If you happen to be important enough, you may find yourself with one of the Hart/Hard Nike ID Packs in your hands, but with only twelve pairs in existence, we very much doubt anyone we know will be laced with the privilege. So we went straight to the man himself to find out just what we have to do to cop a pair! Oh, and while we were chatting, we got the lowdown on the Dutch Hip Hop scene and let Brainpower big up his good mates at Patta. This man loves to talk (as much as he loves to smell his sneakers) and when he does, people stand up and listen, read on to see why!
Whaddup Brainpower, tell us a bit about your background, and how you got to where you are today on the Hip Hop scene.
Whaddup! First of all, I LOVE Sneaker Freaker! Now that I got that out my system, let me fill ya in. I started rhyming around 86, strictly mimicking Run DMC, Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J. Then in 1988 I wrote my first song. It has been a long hard road since then, but it’s basically following that little voice that’s inside of you. And I was known as a serious obsessive battle MC. You could call me up in the middle of the night and I’d be thinkin’of destroyin’ MC ‘s on the mic. In the Benelux, it is now quite normal to hear Rap music all over. But when I came up it wasn’t. The whole culture was happening on a much smaller scale. I think, along with some others, I really changed that around. Musically, I am a person that listens to EVERYTHING. From the most obscure MC to the best selling pop artist. From the deepest reggae to the most intricate jazz. From visual art to classic iconic actors. So that all inspires me when I write. A serious work ethic is also something. You gotta work hard if you wanna reach something in any field, but as an artist, even more so. You gotta stay relevant and at the same time always do you. And that sounds easier than it is to actually do in a crazed business like the music industry. So I guess I did what I do (and am doing) just on instinct, hard work and MAD LOVE for the music and the culture.
You have done remixes for the like of Nas and the Beastie Boys and worked with RZA, Jean Grae and Kool Keith to name a few. How do you find collaborating with artists? Does it differ to collaborating with fashion labels or sneaker companies?
Well off course you can’t compare human beings with any kind of material product, but in a way it doesn’t. Because you ‘re always looking for a combination that is right. Just stuff that clicks you know. You can THINK of anything but shit has to actually work….So with that in mind - plus (me) being a perfectionist to a sickening level - you gotta just know what you do……but in the end it has to do with creativity. You see, as many true sneaker heads will know, Tinker Hatfield was chillin’ in Paris, saw the Centre Pompidou and he incorporated that into the Air Max 87. Thinking outside the box. That is my thing! To make weird associations no one will make, and make them WORK together. At the same time you have to have a certain level of knowledge about what it is you are doing. This goes for DJ’s, MC’s, singers or fashion designers. Having a thorough understanding goes a long way.
You’re new album is dropping April 14th and to celebrate the release you have gone into the Nike ID lab to create 12 pairs of Brain Power ID’s. Talk us through the process of choosing the right materials and colours to perfectly suit the drop of the album and give us some insight into what the two shoes mean?
I am putting out two new albums – my 4th and 5th solo studio effort as a box set. Nike Holland gave me the opportunity to make 12 pairs of Air Max 1’s and 12 pairs of Air Max 90 ‘s as a token of appreciation. I decided to create the AM1’s to celebrate ‘Hard’ (which means the same as ‘Hard’ in Dutch & the AM90 to celebrate ‘Hart’ (which means ‘Heart’ in Dutch). One album that tackles a lot of universal emotional issues. And one album with a more of traditional hardcore Hip Hop sound. I am always giving people a little extra. It was a gift from Nike Holland because I have built up a very good relationship with the brand over the years. However they were made through the Nike ID.com website! I flipped it and designed a shoe that just bugged people out like ‘WHOA??!! WTF is THAT!!??? ‘Then with adding the matching Limited Edition shirts the pack becomes truly exclusive for people. The stickers on the boxes and off course the two Album Box set just round out the package. I wanted to try and see if I could make a sick, classic colourway kick using the iD.com phenomenon. A lotta die hard sneaker heads were kind of like oversaturated with that whole ‘how-many-colours-can-I-put-in-one-shoe’ type of thing. But this shows you can really do some ill shit! The red patent AM90 is freakin’ people out!! And I mean credible mufu**as!! My boys at Patta LOVED ‘em. And that is really sayin’ something….I mean we could be fam, but if your shit ain’t tight you will get dissed. It’s like a lotta people don’t even know you can just do the patent thing like this on the site. I just got mad mail from all over the world about how people can get their hands on the set. So I created a situation where people don’t even realise that it’s an iD.com kick. (Although making 2 x 12 pairs of the SAME shoe is not your everyday iD order) And that’s funny ‘cause the logo is CLEARLY on the box! I really put some thought into what I wanted to do if I ever got the chance to design anything. NikeiD.com or a true retail release. I was prepared. So when I got the green light to create 24 pairs of iD kicks I knew what I was going to do. At the same time, right now, I wanna do more. You know, to make something bigger of the things that are already going on. But this is more than a great start! A lot of artists (musicians) everywhere wanna do a retail collabo with Nike, just as I still wanna do. On a corporate level, it is just not always that simple. Politically it is difficult for everyone, but especially if you are from a small country like Holland. But having less ‘means’ and being very passionate makes you all the more creative. I am really all about making positive moves.
