By Simru Sonmez-Erbil, WERS Staff Writer
Local hip-hop legend Brandie Blaze isn't going anywhere - literally. Despite some initial difficulties in getting onto city stages, Brandie has transformed into one of the trailblazers of the current thriving hip-hop scene in Boston, and plans to stay in the city throughout her career. Her passion for the city's hip-hop scene is evident in not only her work, but through the collaborations she does with other powerhouse local artists, such as Red Shaydez and Oompa.
Brandie talked in detail about her involvement in the Greater Boston hip-hop scene, as well as her current projects, with WERS Staff Writer Simru Sonmez-Erbil.
Your music is so incredibly empowering, and I was reading a bit about your philosophy; I love the mindset you have of putting women into powerful roles in the music industry and lifting up underrepresented communities. How did you come to have that philosophy and be the musician you are today?
Brandie Blaze: I think a lot of it is definitely due to my mama. She's an incredible woman. She raised me as a single mom, and she raised me to be aware of the world that I live in. She's just my best friend and my biggest inspiration; A lot of that came from her. And I was really blessed that I had a mother that didn't restrict the music that I listened to. She let me listen to everything that I wanted to, so as a child I was able to listen to Lil' Kim, and Missy Elliott, and DMX, and all this incredible music that really had a profound effect on me as a young black woman, being able to hear other black women, especially someone like Missy Elliott. I didn't really see anyone else in the industry that looked like me, so she was really incredibly important to me, just to see a plus-size black woman being so free and so open. All of those things had a profound effect on me and shaped me into the person I am, and also the artist that I am. I'm really grateful for all of those inspirations.
You're a huge part of the Boston hip-hop scene, and this is definitely a unique era for hip-hop around here, with some progress being made in getting more venues to book hip-hop acts, versus way less before. What's your experience been like, being a hip-hop artist in the Greater Boston area?
BB: Starting off, I got zero play in Boston (laughs). It took me a long time to break into Boston, but I have a lot of love for the North Shore and the South Shore. My first show I ever did was in Brockton, Quincy showed me a lot of love, Lynn, Lawrence, Salem… All those towns were really the first places where I really got to shine, and people really showed me love and supported me. I'm eternally grateful for those areas. Oompa, who's my mentor, was really instrumental in me breaking out in Boston. And once I got my foot in here, it just kind of took off from there. I'm really grateful that I'm coming up in the era that I am. Moe Pope, who's my big cousin, was the one that really shed the light and put his neck on the line to call out the venues that didn't want to book us, which really doesn't make any sense from a financial standpoint; Hip-hop is the biggest genre in the entire world. If you have artists in your own city that could sell out a venue, why wouldn't you book them? So he really paved that way. He's a pioneer. He's a legend, and I'm eternally grateful for him really putting himself out there because it really could have backfired on him and went in a bad way. But he was willing to do that, and because he was, all of us benefited from that. Now, we have more and more venues that will support us and book us. Now there's space for other venues like Dorchester Art Project - I love them. I'm on the board over there, and the work that they do in the community is incredible. I'm like, Dorchester down! (Laughs) My mom gives me a hard time because she's from Roxbury, but I'm like, "That's your fault! I'm from Dorchester." (Laughs) All of these venues and spaces, now that we have access to them, it really just put the battery in the back of our community. Now that we have the spaces, and we have the access, we all just really have had the opportunity to blossom. It's incredible.
You mentioned Oompa before, and Moe Pope, and I saw you collaborated with Red Shaydez, too, on a couple of occasions. What's it been like collaborating with these fellow Greater Boston hip-hop artists, and what's the vibe like between you guys?
BB: It's intimidating. (Laughs) To keep it real, Oompa and Red Shaydez are incredible artists. I'm just honored to know them and be able to work with them. But yeah, it's intimidating and I really have to be on top of my game! I know I have to bring my best bars possible to work with them. But the community that we have with each other - it's not even just female rappers, it's non-binary rappers, and queer rappers - it's all of us getting to know each other and building genuine relationships. That has really made all the difference and I'm really honored to be a part of this movement. You know, I look at my sister winning, or my brother winning, or my sibling winning, as a win for me. Because, when they open the door, they open the door for all of us, not just themselves. And that's what makes it incredible, and that's what makes it special. I had someone ask me, like, "Is this all for show? Are y'all really like, you know, cool, like for social media, but then y'all hate each other?" And it's just like, "Nah, it's never that!" The relationships that we have are genuine, and we just want each other to win, and there's nothing better than that. We really built something out of nothing, and I'm just honored to be a part of that.
When you look at Boston hip-hop, before, back in the '90s, who did we have to look up to? There's Ed O.G. and Almighty RSO. That's who we had from here. Now to get to a place where we're going to build our own scene, and we're going to build our own infrastructure right here, that's incredible. To me, there's no reason that Boston can't be on the same level of a hip-hop destination as a Houston, as an Atlanta, as a Miami, as a New York, as an L.A. The talent is here, everything is here, so there's no reason for me that that wouldn't happen. I think that we finally found a way that we can work together and make that happen because one thing I know is all of us have a lot of talent. I see so much talent out here. But the one thing I think that's different in this era is that we're staying in Boston, but we're going to make this work. That's not a knock to anybody that leaves Boston - I think people have to do what's going to be best for them - but I think for us that are still here, it's like, "This is my hometown, and I want to put on for my city." That's what we want to do and that's what we strive to do; I don't see myself living outside of Massachusetts, just being real. I don't really care how big I get, I'm always gonna be based here, but that's just the love I have for the city, and the culture, and the people here.
