John Brown burst into American popular consciousness as a contestant on VH1’s “The (White) Rapper Show.” Enduring eight weeks of rigorous mental and physical competition, Brown emerged as the shows runner-up. Robbed of the title in the eyes of many viewers, he sees the new found notoriety as a major victory.
Love him or hate him, one thing is clear. Brown set the new standard for self-promotion on a reality show. His catchphrase, “Hallelujah Holla Back,” spread like wild fire. People, including fellow contestants, were left wondering how this self-proclaimed King of Da Burbz was going to revive the ghetto. There is no doubt that “The (White) Rapper Show” took Ghetto Revival to the next level from a publicity standpoint. He confused, amused and riled up viewers. Every action was part of a plan of attack to utilize every second on camera as a marketing tool.
Through the hoopla of the show, Brown’s industry chops are often forgotten. With Ghetto Revival’s in-house production wing, So Religious Productions, JB has cut tracks for artists from Cali to NY, and even overseas working with UK underground heavyweights Foreign Beggars. From selling beats to ringtones to t-shirts, Brown is more than a rapper. Hell, he’ll tell you himself that he’s an “entity.”
Ballerstatus caught up with John Brown to discuss the future of Ghetto Revival, his experiences on the show, and his take on the industry. After a minor detour to discuss the growth of the UK scene and the merits of grime music, we got down to business. Here are the results.
Ballerstatus.com: It’s been about a minute since the show went off the air. What’s the reaction been like with the fans, and also, with the industry?
John Brown: Yeah, well, obviously everywhere I go its nothing but love. “You were robbed, you were robbed,” is pretty much everyone’s phrase. So just on an everyday street level, people are very interested to see me in 3-D, and you know, understand that I’m really a person and we have a movement. This is really real. I really do this music and we really live this revivalism. That’s definitely been a blessing.
On the industry side of things, we’ve been getting a lot of love from certain hip-hop publications. A lot of things I’m doing, like the official High Times 420 party in Miami, and I’m doing MTV “Wildn’ Out.” We were brought out by the morning show “Nuts in the Morning,” from Power 98.3 in Phoenix to perform alongside UNK, Lloyd, Baby Boy and Collie Buddz. So basically, people are embracing the song, “Hallelujah Holla Back,” as well as the whole culture I presented right alongside some of the biggest movements in the country. We finished the “Hallelujah Holla Back” video and its crazy. The industry is definitely very anxious to work with us. We’ve had some real offers and we are in the process of trying to go back and forth and find the best situation so we can take this to our full potential.
Ballerstatus.com: How much does the notoriety you gained on the show help when you are pitching to a major label?
John Brown: The multi-million dollar promotion that we got through Viacom was priceless really. Right now, everybody knows, nobody really sells records anymore. The record industry is becoming obsolete; it’s really starting to shift over to mobile media. It’s about creating your brand, your culture. Create off of that. By having millions of fans digest Ghetto Revival, Hallelujah Holla Back, King of the Burbz for eight weeks straight was definitely a real new age, modern form of promotion that has helped us immensely.
Ballerstatus.com: Your core fans, I’m assuming you had some fans before you went on the show, how did they react to the show?
John Brown: Obviously a lot of white rappers… I feel a lot of my homies from the suburbs — before I did the show — were like “yo, I don’t know about that show. Some people are going to think you’re a wanna be Eminem,” and blah blah blah. You know, I feel a lot of people out here in New York were like “Yo, it’s a no brainer, you got to get on there and promote and rep.” I think that obviously the way we’ve been going about our music, they way I’ve been doing things for years, sometimes people are a little skeptical of the moves we make, but now it’s been nothing but complete adoration and respect. A lot of people are proud of what we did, and the love has just increased ten fold.
Ballerstatus.com: Did you have any fear that you would come off looking corny?
John Brown: The whole reality of the show is that we’re living in a new era and if you know what you’re doing independently, it’s about getting your brand out there, your phrases out there. I understood there were going to be some good looks and some bad looks, but it was going to be a big look, a huge look. I have definitely been vindicated.
Ballerstatus.com: Let’s talk about some of those bad looks. The challenges on the show, the thug challenge and the racial stereotype game, how do you think those represented hip-hop?
John Brown: I don’t think it was a representation of hip-hop. I think it was a representation of the show, “Ego Trip’s (White) Rapper Show.” There’s a difference. They never claimed to represent hip-hop. They claimed to represent all sociological perspectives of race. Now, obviously they are very tongue in cheek and people who are insecure about being white, insecure about themselves, might have issues with it, but I think that anybody that has a sense of humor and an open mind would look at it for what it is, television.
