Trey: How have things been going?
Braille: Honestly, it’s been an amazing season. I expected this season to be much darker and stagnant. God is glorifying himself through my life. I’m learning to live in response to what Jesus has done, not what people do.
Trey: This past month, you went an unconventional route and shared with all your fans in a video blog what’s been going on in your personal life. Without getting into to much detail how have you been faring?
Braille: I’m a public figure. It’s impossible to face these trials in secret. I held much of the weight and confided in very few for a whole year. Now I’m just sharing the healing. God has restored me as a man and restored my life. I’m fairing well. A pastor told me 90 percent of this season was going to be beautiful and progressive. Yet 10 percent would still be some of the hardest moments of my life. It was an accurate assessment and I’m thankful for it all.
Trey: I noticed you recently did away with the Hip Hop Is Music label and moved to a sub-label under Syntax Records. What initiated that move, especially since Hip Hop Is Music is very well regarded and has put out great music in the past?
Braille: The new label is called Talking Textures and we will be working close with both Syntax and Humble Beast. Hip Hop Is Music was the validation phase – trying to validate the artists and validate a certain style of hip hop coming from believers. Talking Textures is all about two principles: 1. Letting the music speak for itself and no longer trying to prove ourselves, but just being ourselves, validated just for being and held together by Christ. 2. Letting God speak for himself. No longer wrestling with how to validate our faith but just pointing to Christ as revealed in the scriptures beyond religious traditions, exploitations, or distortions.
It’s a new season. We already have a strong release schedule for 2010.
Trey: How has the transition been from Portland, Oregon to California? I know you moved to be closer to Syntax. Is your current geography putting you in a better place career-wise?
Braille: I’m actually back in Portland, Oregon. I moved with my family to San Marcos, CA to get a fresh start. It only put us in closer proximity to some of our drama. But God was good nonetheless. I built strong relationships with The Breax, Movement Church, and Syntax during that short period of time. I’m thankful for that step, as it played a role in everything and gave me a strong desire for a healthy church community, which I have now in Portland as well.
Trey: You’re a father, and you talk a lot about that in your music. Your daughter is starting to get older and starting to comprehend things on a different level. How have you been able to balance your career with being a vigilant and attentive father? What are the challenges and what advice do you have for other men doing the same thing?
Braille: The circumstances over the last year created a strong bond between me and my daughter. We have taken flights, road trips, and done stuff together. I had a lot to learn as a father, but I’m all about teaching. Showing her what I do, how I do it. She rocks shows with me, stands on stage and knows it’s important to behave well. We pray together. It’s taught me gentleness. I’m blessed to be doing music full time. I have dramatically lowered my living expenses. It’s taught me so much patience – allowing my daughter to interrupt me during phone calls, meetings, and writing. I don’t have a ton of available assistance in terms of childcare. And I don’t really want it. When my daughter is with me, she is 100 percent my priority. God multiplies my efforts and I try to work smart.
Trey: Let’s talk about Weapon Aid. Coming off of Cloud Nineteen where thought there was an incredible amount of intensity, how did you approach Weapon Aid and what was some of the influence for the album other than the fact that you’re an artist and it was time to make a new album?
Braille: I was working on a different album titled “Audibly Enhanced Dreams” but these songs for “Weapon Aid” just started leaking out of me. I knew it wouldn’t be beneficial to shove the songs on an unrelated record, so I just kind of journaled what I was going through internally. I pretty much make new music year round so it’s natural, but without direction or concept they’re just rap songs. These are healing songs and they belonged together.
Trey: First, please explain the title.
Braille: Aid from Weapons. When life serves you pain, hurt and disappointment you can either serve it back or get healed. The door was open for me to wild out, hurt a lot of people, make excuses for myself, and justify my wrongs. God instead chose to teach me his grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love through extreme circumstances. Those principles brought healing. Aid, healing from the effects of the weapons formed against us – which ultimately won’t prosper.
Trey: Who did you work with on the new album and what goes into your criteria when selecting a producer? Do you usually work with people you know or do you allow producers to submit beats to you?
Braille: The first two songs “Shoeless Joe” and “Up” were guest appearances I did for the producers. It happened very organically. Big Jess, the primary producer, I met from doing a guest spot for his group. So actually, all four producers on the record contacted me to do guest appearances for them around the same time. Kinda crazy huh? Just working with the resources and relationships that came to me during that season.
