Exclusive Interview: Future Brown – “At the end of the day this is kind of a fan project.”
We caught up with Future Brown's Fatima Al Qadiri and Daniel Pineda to discuss their self-titled debut album...
Future Brown’s Fatima Al Qadiri and Daniel Pineda are tired. The touring and promotion of their debut album is starting to get the better of them as we catch up with them at Warp Records’ office following a performance at London’s ICA last night where they were joined on stage by Ruff Sqwad. The supergroup’s other two members, Asma Maroof (who with Daniel forms Nguzunguzu) and J-Cush have been swept off to do another interview, but it feels as though the mission statement, whilst not confined to some elevator pitch, is clear within the minds of all four forward thinking DJ/producers.
“We were all big fans of vocalists,” begins Fatima. “and although some of us have worked with vocalists before, like Asma and Daniel had worked with Kelela, none of us had made a full project just trying to make music for vocalists. It was a way to combine our strengths and do something that was challenging for the four of us.”
The self-titled album began life as an A4 piece of paper. “We just made our combined dream list of people that we want to work with. Each [of us] would recommend a vocalist that they had been following for a while but the other members hadn’t heard.” Rather than chasing the obvious tastemaker favourites, the tracklist boasts a line-up of voices that often don’t get the recognition they deserve. While this wasn’t an intention of the group, it seems like their natural inclination was to shine some light on those that are often overlooked. “I mean like for example Shawwna is someone I’ve been a fan of for years,” explains Daniel. “I like midwest, Chicago rappers that rap really fast. It wasn’t some conscious thing like ‘Oh they’re under-rated’. It was really just who we were fans of, it wasn’t thinking about how big they are. I mean there was people that maybe we want to work with that we didn’t get to work with, maybe they were too big at the time or too busy at the time, whatever.”
The album’s diverse cast of vocalists seamlessly trading off with one another throughout the its run time, is a testament to the intuitive A&R aspect of Future Brown. “This project was so much about getting in touch with people and meeting people, working things out with a bigger group of people than I’m used to,” says Daniel. “As soon as we wanted to work with someone we just reached out to them,” adds Fatima. “It takes a lot of time to make an album. You have to just keep up the ways of reaching out to people and finishing vocals and treating them. The music industry moves really really fast, but it can move really slow if you’re being lazy.”
Perhaps their most exciting collaborations are ‘Room 302’ and ‘Wanna Party’ – the album’s opener and closer, respectively – which both feature Timbaland’s newest protege Tink. Future Brown managed to work in the studio with her before Tim caught wind of the talented young rapper/singer from Chicago. “It was really amazing working with Tink. That was the first person we worked with on the record, and just to see her bust out on in the studio, she was so quick and so talented, it was really amazing.” Daniel recalls. “We were very lucky to have gotten in touch with her before she was snapped up,” admits Fatima. “But we’re all very happy for her success. She’s one of the most gifted people we’ve ever come across, and we hope her rise is meteoric.”
While the production was all done in real life amongst the four members, it sometimes wasn’t possible to get all of the vocalists into the studio to what they chalk up as “geographic financial limitations”, although they believe the split to be roughly fifty-fifty which is certainly not a bad ratio in todays culture of emailing tracks back and forth.
It feels like geography has a big part to play in Future Brown, or at least in the way they are presented, with critics taking fascination in the fact that the producers themselves are all from very different backgrounds, even before taking into account the regional styles represented across the record. While Future Brown admit that there is an undeniable geography in the record, Fatima offers: “That’s just the case if you’re a producer and there’s a lot of vocalists that you’re going to work with in person or not in person due to some kind of limitation. This is the reality of it, it wasn’t a focus for us.” With Daniel commenting on the importance of the regional contribution: “It really just happened in that way based on who we wanted to work with. But I think there’s really distinct styles on the record, there’s a very distinct London grime sound, Chicago’s definitely huge on there. And those regional sounds are really important to what you hear.”
While regional sound is important to the record, it feels as though the producers involved are post-genre, the word bringing with it unwanted rules and structures. “I just think genre is just a very neat marketing box invented by advertisers, but everything is so loose these days,” considers Fatima. “So many things fall under the umbrella of ‘electronic music’. Can you just imagine what ‘electronic music’ is? It’s basically non-acoustic music. I just feel like these things are just really really loose definitions that are given and people get hung up about them. Those boundaries are not going to stop us from making a record with vocalists that we love. I just feel like it’s a word at the end of the day, and music is an abstract thing, it’s not a word. It’s a collection of emotions and rhythms and tonal information, it’s not a word.” Future Brown inhabit an ever growing grey area that doesn’t concern itself with the rules of the past, simply focussing on taking the tools they need in order to present the idea that they’re aiming to articulate.
In this case, the focus was first and foremost to frame their chosen vocalists in a way that allows them to deliver their best. “At the end of the day this is kind of a fan project,” admits Fatima. “We’re huge fans of all the vocalists on the record and we want them to shine. We’re making music for their voices, so that’s the number one goal. [We want] people to look into Timberlee’s music and look into Shawwna’s music, investigate Johnny May Cash and YB and King Rell. We want people to be moved by these voices and seek them out.” With such a diverse, and at times even obscure, guest lineup, it’s safe to say that there is something new for everyone on the record.
In this way, their roles as selectors definitely shine through. Breaking new voices and new sounds to audiences that might not be familiar. Their DJ backgrounds were a huge influence on assembling the album. “It kind of directs a lot of the music that we’re trying to make,” says Daniel. “It’s stuff that can be played in the club – a lot of it – and that’s kind of like who we’re listening to as well. Also with the live shows, just how we approach that so far is all very DJ oriented.” Fatima believes that fellow DJs will be able to make a lot of use from it, explaining, “I think you can take an acapella and drop it in your set, or you can take an instrumental or you can take the entire track. It’s like when you’re a DJ you see more usage of a song than if you’re not. It’s like these are very valuable and useful elements in the album for DJs, as well as regular listeners. It becomes a multi-purpose tool for you.”
As our interview comes to an end, Fatima and Daniel become very secretive around the topic of what’s next for Future Brown. They do reveal that a certain Versace-loving Atlanta trio currently sit at the top of their wishlist of vocalists to record with, and while they have previously unveiled that they have been working with D Double E and Jammer, they don’t wish to offer up anymore about moving forward. “There’s a lot of grime artists that we want to work with for the next record or singles or whatever,” teases Fatima. “So you’re just going to have wait to see what we drop!”