Why is Bruiser Brigade producer Raphy this year’s MVP? I want to provide context but I have to start with simple statistics. Santa Barbara by Fat Ray released 02/15/2021 has 12 songs Raphy produced 9 of those 12 songs. Out of the first 9 songs only 1 is produced by another producer and that is Black Milk. Dope Game Stupid by Bruiser Wolf released 03/29/2021 has 13 songs Raphy produced or co-produced 12 out of those 13 songs. TV62 Bruiser Brigade compilation released 05/14/2021 16 songs Raphy produced 6. N.O.A.H. by Quentin Ahmad DaGod released 09/01/2021 13 songs in total Raphy produced 8. J.U.S. released GOD GOKU JAY-Z in January and GoFundMeCorvette in early December. Raphy did 4 of the 16 on GoFundMeCorvette and 3 on GOD GOKU JAY-Z. To put it in perspective when Roc Marciano had his legendary 2018 run he put out a total of 37 songs where he rapped between 3 albums (RR2:The Bitter Dose,Behold a Dark Horse, Kaos ‘with DJ Muggs’) Raphy has a rough total of 42 songs on some of the most highly regarded underground albums of the year.
On the phone with Fatboi Sharif I asked him who he would consider for MVP. Sharif threw names like throwing knives, each time with a succinct compelling case. At one point in the conversation he paused and said “What about Bruiser Brigade?!” My eyes went wide. In 2019 I named Griselda MVP and felt terrible about it ever since. They had an amazing 2019 BUT the crew MVP award is cheating. People work too hard to get soft pats on the back. I immediately knew I couldn’t just name the crew MVP so if it could only be one who would it be? Who set the tone? What was the tone?
The overview is like this: rap in all forms had gotten fancy. Pop rap is shinier and glitzier than ever. Even the songs about killing people sound adorable. In the underground experimentation reigns. From Armand Hammer to AKAI SOLO, Amani, Moor Mother the scene is much more layered and dense. Think about this like the 70’s when Rock N Roll went from popular to giant sized. Bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac were making Rock Operas with long noodling guitar solos and abstract themes. History remembers Punk making fun of Disco but early punk was making just as much fun of those bands. Those early Punk albums by The Ramones and The Damned are full of short direct songs meant as a succinct punch of pure energy. This is what Bruiser Brigade did for 2021. Think about it. From the ‘Name Your Price’ collective Bandcamp pricing to the stripped down propulsive energy. None of it was every moody and directionless. Think of the title track to Santa Barbara where Fat Ray says:
But you bitter so yo’ ear ain’t really hearing sh_t
So n_ miss me with that rap shit, I’m out of touch
And I no longer give a f_, them n’s suck
Fuck yo’ designer sh_t, n_
I’m happy to be back on my Shrine of the Black Madonna sh_t
A lot of us started waving the Bruiser flag when Santa Barbara came out. The whole attitude was “You like fancy sh_t, huh? Too bad.” They continued dropping projects out of nowhere without even creating a ‘merch’ tab for the label on Bandcamp. This really brought the best out of Danny Brown who was the right glove for these rough textures. The general showed up on every project machete in hand.
Raphy set the table on Santa Barbara in those first five (maybe eight) songs. Scratchy sounds, big drums, weird time signatures (White is Rain off Dope Game Stupid is a bananas time signature). Never for a moment did Raphy consider becoming your favorite producer. No interest in making you respect the lasagna layering of sonics. The focus was making you love the team. When he produces for Fat Ray you can hear moments where he drops the beat out completely to emphasize the roar of a great line. When he gave his most bent banging brilliant music to Bruiser Wolf the punch line king of 2021 started singing the most insane things we’d ever heard.
My stylistic description of his sound has to be straightforward, or it betrays the Brigade mission. Raphy is primal. I’ve been drawing a comparison to 1994, 1995 Easy Mo Bee. I’ve heard people make the case that this peak Mo Bee period wasn’t that good. His beats weren’t Primo, Pete Rock, Shocklee Brothers unique. They were historically undeniable. None of us felt like we had a choice but to nod our head to Flava In Ya Ear by Craig Mack or Warning by Biggie. It was the same thing: interesting time signatures and crisp drums. Listen to the title track of the 1995 Das Efx album Hold It Down. It’s the chef that takes simple meals to another level. You’ve tasted beats like Top Ramen off Santa Barbara before but nothing in that vein this year was even close. Think about how Danny Brown sounded on Dylon. Raphy gave everyone a different album while keeping his mission simple. On TV62 we get pockets of Raphy. Songs 4 and 5, 8 and 9, 14 and 15. From Fat Ray to Bruiser Wolf to Danny to Danny and Bruiser Wolf he didn’t just set the stage he directed them with his sound. Made them beloved in a way some of them weren’t last year.
From journalists to rappers to general hip hop twitter we were all listening to Bruiser Brigade together. Catching a wave which soaked us to the bone. A wave we jumped back in the water to catch again. Don’t get it twisted. I loved me some shiny murderous pop rap in 2021. I loved the Avant Garde genre bending underground rap in 2021. My complimentary description of Raphy and Bruiser Brigade does not exist to insult others (because I’m not a poopface). Raphy was a counter current we needed to provide balance. Hearing Fat Ray over his beats had me feeling like I was listening to classic Styles P mixtapes again. Raphy helped bring us closer to the fundamental divine reckless energy that made us love hip hop. The hope is that all of this is preparing us for the greatest Danny Brown album imaginable and that Raphy’s fingerprints will be all over it. 2021 was the year the Bruiser Brigade drop lived in infamy and Raphy set the table.