You're going to make Boston the hip-hop destination! You're like the - I'm thinking, like, Founding Father - but Founding Badass of Boston hip-hop would be better, I think (laughs).
BB: (Laughs) Yes, my next Instagram bio! Founding Badass of Boston!
I heard you have some collabs coming up, and also an album coming out next year! What's next for you, what are you working on?
BB: I'm very blessed to be a recipient of the LAB Grant from The Boston Foundation; No one was more shocked than me! (Laughs) But I'm very, very grateful for that incredible opportunity to put out my third album and not have to worry about funding. My first two albums were 100% self-funded, so this is my first album that I have funding for, so I can really go crazy, and do, like, my wildest dream. I'm incredibly excited for that to come out spring 2021. Right now, my incredible DJ, DJ WhySham, has an album coming out [on] Labor Day; I'm honored to be on two tracks on that album. She's brought together incredible women from across the city, and not even just across Boston; New York, L.A… She's reached out to a lot of people. This is gonna be an incredible project, and I'm really blessed to be a part of that, so those two things are my focus right now.
You have been such a huge inspiration and really an icon of empowerment. I'm wondering what advice you would have, for other artists or anyone in general, on how to be that positive figure; How do you spark change and cause good in the community?
BB: I think first and foremost is just being yourself - being true to yourself and being true to your art. That's one thing that I told myself going into this: If I'm going to make music, and I'm going to try to make this my career, then I'm going to do it the way that I want. Then that way, I have no regrets. It's either going to work out or it's not; Either way, I have zero regrets, because I did it the way that I wanted to, and I was true to myself and the art that I wanted to produce. To me, that's the most important thing. The other thing is surrounding yourself with an incredible team that will hold you down. I'm a solo artist, and it's Brandie Blaze on the marquee, but in the background, there's no such thing as a solo artist. I'm just really blessed that I have DJ WhySham, I have the incredible Amanda Shea as my publicist - and she does a million other things, that's just her title (laughs). I have Scott Sandonato from SandoFilms, I have Jay Hunt from SmokeHouse Media, and I have Todd from Platform Music, and that comprises my entire team; They keep me together. Behind the scenes that can be a little bit of a mess, because I stress, I'm a Virgo, I over-worry about everything (laughs). But they hold me together and they bring my vision to life, and that's worth its weight in gold. You can't do everything by yourself, and that's something that I learned really early on. There's no way that you can run the business of being an artist by yourself, so finding a team that respects your vision, understands your vision, and understands you as an artist is incredibly important.
Then, just do your work. There are no shortcuts in the music industry. I've been doing this seriously [for] eight years on my birthday. So I've done it all; I really got my start joining freestyle ciphers outside Church Boston, when Church was open. After Motivate Monday every week... I knew if I went to Motivate Monday, I could see a lot of incredible artists - shout out to Mark Marion - but I also knew that they would have a cipher afterward. So, I went to every Motivate Monday, stayed to the end, and I would rap outside. I went to every single open mic possible across the state that I could, and I really grinded hard. It took a long time; It took almost five years before I started getting booked regularly, and I've only been working with DJ WhySham for two years. To some people, it seems like it's overnight, but there's no such thing as an overnight success. It can happen, but it's very, very rare. Most people that really explode have been working on this for at least a decade. So, just be prepared to grind and do what you need to do to build your fanbase, build your audience, and get your name out there. There's nothing that can replicate hard work.
How's it been during COVID times when you can't really form connections in person? How does that kind of change how you go about making and promoting your music?
BB: When COVID happened, and things started getting shut down, I was really depressed. The first six weeks I was really depressed, and I didn't know if I wanted to do this anymore. I really had a lot of serious discussions about retiring, because I didn't see how I could continue the incredible momentum I got in 2019. I didn't see how that could continue in 2020 with the circumstances that we're living under, but I'm grateful for DJ WhySham. She really held me together and really was like, "Yo, we could still do this. We could still make this work." And I did. We did our first show with The Boston Calendar. It came out okay, I think I came out good, but behind the scenes was a hot mess! We didn't know what we were doing - it was our first streaming show ever - but I think once we got through that, we saw what we could fix, what we could change. Now we're almost in August, and we're rolling full steam ahead, getting booked almost as regularly as we were before, which is incredible. When you think about streaming performances and being virtual, I'm almost as busy as I was before, and that's really a blessing. I'm grateful, beyond grateful, for that. I definitely miss performing in front of people - I miss the crowd - but just being able to still do what I do is a blessing.
It's really been about finding ways to be creative, and you kind of have to switch gears sometimes and do something completely left field that you didn't think that you would be able to do. I even started doing makeup tutorials on my Instagram; I don't even know how to do makeup! (Laughs) At all! I have a makeup artist - shout out to CeCe from FoundFashions! I don't know how to do any makeup but I was like, "You know what, maybe someone would like to watch tutorials of someone that doesn't know what they're doing (laughs), we learn together! And I've had a lot of incredible guests, like CakeSwagg and Nancia, that came in and taught me different things. It just forced me to be super creative and think about ways that I can still be present, and I can still continue to grow my fanbase, but I have to work within the limitations I have. Doing the makeup tutorials was a crazy idea I had randomly but it's been working out (laughs).
(Laughs) It's a really good thing you didn't give in to that urge from before to retire, the "Do I still want to do this?" because you're just soaring now!
BB: Aw, I'm just grateful that I still have a career and that people still want to see me, and that I could find ways to expand that. That's just something good that came out of something really awful. I really had to get creative, and people really showed me so much love. Like, how can I walk away from that? I can't. And my favorite thing to say is, "Always bet on black women." You can't go wrong.