Brookzill’s Throwback to the Future is Good Music You Can Feel for Real

Xenia Rubinos wants you to bump this super group’s record and enjoy!

Brookzill — the super group ten years in the making comprising Ladybug Mecca, Prince Paul, Don Newkirk and Rodrigo Brandão — has arrived with their first album, Throwback to the Future. It’s a bilingual sound system banger from start to finish. The album melds Brooklyn hip-hop stylings with Afro Brazilian music, creating a sound that is viscerally foreign and familiar. It seems as if this music has always existed, but we’re just joining the program — and that may very well be.

The premise of Brooklyn-meets-Brazil took shape when Prince Paul, most widely recognized for his work on De La Soul’s 1989 seminal debut album 3 Feet High and Rising, traveled to Brazil for the first time ten years ago and met MC Rodrigro Brandão, who raps under the name Gorila Urbano. The pair hit it off instantly, vowing to make an album together fusing samples of Brazilian music with classic hip-hop beats. Paul called in the help of his long-time collaborator and producer Don Newkirk. The final key component was Grammy-winning MC, vocalist and songwriter Ladybug Mecca, prominently known as a member of iconic hip-hop trio Digable Planets. Aside from being one of the illest MCs and songwriters (check out her stellar solo albums Trip the Light Fantastic and Dogg Star), Mecca is also the daughter of Brazilian jazz musicians, making her the perfect ambassador for Brookzill.

The anthemic “Raise the Flag” instantly reminded me of Björk’s riot-inspiring “Declare Independence,” and carries some of that same urgent call to action. “Saudade Songbook,” which samples “Taieiras” by Ely Camargo, is an ode to loved ones who’ve passed on, featuring shout-outs to music giants ODB, J Dilla and Biggie Smalls. Transcendental “Brookzill Suite” opens with a gorgeously tragic vocal melody doubled by marimba, sax, flute and guitar, giving way to astral flute solos over funky beats that sound like they could have been a looped intro from Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters or maybe a Brainfeeder foray into more tropical terrain.

“Mysterious” kicks off with a gangish group vocal and a more minimal instrumentation than much else on the record. Pitched-down cymbals are punctuated by piano stabs and vinyl scratches, opening up into a solid backbeat groove and bass line. Complete with shouts to Beastie Boys, Rakim, Biz Markie, it’s a nod to the golden era of New York hip-hop.

Veteran producers Prince Paul and Newkirk are clearly masters at melding and layering samples and seemingly disparate styles. Mecca’s sunny, buoyant voice carves out its own time and cadence, while Brandão is the opposite side of the coin, cutting in with a smoky sinister sound that feels like a punchy midnight dog growl. The two MCs make for a great textural duo, trading verses and punctuating hooks together.

It’s a rich, dense work with a lot to sink your teeth into musically.

The male and female unison vocals, doubled by horns and layered percussion, are the most characteristically Brazilian sonic facets on the record. There is also funk and jazz in the palette with modal patterns played by psychedelic synths and solos expanding off of main motifs. It’s a rich, dense work with a lot to sink your teeth into musically.

Ladybug Mecca seamlessly switches between English and Portuguese with a swagger that makes it feel like it’s all coming from the same place, because, well, it is: Africa. Brookzill draws a direct line connecting Afro Brazilian and hip-hop music cultures. The result feels like a spiritual party record you can dance or just vibe out to.

I’ve tested it out and can tell you to just bump it loud and enjoy

In a radio interview with Sway in the Morning, Brandão waxes poetic on the common ground between hip-hop and traditional Brazilian religious ceremonies: “If you go to a Candomblé ceremony and you see people invoking the spirits, what you have is drums and chants. Doesn’t that sound like hip-hop to you?”

So now you’re thinking: “OK, it all comes from the same place and sounds really good together, but can I really kick it even though I don’t understand Portuguese?” Yes, you most certainly can! Reading a list of super group characters and multi-hyphenate genres may leave you feeling too exhausted to check out what sounds like it could be an overly ambitious project, but rest assured, I’ve tested it out and can tell you to just bump it loud and enjoy! If words are walls and music has no frontiers, then it’s better just to call this good music that you can feel FOR REAL.

Visionary singer and music maker Xenia Rubinos dips in and out of genre and structure to create movingly powerful songs with her O.G. signature sound. Xenia’s powerhouse vocals are at the center of her music which grows from a wide range of influences from R&B to Hip-Hop to jazz all delivered with a soulful punk aura. Pitchfork lauded the radiant singer as “a unique new pop personality” while a profile in The New Yorker described her work as “rhythmically fierce, vocally generous music that slips through the net of any known genre.” Her record, Black Terry Cat, is out now.

(Photo credit: Amanda Picotte)