Ballerstatus.com: The show was a big step for them, in a way. I knew what Ego Trip was, but I imagine a lot of the VH1 viewers did not.
John Brown: Not only the viewers, but I’ll tell you this, I was the only rapper on the show that knew what Ego Trip was.
John Brown: Yeah, and so I think that played a part in it. I played up some of the irony, obviously, in terms of “Oh yeah, no doubt, that’s how we do it out here in the Burbs.” Playing that up to kind of increase the irony. Because I understood this was not a competition to find the next Eminem. Anyone who thinks that is naïve. A lot of the kids on the show actually did think that and thought that they were among the top 10 in the country. What I understood was that this was a way, an unprecedented way, to represent my company and my whole ideology on national television. That’s precisely what I was saying when I was like, I’m not a rapper, I’m an entity. I wasn’t on there to prove I was the lyrical, empirical miracle; I was showing people how to handle their business in 2007.
Ballerstatus.com: I want to talk about your interaction with people during filming, specifically Serch. In Detroit, he sat with you guys as you prepared to battle and I want to know was he genuinely interested in helping you guys out and offering sage advice, or was it really just contrived?
John Brown: You know, that specific thing, helping us with the battle, that was genuine mentoring. He was definitely our mentor in that position. It wasn’t really until we got to Detroit that he really became more than just the host. Before Detroit, he would just come around and say his piece, focus on eliminations and stuff and then just take off. Once we got to Detroit, he started to open up. He warned us about certain things that we would face after the show. He’s defintely a beast as an MC, don’t get it twisted. Serch will still shut it down.
Ballerstatus.com: What about the interactions with other artists? You had La Coka Nostra, NORE, Santana, Saigon…
John Brown: Right, the interactions varied. With La Coka Nostra, it was defiantly a hang out session. They kicked it with us, we had some drinks. With Just Blaze, we were in the studio for like three hours, so it was genuine collaboration. Someone like Fat Joe, what you saw on TV was pretty much what he did. So it kind of varied depending on people’s schedules. Specifically with N.O.R.E., the whole thing that was funny about that is that they tried to show that he was just disgusted with what was going on, so he took off. What really happened was, because that girl got in the whole ambulance thing that day, we were late to that N.O.R.E. thing and he had a radio show at 10 p.m. We showed up at 9:45. He was like, “What is this?” Nobody told him what the show was about, because they didn’t want him to have any preconceptions. They wanted him to have an honest reaction, to how you would naturally react to us. So, that was the math behind that situation.
Ballerstatus.com: Did you have any success handing out your business cards?
John Brown: Yes. We’ve been getting a lot of love from Dipset. We work with EMS, from 152 in Harlem, which is basically the same hood as Dipset. So, you know they’re all revival minded up there, showing a lot of love.
Ballerstatus.com: Let’s get on to the revival. Your name and your partner’s name, Dred Scott, are really historically loaded. Why did you adopt that moniker and how does it help you push your ideas?
John Brown: I think that, with me and my background with my family. I’m originally from California and the movements there are rooted in civil rights and having a strong understanding of the history of America. Based upon how I developed as an artist, as a person and as a student, I adopted the name John Brown, just to represent for riding for the cause. I think that as a rapper, especially as a white rapper, that it is very important to be aware of your place in America history, especially if you’re trying to represent the culture which comes from the struggle. On a side note, like 40% of the kids on the show were straight up Republicans. That’s something that is interesting that should be noted. Like I said, in that one thing, with those two kids and we were dissing each other, and I said “on some real sh–, they both voted for Bush,” that was on some real sh–. We had a lot of conversations and people sometimes think that just because you’re down with hip-hop, it means that you’re down with helping people and that’s not always the case. A lot of people are driven by individuality and getting their paper, and sh–ting on everybody else. We basically want to show creative ways of using your money when you become successful. That will develop over time; we are in the inspiration mode right now.
Ballerstatus.com: Would you say that using your money creatively is the ultimate mission?
John Brown: We aren’t in the business of making music; we are in the business of making history.
Ballerstatus.com: Right. Abolitionists had a pretty clear cut mission in there day, but it seems that you had some trouble articulating your mission.
