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BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time: Kev Brown

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#15 – Kev Brown

By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

Kev Brown holds the most speculative position on the entire BeatTips Top 30 list. While some may say that he’s currently “underrated”, “not known enough,” etc., etc., I strongly believe that history is going to show that Kev Brown was one of the most important names in beatmaking.

Unfortunately, Kev doesn’t have the number of critically acclaimed releases or high profile features that others on this list have. But he can hardly be faulted for that. Many rappers in the past two decades have gone the route for beats, and their careers, in some cases, suffered because of that. Moreover, reaching out to people can be unnecessarily political these days. But placements and features aside, Kev Brown’s work does exist.

Fortunately for the beatmaking tradition, Kev Brown didn’t just sit on his beats, he released his music for all to critique or learn from. He’s released most of his beats on albums that feature random rhymes from himself, or just straight up instrumentals. I feel this body of work alone makes Kev Brown one of the greatest beatmakers of all time. But his collaborative efforts also prove just how good and unique his music is. Indeed, Kev’s work has earned him the spot that he has on this list. Name recognition does not always correlate to quality beatmaking.

So what is the Kev Brown style and sound? Kev Brown is a master of beauty and arrangement. Unlike most sample-based beatmakers, Kev Brown’s beats are not dominated by one or two main loops, but instead carefully (meticulously) chopped samples woven into incredibly lush works of art. Kev’s production is a lesson in utilizing small sample pieces, snippets, tones, and stabs in ways that often mirror live instrumentation-based compositions of yesteryear.

For those bent on finding the sampling source material that Kev Brown uses, it’s probably best to give that quest up. So intricate and complex are the chopping schemes that Kev uses, you’d be hard press to know, let alone find, what he’s using. Kev Brown, like all quality beatmakers, is drawn to a specific frequency. Thus, he flips samples into sub-samples in ways that fit his personal sense for sound and texture. Therefore, you’ll rarely (if ever) hear a recognizable loop in a Kev Brown beat (the Alexander Green Project notwithstanding).

Another fundamental component (or feature — depending how you want to look at it) of Kev Brown’s style and sound is bass-stab bass lines. Call it the Kev Brown bass line sound. There are clear traces of Pete Rock’s post-Pete Rock & CL Smooth style and sound (i.e. the sound after Pete Rock switched from the SP 1200 to the MPC) in the Kev Brown bass line sound. Also, there are element’s of J Dilla’s developments in this style and sound space. Still, even here Kev Brown distinguishes himself, as he made this style a mainstay of his overall style and sound and arrangement. In recent years, he has moved away from the bass line sound he popularized. While he still returns to it from time to time on certain beats, it tends to never dominate the balance of the beat they way it once did. Thus, while his bass line signature has become more subdued, his arrangement scope has grown.

Kev Brown’s mix sound is also worth pointing out. A Kev Brown beat is always milky smooth. Even the harsher, rawer elements in his beats meld nicely into mellow frequencies. Which is not to say soft. On the contrary, Kev Brown’s beats always punch, but they’re never too abrasive. Undoubtedly, this is due to Kev’s penchant for beautiful and lush-sounding arrangements.

Kev Brown is also a leader in the beat instrumental realm. He has released a number of beat instrumental projects in the last seven years, my favorite being Songs Without Words, Vol. 1(2013). (Listen to “Couldn’t Hear Me” and you’ll immediately understand why the Kev Brown sound is so unique.) Further, he has also proven to be a formidable collaborator. His work with his crew Low Budget is stellar, and his work with Kaimbr in particular is among the finest collaborations I’ve heard in the 2000s.

Kev Brown may not be known to many now, primarily because he doesn’t have the big placements. But to those in the know within the beatmaking tradition, Kev Brown’s work is magnificent and highly influential. He’s like a cult hero! He’s a beatmaker’s beatmaker; a real benchmark in the beatmaking tradition. And the distinct style and sound that he’s carved out will prove to be vital to future beatmaking generations. History will reflect kindly on Kev Brown’s work. But I think he deserves to be recognized and awarded long before he’s gone.

Kev Brown Beats (Songs) Recommended for Study:

SPECIAL NOTE: Listen to Kev Brown’s album Songs Without Words

“Go Green” – Kaimbr and Kev Brown beat by Kev Brown

“Makeba” – Kev Brown beat by Kev Brown

“Batida” – Kev Brown beat by Kev Brown

“Shotgun” – Kev Brown beat by Kev Brown

“Never Too Late” – Kev Brown beat by Kev Brown

“Rock With U – Kev Brown beat by Kev Brown

“Army Fatigue Rap” Kaimbr and Kev Brown feat. Roddy Rod and Hassan Mackey beat by Kev Brown

“Look” – Kev Brown beat by Kev Brown

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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual