The East Bay has proven itself in recent years as the modern mecca of Bay Area hip-hop, stealing the crown from Vallejo through the come-ups of Kamaiyah, Rexx Life Raj, Caleborate, and Elujay (all of whom were inducted into our inaugural Rap Hall Of Fame last month). What is even more remarkable is just how unique each of those artists’ styles is, displaying the wide diversity of talent incubating in Oakland and Berkeley, further proof of which comes from the latter city’s latest rising star Imerald Brown.
She’s come a long way as an MC since her early years spitting over Kriss Kross remixes, but she’s retained a similar rugged playfulness that’s defined her as a standout personality within her hometown. Brown developed her rhyming skills as a student in the Oakland after-school program Youth Movement Records, where she was additionally taught production and performance skills amongst other young artists. She draws much of her lyrical inspiration from years of personal turbulence throughout the last decade, which included bouts with depression and depression-fueled drinking. Yet with the aid of spirituality and the sheer force of self-preservation, she overcame her oppression from alcohol and the demons of her past. As she now approaches the end of her 20s, Brown has distilled what she’s learned over the last three decades into the early stages of what’s shaping up to be a sparkling career.
Last year’s LnD-produced “Back And Forth,” with its exemplary vocal loop and clinking percussion, was a perfect introduction to the Berkeley rapper’s sturdy, punctual flow. She displays a menacing charisma, exemplified in lyrics such as, “Don’t push them buttons just because I’m cute as buttons / I got a mouth like a sailor,” latching onto that last syllable like it’s putty and dragging it below sea level. You can hear her concentration, the care in which she chooses her words, in her measured pacing. She holds an earned confidence, one born out of surviving struggle and walking out stronger than ever, and she raps with the professionalism of a veteran slam poet whose never missed an open mic. Yet she’s not incapable of loosening the reigns and letting her energy momentarily draw the attention over her words. She’s having fun with it, balancing out her motivational sermons with reminders that she “likes to party too.”
Brown added another notch to her winning streak late last year with the reflective “Assume Too Soon.” “We set our own boundaries and limitations,” she warns her listeners. “We need rules to feel comfortable.” While she’s not shy about handing out bitter pills to swallow, she chases them down with resolve directed towards breaking down any self-imposed walls. Producer Dreamlife provides the shimmering backdrop for Brown’s takedown of systemic submission, her vocal performance recalling Rhapsody in its calmest moments as much as Schoolboy Q in its most aggressive. Yet it all comes back to the strength of Brown’s will that is her biggest asset as a rapper, and it’s a quality that is likely to define her latest project Brainstorm when it drops January 27 and continues the East Bay’s ascension as the spot to watch for quality hip-hop.