John Brown: Well actually, to correct you, John Brown wasn’t an abolitionist. He actually looked at abolitionists as merely talkers. Basically, our message is basically you are all bosses. Preaching economic independence, and also put yourself in a position where you can set up other subsidiaries. Similar to a lot of these other rappers, you know in the industry, who have been doing this, doing something unprecedented in American history. Artists have come from nothing to basically being some of the lead fashion creators and owning their own masters. We can get into everything from owning land and creating cops, so people in the hood don’t have to eat sh**, to actually affecting legislation. All those steps come obviously as you get your weight up as an entertainment company, which is what we are doing right now. Obviously, it’s not the 1840s and I’m not going to running up on Harper’s Ferry. It’s symbolic. Anyone who is trying to compare literally Old John Brown with New John Brown is ignorant. What I’m representing is the modern way of basically infiltrating a multi-billion dollar corporation, Viacom, and really getting out some intense ideas and making them mainstream. That’s something that I lot of “conscious” rappers haven’t been able to do. Can I get a witness on that?
Ballerstatus.com: Hallelujah holla back. I brought up that comparison to spur you to describe Ghetto Revival. Your interested in binaries obviously, you’re the King of Da Burbs and you want to revive the ghetto and that creates a lot of confusion in people.
John Brown: It does. I think that what I’m trying to say, Ghetto Revival, we’re trying to make a better America. One thing about us, we’re trying to make a better America and it’s all about playing your position. There are some movements out there that are black only movements, some that are white only movements, and to me any type of movement that is defined by your race or defined by your identity is very disturbing. We basically, we kind of are trying to create a movement with multiple religions, multiple ethnicities. Whether you’re from the burbs and you came up living good, or came up from nothing, the idea is it’s a revival and there’s unity with what we’re doing. Me saying I’m the King of the Burbs, is me saying, “Yeah, I’m from the burbs, but similarly maybe to John Brown, I got up of my ass to do something and go out of my element to basically create this movement.” You have to understand, it was the “white” rapper show right, they didn’t have the black rapper show; they didn’t have the Puerto Rican rapper show. That’s why when I’m on there, I’m representing not only myself, but also my company. I don’t exist in a vacuum, this all comes from something. I guarantee you that you can’t name any other click from any other contestant on the show. Even though almost all of them had clicks, none of them thought to even market them or think about things bigger than themselves. So, you know, it’s about just trying to represent more than just myself.
Ballerstatus.com: I want to get back on the King of Da Burbs thing, because when you mention that to people, it seems they immediately think affluent and white when they hear suburb. Do you think there is a danger in that generality? It is polarizing.
John Brown: People always want to attack the messenger. Like, with the “N” word chain or something, people always want to attack the messenger. Like people want to say, when I hear King of the Burbs, I think white and affluent. Damn right, that’s what I’m representing. Not that I’m representing white and affluent, because there is a lot of black kids from the suburbs that relate. Like, “Word, I’m from the suburbs, but I’m still down, I’m not some sell out.” I’m trying to make moves, and just because I’m from the burbs don’t mean I don’t know what’s going on. It’s not just a white thing. At the same time, the first thing you think of when you think of suburbs is white and affluent and what’s the first thing you think of when you think of ghetto? Not white and affluent.
Ballerstatus.com: Right, but when you think of, say Paris, the suburbs are the opposite of some of the generally held conceptions of suburbs here in America.
John Brown: Yeah, but when I say King of the Burbs, why did you think white and affluent?
Ballerstatus.com: Me? I don’t necessarily think that.
John Brown: But, when people do it forces them to flush out the inequality in America. I’m juxtaposing, putting two words together, burbs and ghetto and it’s automatically forcing people to talk about that. See what I’m saying? Recognize that we have these separate parts of society that are segregated. At one time by race, and now economically, and continues to be segregated by race as a result. Basically trying to bring light to that on mainstream television, people want to attack me because I’m the messenger, the sacrificial lamb for it, but at the same time it’s a beautiful thing going that we have these discussions about culture and bring attention to the way people live over here and how they live over there. It’s a very young country and it wasn’t always like this, and it’s not always going to be like this. It’s my own social commentary.
Ballerstatus.com: Are you only speaking for the urban ghetto or the rural ghetto as well?
John Brown: The rural man. It’s basically, we’re challenging inequalities of society. Obviously burbs and ghetto are the most nutshell phrases to juxtapose. People are funny, because they are like, “Why would you want to stop at one ghetto?” Obviously we are trying to bring up issues that most people probably agree with, but people are trying to cut it down based on the details without really understanding the larger picture of what we’re saying. Of course, whether it’s rural or its country or whatever, it’s the clash of class.