Trey: Weapon Aid is a dark album. I guess I wasn’t expecting that, but given what you’ve been through I can understand why. Are you ever concerned that in sharing too much of yourself, that people will start taking for granted your very honest approach to lyricism and music making (i.e., they’ll just come to expect these kind of lyrics from you)?
Braille: I don’t worry too much about it. I just put everything I have into each record. I’m completely comfortable sharing myself in music, been doing it since I was 13 or so. I have no idea what my next record will be like, but it will definitely be inspired by what’s going on in my life. And despite the dark feel of the record, I hope the weight, joy, hope and freedom shines through as well.
Trey: Do you have a song on Weapon Aid that speaks to you most closely?
Braille: Resurrect Me! The song brought me to tears many times with a deep cry out to God. And he has resurrected me. Some days I wake up and dance to Al Green cause I’m so thankful for who God is.
Trey: You don’t stray very far away from your own experiences. Still, are there any songs on here you had trouble writing?
Braille: Revenge was the hardest to write. I wrote it six or seven times. Sometimes it was too angry, then I would try to make it to peachy. I had to involve my brothers The Breax on that to bring a balance to the concept and subject. I started with a much happier verse, but I felt it necessary to express those very human thoughts in order to point to Christ as the reason I didn’t respond with ill will, not my own goodness, but the goodness of God.
Trey: In listening to “Shoeless Joe,” I was struck by the warning. “Think you want to walk in another man’s shoes/think you want to do what he do/think you want to be where he’s at?” I’m assuming there’s something autobiographical there for those kids who see Braille under the spotlight on stage, but don’t see Braille driving 18 hours in a car on little to no sleep trying to get to his next venue – or for the kid who doesn’t know that not many underground emcees such as yourself can do this for a living entirely off of what they make at their shows and through record sales and be economically set without worrying where the next paycheck comes from. What were you trying to express in this song?
Braille: This was the first song I wrote that ended up on the record. I was informed that something was wrong but had no clue as to what I was headed for. It’s the only song written on the record before I knew what the circumstances were. It’s mainly just saying that we all have burdens to bear – none of which amount to anything compared to what Christ took on our behalf. Things often look good from the outside, but there is a road that leads to every moment. We see those beautiful moments but often don’t see the road it took to arrive there.
Trey: What’s up with “Resurrect Me”? Here you say the passion is gone. What passion are you referring to? Passion for the music you are doing? I guess anything can get stale with time. Do you have to constantly refresh yourself?
Braille: That was referring to the vibe in my house dude. Nothing mattered to me anymore other then trying to fix the broken relationship. Didn’t care about a career, didn’t care about being dope, the passion and excitement was gone because the foundation of my life seemed broken. But it wasn’t cause Christ is the ultimate foundation and he is unbreakable.
Trey: How do you get revenge the right way? I’m borrowing from the song obviously.
Braille: I’ve recently summed it up as “responding to what Christ has done for you, not what people do to you.” Living my life is a response to Christ rather then revenge against troubles. And if I do take up revenge, I take it up by aiming to get better or be better rather then trying to make someone else worse.
Trey: Do you find at this point in your career you are writing music for the fans, for yourself, or both?
Braille: Both. But ultimately I’m using my gifts to glorify God, edify people, entertain by trade, and express the depths from within by default of style.
Trey: Your stage show is usually complimented with some form of ministry. If you weren’t doing hip hop music would you behind a pulpit?
Braille: I can’t really imagine my life being different. It’s hard enough to grasp what I know let alone imagine the unknown. I am pleased to serve in whatever ways I can as Christ enables me for good works.
Trey: How does Braille in 2010 look different from Braille in 2001? And what will Braille in 2020 look like?
Braille: 2001 was a year before I got married. I was a vagabond teenager who was serving in youth ministry, sleeping on floors, and rapping my little heart out. I feel the same freedom now that I was feeling then. I feel young again, but I have way more experiences and depth backing my passion. Biggest difference is I’m a man now. Many things I was striving for and pushing for many visions I held in are all natural now and coming to pass. I don’t try to predict the future. Gods will on earth as it is in heaven – that’s my desire/hope.
Trey: So where can the people cop Weapon Aid?
Braille: Bum rush iTunes, Sphere, and all that good stuff. April 27th!!!
Trey: Do you have any projects or people you want to plug? And do you have a website?
Next up from the label is Othello and Vajra “Required Taste” (June) and the Sareem Poems and Dust record (August). Let’s go!
Interview by Trey Palmisano