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Braille - Reading The Signs

Author: Jane Stabler
Monday, 12 May 2008
Portland’s one and only hip hop star Braille talks to 3D’s Jane Stabler about life-changing experiences, family matters, and the perseverance it takes to get ahead in the game.

Listen to many a hip hop star’s lyrics and you’ll hear them talking about overcoming adversity and hardship and how they struggled their way into superstardom. Although Portland-born Braille doesn’t focus on suffering and poverty, making it in the rap game certainly wasn’t easy for him. Hailing from a city where no other mainstream hip hop artists have been spawned, Braille says that as difficult as it was when he started out, he knew he wanted a life as a rap artist.

“I think for me it was the lyrics,” he considers of what got him hooked on hip hop. “It was MCs communicating how they felt and what they were thinking in great detail. I started getting into artists, the lyrics, the songs and from there I went deeper and deeper. I was definitely a fan before I became an artist. Then I started to write about what I was feeling. I didn’t even grow up around other people that were doing hip hop so it was something I was doing myself. I’ve always been hard on myself, and thinking, ‘work harder, work harder’, but at the same time I didn’t think I was very good! When I first started I thought I wasn’t very good but it was something I wanted to do. I just enjoyed it so much that after putting a lot of time into it I started to think I could do it as a career.”

“There was a lot of hip hop around when I was getting started,” the lyricist continues, “but what’s interesting about Portland is there wasn’t a mainstream artist from [the city]. If you live in New York or LA there were mainstream groups on the radio. Even to this day there isn’t a mainstream group from Portland. There are a lot of guys that have done things over the last eight years, but nobody on a major label. One of the benefits is that Portland doesn’t have a sound that everyone was copying. It’s not like everyone was trying to sound like Snoop Dogg or Tribe Called Quest, y’know- You just did your own thing; that was one of the cool things. I was able to be influenced by all sounds of hip hop.”

Also influencing Braille’s music are his personal experiences. Although not necessarily talking about gang banging and life on the streets, like so many hip hop artists flood us with; Braille’s music is deeply personal both by way of what he speaks about when he’s rhyming, and how what he was living through affected the creation and style of tracks on the album.

“All my albums are personal,” he considers, “but the importance of it being personal is what’s different. When I was making this record my father passed away, and that’s something that’s only ever going to happen once. When you write that song, you’ll never be in a position to write a song like that again. I was also raising my first child, and that’s a once in a lifetime thing, and that will never happen again, it’s a one-time thing. That’s some of the influences that were happening when I was writing this album. I also wrote the whole record in my home studio and recorded it there so that’s very personal for me.”

With such a family focus, and his daughter babbling away in the background as Braille speaks with me, it makes sense that more than just this family man’s music would be influenced by his kin. With a fairly manic and incredibly wide-reaching tour schedule, Braille refuses to travel without his wife and little girl in tow.

“I wouldn’t be touring if we weren’t doing it together,” the hip hop star reveals. “I always have my wife and my daughter with me, I’m such a family man. My wife toured with me before my daughter was born, so when she was born I took some time off and focused on the record and now that she’s old enough she’s touring with us. So we spend all our time together. We knew when this record was done that we were serious about it and we knew I’d have to tour a lot. It’s a great opportunity for me to show up and represent what we’re doing.”

Braille’s representation is certainly not something that looks to be short-lived either. With his fourth official release receiving the same praise his previous albums have garnered, Braille has already succeeded where many a hip hopper has failed. In such a booming genre, many a one-hit rap wonder has flared and then faded just as quickly. He says it’s his persistence that got him to where he wants to be, and will keep him there for as long as he loves it, which is looking like forever basically.

“For me I never even thought this would be something I could make a living at,” Braille laughs. “I was always making records, even with calling this my fourth record, it’s the fourth official record but I’ve done tapes and stuff back when I was 14. So in the last 12 years I’ve made four official records but I’ve done stuff that I never did anything with. I’m always going to be creating music. My desire to create albums is from my love; it’s not necessarily a financial thing, so I’ll be making music for the rest of my life. Even if I had to go get another job I would still make music. I’ve just stuck with it. Like my dad, he was a cook and he’d have good cooking jobs and bad cooking jobs, but he loved to cook so that’s what he did. It’s about just being humble and making the most of the opportunities you have and often you have the ability to keep doing what you’re doing. I just work with the opportunities that I get.”

WHO: Braille
WHAT: The IV Edition, out now through Creative Vibes