Ballerstatus.com: You derive a lot of power from these binaries you choose to represent, and you obviously have thought about that, but still it created a lot of problems for the other people on the show.
John Brown: Well, that’s because the people around me on the show lacked knowledge, wisdom and understanding.
Ballerstatus.com: It would seem that you could vibe with a guy like Jus Rhyme on the socially conscious tip.
John Brown: Yeah we could. He is a GR rider. That’s what you don’t know, he is a disciple.
John Brown: There is so much they don’t show. They used about 2% of the footage from the show. They didn’t put in so many conversations and so many rhymes for this guy and that guy. You really only saw a caricature of each person. I see, there is an editorial on Ballerstatus with a whole section dedicated to “f— John Brown.” That’s a beautiful thing, because whatever it is I did struck enough of a cord to make people dedicate that much attention to me. Whether it was negative or positive, then you have to question what was it that sparked that passion.
Ballerstatus.com: I feel you; you did what you needed to do. I applaud that.
John Brown: I appreciate that.
Ballerstatus.com: Let’s get back to some rap sh–. You didn’t kick the same verse all the time. A lot of the others did.
John Brown: Yup.
Ballerstatus.com: You made a bold move, in a way, kicking “Car Wars.” What made you switch it up in the club setting when you had other chances to come with a more socially conscious vibe?
John Brown: “Car Wars,” I had been doing what I had been doing the whole show. Obviously, after Detroit, I feel I did my thing there, and after that I was pretty strong going into the finale. I wanted to do something that was defintely, distinctly different from what Shamrock was going to do. I felt confident in my ability to say something that was a little bit deeper than a “Smoke In The Club,” even though that has its own political implications. I wanted to make sure I hit them hard with the lyricism, because honestly, that’s what I thought Serch and them were looking for. At the same time, the one beautiful thing about “Car wars, “the fact that I was on the show and I had my business mentality strong, that I was promoting. That automatically gained the respect of a lot of people who basically respect the business side of the game. I had that basically down and I had done the club banger very successfully with Just Blaze. I’d been getting that mainstream kind of acceptance. Meanwhile, a lot of hip-hop purists and kids that hold the culture dear to their heart and have a certain authenticity, by dropping “Car Wars,” and I know this first hand, it literally pulled those guys in. I found myself in a situation where I got almost the best of both worlds. On top of that, some people look at the show like, “Oh these people do the shows and then these big companies own them, their just selling their soul.” That’s not the case, we have very good lawyers and we have a lot of options right now especially since I didn’t get first place. It was a mass media blitz. I sparked, a song you wouldn’t necessarily hear on a reality show, and on top of that, Funk Master Flex has a new show called “Car Wars.” It’s a show around cars, and there is a lot of chatter on the internet wondering if he did that as a nod to my song.
Ballerstatus.com: Some people have suggested that you disrespected people on the show and the culture in general.
John Brown: Ok (laughs). Elaborate.
Ballerstatus.com: Haystack, for example, thought you were disrespectful to Grand Master Flash.
John Brown: I just think that a lot of people, a lot of artists out have been doing music for a long time. I started out as a consumer and as a fan. I’ve defintely studied every artist that you can think of in the record store. From all coasts. I think that, at this point, there are a lot of people trying to take their company to the next level and trying to figure out away to get their career a little more successful. I think that a lot of these critics have to look at themselves, and the music they’ve been creating, and really look at why the kids don’t really like it. Why these movements, whether it’s white only or whatever, are very exclusive and sort of a little troubling and a little scary? I think that’s what it is. All the details and specifics, I see Lord Jamar and he gives me love. Says, “I was robbed.” The show is the show, and people understand and recognize what we’re really doing. I think a lot of disgruntled white rappers want to jump to knee jerk hatred, rather than see how I’m out hustling smarter, because obviously something’s not working with them.
Ballerstatus.com: I mean my beef with the show wasn’t with the contestants; I enjoyed watching it and found it entertaining. I just thought it wasn’t a good look as representation of the culture.
John Brown: But do you think it’s just that white rappers are just a little too insecure?
Ballerstatus.com: That’s a possibility. I think it is difficult for some white rappers to assert an identity. You find that you have some guys who are hiding. Like, in the mid-90s, you never would have known how many white rappers there were. There is always that fear in American culture, when you are doing things that people say isn’t for you, and I think there is a reaction to that in some commentary.
