A colour that doesn’t exist in nature but does exist on CD, in your iTunes library and in the club: Future Brown. The name of the ‘underground dance supergroup’ was coined by DIS Magazine’s Solomon Chase—and “has jack shit to do with race”. What it does have to do with is club sounds and vocalists hailing from Jamaica to Chicago to London.
Future Brown is a dream project. Its members—Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda of LA duo NGUZUNGUZU, artist and composer Fatima Al Qadiri and Jamie Imanian-Friedman (aka J-Cush, boss of NYC label Lit City Trax)—are long-time colleagues and friends. Their shared ambition to work with vocalists from across the globe brought them together as Future Brown.
No strangers to the world of (underground) club music and diasporic sounds, J-Cush’s label releases global sounds such as jersey club by UNIIQU3 and kuduro by Portuguese DJ Marfox. Fatima Al Qadiri journeyed (sonically) to China for her latest solo project, Asiatisch, and a few years back she put together a wonderful series of global music videos for DIS Magazine (global.wav). Nguzunguzu, meanwhile, have explored the sounds of the world in, for instance, the heavy zouk- and tarraxinha-inspired Perfect Lullaby I&II mixes. In short, looking beyond borders runs in their veins, and has done for a long time. So to see these sounds coming back on Future Brown’s debut album is no surprise. What’s different from their solo work, however, is that this is a vocal-lead project. There are no instrumental songs on Future Brown’s debut, in direct contrast to their releases as individual producers. What unites the vocalists they chose to work with? “Raw talent,” the group confirms.
Every Future Brown beat is made with all its members in the room, and tailored to the sounds of the particular contributing vocalist. “We have to reach out to whoever we dream of working with. When they get in touch with us a year and a half later it’s still exciting. Like, ohmygod—I can’t believe this is happening to me! You know?” The members of Future Brown have been collaborating in various configurations for a while, working on different stuff. The joint ambition to work with vocalists they love brought them together in January 2013. Within two years they’d managed to bring together 17 different vocalists from very different backgrounds. R&B star Kelela, sits alongside Riko Dan’s grime verses on Speng, followed by the Chicago drill of rappers Johnny May Cash, YB and King Rell. Jamaican dancehall artist Timberlee and grime MCs Roachee, Prince Rapid and Dirty Danger (Ruff Sqwad) complete the line-up, with young rap queen Tink opening and closing the album.
The name Future Brown was not invented by one of the group, but by DIS Magazine’s Solomon Chase—allegedly in the throes of a mushroom trip. “The colour that doesn’t exist in nature really reflects the project because it’s escaping generalization in so many different ways,” they say. Paying genre boundaries as little heed as geographical ones, the Future Brown sound runs the gamut from dancehall to rap, its main purpose to provide beats for vocalists. Consequently, when it comes to categorization Future Brown is hard to define—in the same way that the members’ solo projects have never really been easy to define either. For the artists themselves, “there’s no real right way to talk about anything, someone can call it what they like; it doesn’t change what it is.”
That Future Brown defies definition reflects the music perfectly. While every song has a different vocalist, the project comes together in the vision of its producers. Every song has a certain flow and depth and idea that represents both the producers and the vocalists, creating something new in this process. Future Brown has a signature sound from which the music is created—a sound very different from what other producers who work with rappers and singers are doing. But being “different” is definitely not the members’ main focus: “We don’t have this crazy intention of being these liberal, free people; we just make the music we make… We don’t sit there with a piece of paper on the wall that says ‘Be Free!’” The project, they say, is not about bringing together as many different styles and artists as possible; nor is it about creating a new genre or niche, nor is it about predicting or speculating about what the future of (being) “brown” is. As Maroof righteously notes: “You wouldn’t ask Black Sabbath about their connection with black people, would you?”