry itself, exploring the different moods it explores, allowing it to shift and transform at will. That nomadic take on beats is what allows something like “Crosswords,” the album’s opening number, to flourish as it grows from a menacing, clackety rumbler to a bittersweet, haunting elegy. Admittedly, it also takes Brown down some odd roads, namely the ’80s electro-funk one-note joke closer “Music (is the Key),” but even then the effect is closer to the playful end of the spectrum than the irritating.

Playfulness is likely a big part of why Brown v. Board continues to be able to crank out such consistently rewarding music to no notoriety. There is no discernible grab for pop success here, or the desperate grab bag sadness of a “I really just need to get paid” beat tape, instead Normal Biases is music for the sheer thrill of it, 14 beats of love unveiled on a day where that four letter word has gone mass market and overhyped. There are any number of hot beatmakers operating in Austin these days, all set up on varying levels of success, from Drake collabs to Japanese tours, but Brown v. Board is one of the low key operators we should be looking towards more if we want a true glimpse of what lies ahead.

Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at  Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover