The slaves are free, so let’s sell some merch!
John Brown is reppin’ tha ’burbz because nobody else wants to
It’s 12:30 p.m. Brooklyn time. John Brown (born Greg Kaysen) is groggy, as if he just woke up, but he insists he’s been working on business, or “Gettin’ shit done,” he terms it, in an urban accent that only a rapping, ragingly stoned white boy named after a crazed abolitionist can have.
The Davisite turned New Yorker says his life to date has been a balancing act, to say the least. In one hand, Brown carries his rap career and clothing company. In the other, a modeling agency and legion of loyal fans. Then, of course, there are the marketing offers, spewing from his proverbial ass. Marketing is something he enjoys talking about, as he considers himself a constant student of the rap game.
“[Companies are] banking on your desperation,” Brown says. “They play into your fear of being irrelevant.”
Brown’s appearance on Ego Trip’s (White) Rapper Show last year left him anything but desperate or irrelevant. The show pitted 10 emcees against each other in a sort of rap Olympics, complete with verbal dexterity tests, rap-history quizzes and rhyme-writing sessions in the dreaded “Ice, Ice Chamber.” In all, the show was a thinly veiled excuse to poke fun at white rappers, and despite being a VH1 success, it left many of its contestants in the dust. Even the show’s winner, Shamrock, a pudgy, Southern kid with a cleft lip seems to be laying low these days. Brown, on the other hand, is working overtime, trying to shake off what remains of his cheesy television persona. No small feat, considering he did come off as a little, err, funny.
“When you get caught up in those types of shows, certain things hold you back,” Brown says. However, those “certain things” don’t hold Brown back at all. Like when Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian dissed the shit out of him, to which Brown replied, “Hallelujah hollaback.” Or when he got smacked in the face with a giant, floppy dildo, courtesy of his cast-mate Persia, a swaggering, female, oversized, white rapper with a penchant for the N-word.
While a dildo smack upside the head might be enough to fling an ordinary rapper into obscurity, JB’s wacky escapades seem to have only made him that much more endearing to fans.
Take his company, Ghetto Revival, for instance. Brown, a lanky Jewish kid who could stunt double for any of the Beastie Boys, seems an unlikely candidate to head an inner-city awakening, but that’s all part of the plan. It’s a marketing scheme created by JB and his business partner Dred Scott that involves planting a question in a consumer’s mind, such as, “What the fuck?” Then, before the question can be answered, the inquisitor is buying a GR sweatshirt and a cell-phone ringtone that blasts JB’s new “Keg Party” single. Why? Brainwashing.
With all the propaganda, it’s easy to forget JB is also a musician.
The music is good. Or, well, it’s music—with rap beats, melodies, catchy-enough hooks. JB’s lyrics are clever and well-thought-out, but it’s clear from one listen that hip-hop isn’t at the forefront. It sounds like he’s singing marketing mantras rather than actually creating art. It’s nothing new.
But his “I’m a white kid out to make a buck / King of Da ’Burbz” shtick is a good ploy, especially when you consider the time other white rappers spend on developing street cred. JB instead has been able to redirect that energy into madcap marketing ideas, like his newest Xanga-sponsored venture, where in the near future he’ll walk around Davis with a webcam attached to his head. The end result: 24 hours of JB in his natural habitat.
“I think people might get a kick out of it,” he says, joyfully.
He might look like a kid with 15 minutes, a sack of weed and a ghetto pass, but like a (sub)urban fortune teller, JB can predict the future of hip-hop.
Gone are the days of breakin’ in the streets and dudes named “Shabby-doo.” In this day and age, hip-hop, like everything else for sale, is about marketing.
JB is convinced that with a little business savvy and product placement, he’ll take up a chapter in the rap history books, and he doesn’t need street cred to do it. He already has something equally as valuable: ’Burb cred. And where do you get this highly sought-after commodity? Well, Yolo County’s a good place to start.