Kerry “Krucial” Brothers: Ill Street Rhythm & Blues, Pt 1

Check out the exclusive freestyle from Kerry “Krucial” Brothers! PLAY Lyricist Lounge is a New York City institution. Starting out in 1991 as an open mic session for emcees to showcase their skills, it quickly became a cipher of the most lyrically gifted. Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, The Roots, even Biggie rocked the […]

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Check out the exclusive freestyle from Kerry “Krucial” Brothers! PLAY

Lyricist Lounge is a New York City institution. Starting out in 1991 as an open mic session for emcees to showcase their skills, it quickly became a cipher of the most lyrically gifted. Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, The Roots, even Biggie rocked the Lounge. Rap superstar or MC from around the way – all knew they had to spit their best or get spit out by the rest.

It was in this creative environment that rapper Kerry “Krucial” Brothers befriended an aspiring musician named Alicia Keys. She would eventually land a recording contract and ask Kerry if he wanted to be down. Reluctant at first, he put his rap dreams aside to give her a hand. It would be countless awards, world tours and years later before he could get back in the rap game.

Now with an EP about to drop entitled Take Da Hood Back, Kerry is back to the basics and the microphone. Alternatives kicked it with the Grammy-award winning producer about his MC pedigree, R&B success and getting back to his rap roots. Alternatives: The New York area is more than familiar with the Nuyorican Poets Café and Lyricist Lounge – that’s like an institution here.

Kerry “Krucial” Brothers: Indeed.

AHHA: How would you say that experience contributed to your success as a musician today?

Krucial: Well, it definitely showed me the ground works of really just bringing your show to people and just spittin’ it to people and getting real reactions. I feel like nowadays you got a lot of people making records and songs, but they never really know what it is to stand in front of a crowd of other people trying to do the same thing. [They] ain’t gonna just give you the love like that, so you really gotta come wit it to know if those rhymes you sat and wrote for your boys are nice to other people that don’t even know you. So just having that experience and being around like-minds, and just seeing people more that feel the same sensibilities you feel; it was very nourishing, very encouraging and at the same time very…lessons, a lot of lessons learned.

The more you get out, you start to see the same people and you start to see people disappear. So that definitely shaped my whole vibe of getting out there and just spittin’ in crowds and ciphers, because that’s what it really felt like really. It wasn’t like you coming to a show and everyone sitting in chairs or whatever; it’s like you getting on the stage, people circling around. You know the Lyricist Lounge basically started in a little room and a couch, so you know it’s almost like just being in a cipher on a corner, and that vibe made it real comfortable, because you feel like you’re speaking directly to people.

AHHA: Stemming from your experiences with the Poet’s Café and Lyricist Lounge, Hip Hop seemed to be the direction you were going in, but you ended up in R&B – deep. Now how did that happen?

Krucial: Well, basically being out there, meeting different people… because after the clubs would close, everybody would go to the West 4 th area, Washington Square Park, and you would find people that were signed, unsigned, people from out of town and you see any given place, people on the corner, rhyming, freestyling and it just grew attention. Like I said, any time I get a chance to try my little lyrics out, I would do that, and in one of those ciphers I actually met a young lady by the name of Alicia, and she was out there in a cipher.

Usually I keep in touch with people that you like their vibe; at that time I wasn’t trying to work with her or anything, but I always kept in touch with a few people who you really hit it off like, “ooooh….” – you start talking about music. I would always keep in touch and like years later, she’d call me and was like, “How’s your music going?” and to make a long story short, when she started getting into making her album or working with producers to get her stuff together, things weren’t working.

Oh, but I skipped a part. So basically, a certain group of people I would take from meeting outside, and you get a vibe and you feel comfortable, and you invite them to your house. At that time I had a little four track, a little eight-second sampler that you would shut it off and the samples gone, so you gotta put it straight to tape and just enjoy myself, just really vibin’, and she was one of the people that would come through regularly.

Eventually I got a little keyboard, and then we started doing tracks together, just making tapes just to enjoy. It wasn’t really like, “Oh, I’m trying to make music with you’ because being from my background” – I knew nothing about R&B, so I didn’t put two and two together like, “I could be doing an R&B album,” it was more like, “Hey, let’s just make these tapes and vibe” and that was about it. Then the opportunity came where when she was working with various other producers, she noticed it wasn’t the same.

She would play the tapes that we made for her manager, then after awhile people noticed like, “You know what, when you guys work together, you got something.” The opportunity arose where she asked me, “Would you wanna work on my album?” I can’t lie, I was very intimidated. I was like, ‘Work on your album?, I don’t know nothing about R&B,” but I do know the music, because you grow up listening to Mom and Pop’s records and definitely love. That’s another thing – we had similar taste in music because our parents are the same age, so we just bond that way with older music as well.

I felt like she was a real talent, and she was honest and she was a hard worker and I was like, “Yo, let’s give it a shot,” and she was like, “No, no, no, I really mean like work on my album – put your stuff on hold for a minute.” So I thought about it and I was like, “Yo, let’s go, let’s do it.” The rest is history.

AHHA: So you basically put your career and your Hip Hop aspirations aside so you could work on this project, so now I guess we’re coming full circle.

