Producer’s paradise: Big Quarters fuels twin-city beat making with Last of the Record Buyers
I got a chance to sit down with Brandon Allday and Medium Zach, two brothers that go by the name Big Quarters, prior to July 16′s installment of the Last of the Record Buyers. We talked beats and life and then headed up the road to Fifth Element for LRB featuring special guest I Self Devine.
If a conductor of an orchestra can be called talented for coordinating each section flawlessly, a hip-hop producer could be revered as a mastermind for taking on the role of a conductor while also playing many of the instruments. All too often though, the name of the mastermind behind an album’s production is annexed to somewhere of recluse; It may be scribbled somewhere amongst the fine print on the bottom of the album insert, leaving an essential piece of hip-hop music scathingly absent from the front lines. Minneapolis hip-hop group Big Quarters co-sponsors Last of the Record Buyers (LRB), an event that makes strides to remedy this injustice by paying tribute — and possibly dollars — to local producers by offering them a chance to display their latest works in a public setting, hoping to match beatsmiths to rhyme-sayers.
I don’t think producers really get the shine they deserve and producers are an essential part of hip-hop music.
“[Last of the Record Buyers] gives us an outlet to promote hip-hop production in the Twin Cities,” said Brandon “Allday” Bagaason, a bassist even among baritones with an air of concentration and a pen placed neatly behind his left ear. Brandon and his bespectacled and bearded brother “Medium” Zach perform as the hip-hop group Big Quarters and are no strangers to music-related philanthropy. Big Quarters is one of the driving forces behind LRB and has worked with eight different schools, dealing primarily with middle- to high-school-aged students to promote and instruct hip-hop music. Their work has ranged from 10- to 12-week courses to one-day workshops through organizations such as the Minneapolis YMCA, Home Community, and the McNally Smith College of Music. According to Brandon, they’re trying to offer the same thing they had growing up to another generation; “[We are] playing our role in terms of giving young people opportunities we had,” he said.
Every third Thursday of the month producers convene at Fifth Element in Minneapolis to blast bass-heavy instrumentals from a CD of their work, as many tracks as they choose within a three-minute time slot. Participants, who all sign up the day of the event, offer introduction, explanation and contact information to listeners and exit the stage to applause and hand-slap embraces from on-listeners. Impromptu beat battles take place throughout the evening, pitting local talents against each other in a competition judged on crowd reaction. In addition, each event features a special guest, generally a highly respected local artist who offers insight and shares some work.
“It has had a huge positive impact on the scene because I don’t think producers really get the shine they deserve and producers are an essential part of hip-hop music,” said Taylor Madrigal, or “Depo Shot,” an 18-year-old producer who is part of a three-man production group called Audio Perm.
Julian Fairbanks, 17, another member of Audio Perm, said, “Our crew has been getting good exposure … We have gotten a lot more listeners.” Groups like Audio Perm, comprised of high-school-aged beat makers, have benefited from the move to Fifth Element (the event was previously held at The Dinkytowner, a bar in Minneapolis) that made the event an all-ages occasion.
Trial & Error
The Big Quarters brothers didn’t just become highly revered producers and MCs overnight, and likewise LRB did not come into existence without previous events laying the groundwork for an all-producer exhibition. According to Zach, the concept of LRB came from the evolution of their own experiences learning the ropes, and sharing it with their friends. Brandon and Zach began playing instruments at a young age, 10 and 9 years old respectfully, and started making beats in high school. Getting started making beats on a Realistic Rap-Master keyboard turned to DJing school dances, and eventually computerized beat-crafting using Cool Edit and Fruity Loops. Most recently, both brothers came back to working primarily with hardware, Brandon donning an MPC2000XL and Zach an ASR-10.
LRB came about more as a replacement than an innovation. Various producer battle events at local celebrations such as Scribble Jam and Twin Cities Celebration of Hip-Hop spurred a monthly series titled Run Ya Jewelz, a chance for producers to battle head-to-head for a cash prize. The event eventually came to an end, according to Zach, mostly because there became a clear-cut pattern of winners and little motivation for those losing out to continue paying the $10 entry fee to compete.
Brandon and Zach recognized the importance of producers sharing their work with others and learning from each other, as they had done while first starting out. Zach said they are still learning new things as artists and producers and explained that, “making music and putting it out is part of the process.” From this experience came LRB, effectively an “open mic for producers,” as described by Zach, who said that the prevalence of hip-hop producers in the Twin Cities creates a snowball effect, inspiring more artists with each generation.
Hand-me-downs and hibernation
“Good musicians inspire you to push yourself,” said Zach, explaining that he thinks the penetration of hip-hop culture into the Twin Cities is largely inspired by opportunity and big name independent facets such as Rhymesayers Entertainment. According to Zach, having more musicians only makes music stronger by offering competition and critique — and the long winters don’t hurt either. With a bit of a chuckle, but a serious tone, Zach explained that he thinks the six- or seven-month long winters in Minnesota give MCs and producers more time to focus on music, contributing to the hip-hop density.
When asked for some tips for aspiring artists, the brothers both agreed on the importance of learning the basics. “Use whatever is accessible and make music,” said Brandon without offering any advice on specific equipment, “Pick a song that you’d like to make and copy it.”
Zach nodded in agreement, explaining that his initial learning curve consisted of a three-beat pattern in which he would come to understand something new for about every third beat he completed. He stressed that even though they have been making music for ten years, they are still learning, and they still look to more experienced producers like Seattle producer Jake One for inspiration to get to the next level.
For musicians that hope to turn their art into a career, Big Quarters has one piece of advice to offer you: Have a CD at all times and pass them out to everyone. Self promotion, they explained, is a key to success in music. “You never know whose hands it will get into,” said Zach, only moments before they each withdrew a copy of their latest album, From the Home of Brown Babies and White Mothers, to offer me and my photographer.
This group’s success did not happen overnight, and it did not happen by accident. Big Quarters remains committed to hard work and giving back to the community. Last of the Record Buyers, and its spin-off Content Under Pressure, which pairs together one producer and one MC and challenges them to produce, write, and perform an original track within a three-hour time span, both strive to maintain and improve the hip-hop culture in the Twin Cities, serving as a springboard for current artists and a bull’s-eye for aspiring youngsters. –Tyler Hakes
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