How do you decide who gets the pairs? They won’t be available through retailers, so how can we get our hands on them?
Well, it’s quite difficult to decide who gets a pack. They are given to close friends and relations. Maybe we can trade for one pack? I KNOW you got to have some crazy ill mad rare shit, hahaha! But seriously…they are not for sale….some people that are given a pack might just sell it, you know. You can’t really do anything about that…But once again they are not goin’ to be sold anywhere...If anyone gets their hands on ‘em, they are REALLY F**KIN’ Good!!! Haha
Did you have any help in the designing? Or was this purely a solo effort?
This was, as you put it, purely a solo effort designing the shoe. The shoe design (both the am1 and the am90), The shirts, the two-album box set and the stickers and then finishing the whole thing off, as a pack was totally my thing.
Your Hart/Hard logo is inspired by Star Wars, a big fan right? How does this link in with the shoes and the album?
The album cover is made up of the same graphics. I just always wanted to do something with that type of lettering. The shirts just match the kicks and the kicks match the albums. You can actually rock the shoes, wear the shirts and proudly hold AND play the albums at the same time and look 110% FRESH! I would almost say: It’s Delacratic, haha…
Tell us about your relationship with Patta, how did that come about?
Edson (one of the original owners) and me, we go WAAAYYYY back… I mean the last 15 years we been friends. I used to DJ and MC and he Deejayed and used to kick a rhyme every now and then. We used to play records together at different places like the Dutch legendary Hip Hop Spot café De Duivel. Later on I focused solely on rhyming and he went on to DJ and still is one of the funkiest DJ’s around. I love that dude to death. Gee & Lee are also good friends. We all hung out way before there ever was any plan for a sneaker store. The thing with Patta and me is, we all come from the same passionate background. Hip Hop has a lot to do with why we all are where we are.
So just how deep are you into collecting sneakers? You say you had part of your collection on show at Patta, what are some of your favourites and how did you end up getting into collecting?
I would say I am pretty deep into collecting sneakers. There are certain peeps around me that are just so heavily into it that I don’t really see myself as being so deeply involved, but I guess that is part of the denial that comes with this illness. (Because my sneakerfiendage, or fetish, if you like might just be a tad bit absurd. I actually smell every pair I buy before I put ‘em on.) Anyway, I could go on & on about the who what where and why, but some of my favourites in my collection are the Piet Parra Amsterdam Air Max 1, any Air Jordan III and the (not sure, but I thought it was a 2003 Paris exclusive) light blue jeans Air Max 90. There are too many AF1’s to name that I LOVE, but I have to mention my 1-of-1 AF1 Supreme that I had made at the Air Force One Lounge, Amsterdam last year. It is made of white Iguana, Ostrich and Kangaroo leather featuring a gold plated nametag. Off course I gotta mention the Homegrowns – I was on the Album that they came with and are named after. Recently I picked up a pair of deadstock mint Air Force V’s (complete with booklet of the whole 1990 collection) and also a brand new pair of Air Jordan VII’s, the grey and burgundy ones. But it’s hard to talk about deciding how deep I am into it myself. I just like to be all round, you know. I like exclusives a lot, I love tier 0 joints, but to find a pair of rare kicks for $60 in the back of store still remains a fantastic scenario. I have been a guest at the Nike Barcelona conference last summer where I was invited to talk about my passion for sneakers. Missing a plane back to Amsterdam because I was somewhere in the States looking for kicks too friggin’ long is not a strange situation for me. By the way, just today I picked up the 1984 Zhu Air Max 1’s at Patta. Well actually, part of my collection was not on show at Patta. It was on show at the Nike Air Force One Lounge in Amsterdam, March 2007. So they were strictly AF1’s. They also displayed the best of Edson, Lee & Gee’s (Patta) sneakers. It was a beautiful thing, seeing all these gems in custom made museum quality displays! I still have the Brainpower- Private Collection Nike Plaque that stood in the (my) cabinet.
You’re a big deal in Europe, winning Best Artist at the MTV Europe Awards, created your own Sidekick and even appeared on Coke cans! Collaborating is not new to you... When are you going to bless the rest of the world with your sound?
*Haha, thank you! It’s mostly Holland & Belgium (the Benelux), though. I have been doing shows in France, Poland, Germany and the Dutch Caribbean, Aruba, Curacao. I have been working on an international album for years. It will feature production by New York duo Sid Roams, European HIp Hop Veteran Oh Jay and Big Boi (from Outkast). Also there will be some interesting features like LadyBug from Digable Planets and Ultramagnetic MC’s Ced Gee & Kool Keith.
What is your opinion on the state of Hip Hop and street wear culture in 2008? Do you believe that “Hip Hop Is Dead”, is street wear dying too?
I definitely understand Nas’ title and where he is coming from musically. I loved that album!! My opinion on the State of Hip Hop is that it will come full circle. Over the first 20 years it became global and then the last 10-15 years it became very fragmented and localised. German rap, French rap, Japanese rap, Dutch rap and so on and so on. That’s a beautiful thing! But now I think some of the local stuff is inspiring the ones who made it global in the first place. And we can come full circle again, but this has to do with open-mindedness. Again, thinking outside the box. For example US artists that are super large and have the financial means to invest should think outside their box. I mean, having less means in the biz out here in Europe cause it’s smaller makes you REALLY more intense to keep going cause even if you blow up it’s never ever on the level of an American counterpart. It makes you stay busy, NEVER be lazy and keeps you even more creative. (If you are a true artist that is.) So your music, your art becomes better and better all the time, and I think in the near future it will be more and more about quality and good songs. The era of labels putting out artists with 1 hit record and a BS album is gone. Now with street wear it is a different story, I guess. I am not a fashion specialist (….well not yet anyway LOL haha). I don’t think street wear is dying but it will mos definitely morph. A lotta brands are like rappers. One successful brand does this ‘hip’ thing, and the rest copies it. I mean, look at prints on hoodies the last 2 years or so for example. Hip Hop has always been an incredible force that makes something out of nothing. So whenever something is saturated Hip Hop will flip it and create something new.
We hear through the grapevine that Brainpower will be releasing an English-speaking album soon, true?
TRUE!!! Be on the lookout for Amsterdam City the album late 2008 /early 2009.
(It will feature production by New York duo Sid Roams, European Hip Hop Veteran Oh Jay and Big Boi (from Outkast). Also there will be some interesting features like LadyBug from Digable Planets and Ultramagnetic MC’s Ced Gee & Kool Keith.)
You cross many musical boundaries with your music. Do you feel that is necessary to be a successful longstanding artist these days?
Yes, I definitely do. Longevity is so important. And I think with the whole digital revolution and being creative, dropping quality music, crossing boundaries and being humble becomes more and more important. And doing just that has been my focus the last 10 years. And I am more driven than ever. Spirit is everything.
What’s up next for Brainpower?
I am touring Holland right now. I shot three new video’s, of which just one is released. The other two are droppin’ later this season And I am into some actin’ roles as well. I am the main character as a voice actor in this animated movie. Then I am going to finish my international album. I am just always thinking of new things to do and other ways to use my creativity. And….erm..well..Nike: let me do a retail release! You know I’ll blow shit up! haha
Thanx for lettin’ me be part of your outstanding magazine/site/book/vibe!!!!!!!
Thank you Brainpower!