Krucial: Right. You know something you think was gonna be like a couple of months turned into a couple of years, [laughs] because things happen so fast, you get caught up in the shuffle. I always kept writing and I always kept making beats, but the focus wasn’t all the way there at the time. Then going through different things, and I really discovered that I learned that I really like doing this just as much. So I started growing more into liking production a lot too and then, especially getting more equipment.

AHHA: More than a four track?

Krucial: Exactly. It’s more than a four track now, and it’s just like I discovered that I have more ability than I had really thought because I guess I kind of at that time pigeon-holed myself thinking I could only do Hip Hop and that’s all. I just discovered a lot more about myself, so it made me try to figure out. Then more opportunities came with the production, and you know I’m not gonna turn down a good opportunity, so time went by, but now at this point in time I got more room to breathe, got a nice little system, we started a company together by the name of Krucial Keys, so from that point on it’s like alright, now I got a team, I got a system, I know what I wanna do, I’m understanding the business more, now it’s time to put out something independently.

AHHA: You’ve written for various R&B artists. How do you think your experience writing for other people contributed to your music?

Krucial: It’s interesting; when you work with other people, you got to kind of like see things from their perspective as well. When you’re writing for yourself, it’s just what you feel, just what you think, but when you working with other people it’s like, “Alright, this person wouldn’t say that, what does this person enjoy, what does this person trying to say?”

I usually choose people [when] I feel like it’s realistic that we can make a record that’s believable and people can really feel it. So working with them, I have to have a nice vibe with them and really try to get in their world and try to find out what made them like music. It did help me write for myself, but sometimes writing in one style in R&B… when I first started, you take a little break, you get back into your rhymes, and the next thing my rhymes is sounding a little “singy” now, and my brother be like, ‘Yo what are you doin’ over there, man? What happened to the raw?” So you go through your little phases, but I just feel like your life experiences take you through different stages and it all adds up.

AHHA: What is your most memorable experience in the studio?

Krucial: Most memorable? Well, I have plenty – so many memories. I mean, just when you have an idea and you put it down on your recorder, or you put it down on your four track, and you write this out, and you perform it or someone else performs it and it comes to life, and you hear it back and you’re like, “Wow, that came out better than I thought.” That is just like a joy. And being able to work with Isaac Hayes. One of the songs from Alicia’s first album was “Rock Wit U” and we had a little what we did, and the keyboards, the strings and the drums and like, “Oh I love Isaac Hayes,” and such and such, and have and play it for him and he’s like, “Mmm, that’s pretty good.” You can’t forget that. “Oh, you like what I’m doing? I grew up listening to you, you like what I’m doing?” And we were actually asking can he arrange the strings on the song, and he was like, “Well, you know I’m a producer, I’m not just a string arranger, and I’m working on this and that, but you know what, I like this and I’ma do this for you.” I will never forget that.

Just to get respect from legends like that all around, even people like Prince, to comment on what you’re doing, even commenting on the first album to the second: “I see ya’ll growth.” That’s what I remember. Just to get that pat of approval from people you grow up listening to and the experience of being in the studio with Isaac Hayes, not only arranging the strings, he’s in there with tambourines, his eyes closed and [mimics playing the tambourine] to one of my tracks. That’s one of the most memorable – I got so many stories. We gotta catch that on another one. Tune in next month for another one.

AHHA: Your production company, Krucial Keys, is the brainchild of you and Alicia Keys. Not only do you work with Alicia but you have a personal relationship with her as well.

Krucial: Well, a lot of people say that. We’re definitely really, really good friends.

AHHA: So nothing more than friends?

Krucial: I mean, you know, I’ll let the people decide what it is. It’s really about the music. It’s about the music.

AHHA: Well, what I was going to ask you, not so much about the personal relationship, but how do you balance a successful and demanding career with a personal relationship? Do you ever worry about doing everything together?

Krucial: No, not at all. Not at all. Because the passion for the music is like…there’s times, it’s so funny, because even on a regular basis, because I got other people we work with, and we could have an argument that whole day and everybody could be fighting over whatever, but once that music comes on, the attitudes is gone, we get into the music and it’s just like…I don’t know. I’m like a person who just gets lost in the vibe of what we’re doing. Now if it’s something big and it really just messes up your whole energy and you can’t do it, you can’t do it, but usually the vibe between me and her, there’s no ego involved.

It’s just like…[Alicia is] a full fledged musician. I took piano lessons and I took different things but I never really learned how to play very well. Like I said, I started with little samplers, turntables, dubbing tapes together to make loops and all that kind of stuff. I was a little intimidated. I might have an idea like why don’t you play it like that. Had she had an ego, it probably would’ve killed the whole thing right there, and that makes it easier when people respect your feelings and that is the key thing. It’s just something that it seemed like it was destined to happen, the whole Krucial Keys, because it wasn’t planned out. I had no idea of planning like I’m gonna get in the music industry and I’m gonna produce this person and that, I was like I’m out here grinding with the mic and I’m trying to do what I can do. So you take it day by day.

AHHA: After such a successful career as an R&B producer, why go back to rap music? Why not just play it safe and just sing, or produce?