“Not too many success stories / ’cause in my hood it was all sad stories”
The hook of ShuwnRay’s second track on his album 2:32 PM (Birth of a Tyrant) means more to me than most people. And not in the “oh I really get into the music I write about” blogger way.
No. ShuwnRay (or as I know him, Rashuwn Brown) and I grew up together on the west side of Birmingham. I always knew he was special. He’d survived sickle cell disease to become an outstanding student leaving most of us in class looking at him crazy like “damn, now we have no excuse not to do better”. He even makes callbacks to our high school days on Birth of a Tyrant, naming girls who wouldn’t give him the time of day back then and now *surprise* ain’t laughing anymore.
But I digress. He has grown into a genuine artist who makes not only catchy and conscious rap & hiphop, but did it on his own. As he tells the story for everyone to hear on his album, he made a conscious decision to be an artist. He prospered and grew in his craft in his A&M dorm room studio, much to the sacrifice of his grades.
“I wasn’t nor did I want to be popular I was just a skinny dude who wore glasses and his twin bro was a star basketball player,” he says.
His story is not rare. Not even in his family. I also spent my younger days with his twin brother Rafeal. Ralph (as we called him) cut an almost 7 foot tall lanky figure and their family’s infectious smile. He went from Minor High onto Berklee College of Music and now is a producer in Atlanta with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, after a stint with Sony BMG. But Shuwnray’s story is not JUST about his superproducer brother who now goes by Anthem.
To say these guys are lucky is not fair. Hard work is no stranger to them, or anyone from the West side of the Magic City for that matter.
To step away from his latest album, I ride really hard to “Nightcap”, his slow jam single with Dee Skillz.
When you hear ShuwnRay spit bars on 2:23 PM (Birth of a Tyrant) about success, grinding and working for what he has — this is NOT an immitation of his peers in NYC, LA or any sort of homage to the current obsession with “hustling” in the wider scale of his industry. It’s a part of his DNA.
Read our interview & listen to the record below.
BHAMFM: How long have you been seriously writing & making your own tracks and who were your biggest influences growing up?
ShuwnRay: I started doing music in 2001. I was in a gospel rap group with my brother Rafeal “Anthem,” and my best friend Jarvis Foster. I did music on and off in high school but didn’t find a passion for it until I moved to Huntsville, Al and meeting a bunch of talented artist from all over the nation helped me grow into the artist I am today. One of my biggest influences is my mentor Rodney George. He taught not only me but my brother as well how to produce, and how to count bars and structure a full song. Musically my biggest influence has to be the one and only Scarface.
BHAMFM: Tell me about some of the equipment you accumulated building your dorm room studio and how does that compare to where you record now?
ShuwnRay: I used to record people in my dorm room at Alabama A&M with a Basic HP desktop computer, a headphone microphone, and a house stereo. I did all my recording in Adobe Addition and production in Reason. I honestly believe most of my best work was done in my dorm room and as far as sound it was the best campus because I have a great ear for music. Alot of artist such as Nashville rapper Dee Goodz and Knoxville rapper Young Cos started making music in my dorm room. The difference now is I’m older, my mixing is better, I have better equipment and years of experience. I still record my own music but I try to let other people mix and master it.
BHAMFM: How long did it take you to make the Birth of a Tyrant album and who were you favorite people to feature on the record?
ShuwnRay: I started my 2:32 PM (Birth of a Tyrant) project in November 2012 and finished it in April of this year. I can’t really single out any of the artist on there because every song is dope and each feature brought something different but if I had too I’d say Paradise featuring Cory Savage and Cuttdogg, Never Over featuring J. Dotta of K.L.U.B. Monsta and Mack Down featuring Paper. Never Over is one of my favorite tracks because it’s all me!! In high school I wasn’t nor did I want to be popular I was just a skinny dude who wore glasses and his twin bro was a star basketball player. I originally wanted K.L.U.B. Monsta as a whole to hop on the track but due to scheduling conflicts J. Dotta murdered the song not only for him but for his brothers too. (More of BHAMFM’s love with K.L.U.B. Monsta here, produced by none other than ShuwnRay’s brother Anthem)
BHAMFM: Is collaborating with your brother a big part of your career plan? How often have you guys worked together in the past?
ShuwnRay: When you talk about Birmingham and dope underground music everybody knows about “Anthem”, but many people don’t know this super producer from Birmingham has a twin brother who does music also. If I had it my way, he would be the only producer I work with but things never go as planned. At times I wish we were on the same level musically but I understand this is a business and people are in it to make money and to get noticed. My last two projects were produced by him and when you have a producer who is “hands on” with your entire project and understands what you’re trying to do you create something epic. I hope one day we’ll be able to bang out a project with him behind the scenes in person instead of just sending beats. I understand he has other artists he’s working. Even though he’s my twin brother: musically I’m not a priority yet. I still have to something to prove not only to him but my entire family and show them I’m dope. Now, it’s time to make something happen! For the record — to all those people who think I get my beats for free: NO! I still have to pay like everyone else… but I do get a discount (laughs).
BHAMFM: What is your biggest motivation right now, working on new material for 2014?
ShuwnRay: My biggest motivation right now is not failing! I don’t have a job so music is full-time for me. This year has been good. I’ve done several shows, released a new album that people love and I’m gaining new fans weekly. Last year around this time people didn’t know me. Now they do. A lot of things and people motivated me to go extra hard but not getting chosen to perform at the SXSW Music Festival and A3C Hip Hop Festival really made me say okay it’s time to get it. In a few weeks I’ll be releasing a joint project with Birmingham hip hop artist Dee Skillz entitled Love’s End.
(Editor’s Note: We were lucky enough to get a leaked preview of their collabo. Take a listen below!)
Love’s End is a story about finding love, falling in love, losing love and trying get back that love. Its a very dope project with a concept we all can relate too. I’m working on projects with Jacob Duran and Back Wood ENT. also so be on the look out for those albums sometime next year. I haven’t set a date for a solo ShuwnRay project yet but I am in the stages of acquiring beats, writers and ideas for it but for the most part I’m promoting 2:32 PM until late summer/early fall of 2014.
BHAMFM: Who are your closest allies in the local hiphop community? What singers/mcs should people be paying attention to?
ShuwnRay: Jacob Duran has to be the closest artist I’m working with right now. We have a lot in common and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be in the position I am right now. He gave me a chance to perform and be a part of The Circuit which opened SO many other doors. Prep Boi Fresh, Heavy, Ben Gudda and the whole Back Wood ENT camp, we’ve been cool since high school so it’s only right to affiliate yourself with people you grew up with plus they make good music and its more of a family situation with them. Dee Skillz, Eugenius and the entire LDLR crew I mess with them hard. Cory Savage is another artist I met last year and we’ve been cool every since. Aside from being a dope artist dude is smart and the conversations we have about life and music are mind blowing.
Also, people need to be on Truth Turner and my homie from Indiana, Flaco. Flaco is super dope and I hope I can get him to come down to Alabama and showcase his music one day soon.
BHAMFM: What performances do you have coming up?
ShuwnRay: As of right now we’re making plans to go to D.C., ATL, Nashville, Knoxville, Baton Rouge and a few more places in 2014. I really don’t have any definite shows in Bham right now but I will be at open mics and checking out other artists’ performances. My plan is to do one more showcase before the year is over so hopefully I’ll have the details about it within the next few weeks.