John Brown: It’s a real tear jerker. I feel bad for white rappers. The reality is white culture and whiteness, there are a lot of poor white people, and it’s not a game. The majority of people in prison are poor white people. It’s not like there is obliviousness to the levels of inequality, but if you look at the status quo of American culture, it’s white culture. If you don’t understand that, then you need to get your mind right. Understand who has most of the wealth and controls the media. When they come out with a show and poke fun, it’s probably the white rappers out there that don’t make very good music and probably don’t have the most creative ideas about what they want to add on to the game, and probably are a little bit salty about career decisions. Those are the ones that are the critics. The ones that are on the cutting edge of the game, that really have open minds that understand what the show was trying to do had a sense of humor about it. White rappers, it’s the time in society where the white man isn’t taken seriously right off the rip. Well, too f—ing bad. Step your game up.
Ballerstatus.com: No doubt.
John Brown: A lot of white rappers, there whole fan base is white.
Ballerstatus.com: That can be the same for black rappers.
John Brown: Yeah, it is the same for some black rappers.
Ballerstatus.com: Rasco had an interview in URB magazine a couple years ago lamenting the fact that he didn’t have enough black fans.
John Brown: Is he happy about that?
Ballerstatus.com: Not necessarily, and at the same time, Slug asked the same question.
John Brown: Right.
Ballerstatus.com: Rap is so disjointed that often, at the mainstream level, there isn’t much mingling.
John Brown: Right. That’s what the Revival is establishing. We attract a similar sort of fan base to say, Outkast. We have everybody from frat kids, to just straight thugs, to bad model bitches. I’m telling you, we have a very wide spread fan base. It’s very important for us to maintain that. We don’t have a white only fan base. When you see us on stage, its not just white people trying to find out who there are and how they can accept themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin. That’s just beat, we try to get some paper and let people know it’s a Revival and not a movement.
Ballerstatus.com: So you got mixtapes, models and the gear?
John Brown: Yo man, it’s really all there.
Ballerstatus.com: That seems the perfect business model.
John Brown: It’s a modern business model. We’re not trying to make some whatever gear, some corny tees you wash once and throw away. Real serious gear that you can rock and a bitch will wanna f— you when you rock it.
Ballerstatus.com: When you were in Detroit you got to meet ICP. They have made a pretty f—ing awesome career out of selling everything.
John Brown: They are amazing. They are just showing people how to do it independently. I know they clock six figures of merchandise annually. They got every step of production in their crib. They employ their homeboys, it’s a beautiful thing. They’re an inspirational click and they don’t give a f— about what people think about them.
Ballerstatus.com: Would you say that was one of the best experiences you had on the show, from a business standpoint?
John Brown: It was defintely one of the most eye opening experiences I had. Everyone, from Serch on down, was impressed.
Ballerstatus.com: I apologize for bring things back to the show a lot, but I really don’t know anything about you otherwise. When will things be in the stores?
John Brown: The mixtape will be out, and you can get it through the usual channels, like MySpace. As for the actual store, you can look for that this summer, June. We have already had the distribution deals offered to us, so it’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when. That you can put down for summer, an album in stores. Right now, we’ve been really successful with our ringtones, the “Hallelujah Holla Back” ringtone, text GRHHB to 97069. People have that all over. We defintely try and stay on top of the game. Obviously the video is out.
Ballerstatus.com: Anything else you want to address?
John Brown: We defintely have been long term readers of you guys. Dred Scott checks you every day. First and foremost, we are adding on to the culture. We are bringing new things, new language, and new ideologies. You know, when the Lord Jamar show happened, people were on the internet saying it’s the 5 percent ideology verses the Revival philosophy. Me calling myself the King of Da Burbs, you know which I am, as anyone who the King of the Burbs is, no question, it’s John Brown. That’s adding a whole new sphere of what the King of the Burbs is doing, rather than running away from where I’m from, I’m embracing where I’m from.
That’s been inspirational to a ton of people. I get messages from kids everyday saying, “I’m from the burbs, I rep, that’s what I do. It’s about keg parties, and just because I wasn’t raised on food stamps doesn’t mean I don’t have a struggle, or have a voice.” Ideally that voice will be about trying to make a better America. I think what you’ll see on this album is me representing the culture of the burbs, but also the mentality of the burbs and it’s not me trying to tell you how to live your life, it’s me showing the world how I live my life and have people think about how I ended up living that life and why we live that way. I think we ruffle feathers because we are adding on to the culture. I believe those that add to a culture carve out their niche in history.