Picking up speed

Music

September 22, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

KEV BROWN BEARS A STRIKING RESEMBLANCE TO A young Curtis Mayfield: dark complexion, round glasses and all.

"I get that all the time, man," he says.

But Brown isn't a soul singer with an aching falsetto and an affinity for uplifting, gospel-inflected lyrics. The Landover native is a rapper whose sound, in the spirit of Mayfield, throbs with urban grit and sweet funk. He isn't the most charismatic rhyme slinger out there. Brown favors a laid-back, almost monotone style. But his introspective, stream-of-consciousness-like lines smoothly sail on bottom-heavy, jazz-tinged beats. In stores this week, I Do What I Do is Brown's impressive debut.

"I know a lot of older people don't consider hip-hop as real music," says the 29-year-old rapper-beat maker, who plays Black Cat in Washington Sunday night. He's calling from his Landover home. "But it's more than what's on the radio and the TV. You don't have to do what everybody is doing on the videos and on the radio. Some cats are just compromising and playing themselves."

Brown refuses to do so. There's no thuggish posturing on I Do What I Do, no over-the-top braggadocio. Besides, the bookish-looking artist couldn't really pull off the roughneck act. Brown is more of a throwback to the "Daisy Age" in rap -the early to mid-'90s when De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets delivered heady, sometimes funny rhymes over soul-jazz-infused beats. Although he's thoughtful, Brown, whose production credits include De La Soul, Jewel and DJ Jazzy Jeff, isn't an esoteric rapper. He delivers down-to-earth rhymes about making beats ("Say Sumthin ..."), holding on to your integrity while on the hip-hop hustle ("Outside Lookin' In" and "Struggla's Theme"), being smitten by a girl from around the way ("Hennessey Pt. I").

Brown says, "You can probably hear it in my music, the hip-hop I grew up on: Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Erick Sermon. That's the musical influence - and the other stuff like Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder. It's all a combination of what I listened to growing up."

The rapper, the youngest of three, grew up in a solidly middle-class home. His mother worked for the government, and his father was a supplies manager at the University of Maryland. The Brown house was a musical one where everybody either sang or played an instrument. While a student at Parkdale High School, the rapper fell for hip-hop. He used to write rhymes and rap on the school bus. After graduation, he taught himself to mix and construct beats and started performing at open-mike haunts around Baltimore and Washington.

"It got more fun to make beats than make rhymes," Brown says with a snicker. "Writing rhymes is like homework."

In the last year or so, Brown's name has steadily risen above the underground rap scene. The Brown Album, his 2004 remix of Jay-Z's The Black Album, generated enough buzz to land glowing write-ups in Vibe, The New York Times and Elemental magazine. His productions have appeared on numerous underground hip-hop compilations and mix tapes. But the unassuming artist has bigger plans: to put soul back into hip-hop and to show the rest of the world what Maryland has to offer the genre.

"Maryland seems to get overlooked," he says. "We're in the middle of everything, so you get the New York influence and the down South influence. You have a lot of schools around the area - Howard, Morgan - so you have people coming [from] all over the country with a different style. And it all comes together. With my music, I try to show that. It's in the name of the album, man: I do what I do."

See Kev Brown at Black Cat, 1811 14th St. N.W. in Washington, Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 202-667-7960 or visit blackcatdc.com.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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