Photo via artist's Instagram.
If you don’t know Bobby Brackins by name, you have definitely heard his music. The Oakland native parlayed MySpace-era local rap success into his current lane penning fun, chart-topping slappers. He wrote Tinashe’s breakout single “2 On” and co-wrote Chris Brown’s “Loyal” with Ty$. He also penned “I Hit It First” for his frequent collaborator Ray J. His solo career is humming along: last week, he joined G-Eazy on stage at Webster Hall to perform their single “Hot Box” (which also features Mila J). On February 2nd, Bobby will release “My Jam,” a new single with Jeremih and Disney Channel vet Zendaya.
As we sit down for the interview, Bobby Brackins laughs and shows his manager his phone: it’s a text from Tinashe’s people about setting up a studio session. Given that Brackins wrote “2 On”, the singer’s breakout single, this would seem like a mundane business communication. But Bobby explains that her camp had been kind of distant since their record became a radio staple, and he felt a little slighted. But lacking a follow-up single as big as “2 On,” here they are reaching out to him once again. It’s vindication.
A conversation with Brackins is a reminder that the old school music industry is alive and kicking. Even in an age where the internet regularly catapults artists from bedroom to billboard overnight, the studio system still churns out a lot of successful music. And while that system may be bloated and problematically out of step with the modern economy, it still provides plenty of talented artists the opportunity to make music for a living.
Bobby is in a great place, but he’s aware that he hasn’t hit his ceiling. According to rumors, “Loyal” was set to be his record until Breezy decided he wanted it. And Bobby tells me, it was his idea to put a model his photographer roommate was shooting named Kacy Hill into the studio to record some tracks. A little label called G.O.O.D. Music scooped her in December. He takes the text from team Tinashe in stride, just another occasional near-miss with bigger stardom. Even though he is pure tatted-up west coast swag, there’s something strangely blue collar about his mindset: do good work and keep your head (relatively) down, and the opportunities will come.
Noisey: You have a successful lane as a songwriter but it sounds like you want to be out there as a featured artist.
Bobby Brackins: It's been my most successful year musically ... I got a BMI award for “Loyal,” “2 On” was the Billboard #1 R&B song of the year. It's been good. Now I'm just trying to get a song on my own.
It's just about leaving your legacy. I just want the songs to do something. If it's somebody else that does something with them and they go, I'm happy. But I definitely know I can make a lot of good music and I definitely want these songs to get out there. That's how you last forever ... it's not by having two songs that went #1 but having 15 songs that go #1 in a lifetime, or 20 or 30. I got a lot of work to do but it's been off to a good start.
Would you be happy if in five years if you were still behind the scenes?
I'd be happy if I were still making songs that translate to people and get heard. If I never had a song on my own that was successful but I was writing and making successful songs, I'd be very happy with that! But that's not my goal.
I want to be this generation's Pharrell where I can make hits, produce a hit album for somebody else, then come back and make my own stuff. Like ... before "Happy" Pharrell was quiet for a couple of years because he was working on everybody else's stuff. I feel like as long as I'm working and I'm talented, it might be three years, it might a month from now, but I feel like I can eventually have more songs on my own that keep making noise.
Do you feel like your success lets you experiment a little more with your solo work or are you just writing the same stuff for yourself that you would for other people?
A lot of it is just stuff that I like, you know? I’m not gonna write a song that I wouldn't like. Like my next song, with Zendaya and Jeremih, I wrote it with J.Lo in mind and her label passed on it. So I was like OK this song's good, I'm gonna keep it for myself. That's how I operate.
But like, J.Lo's A&R passed on it but I let J.Lo's manager hear it after I already made it my song and they were like "what the hell?" … she got super mad at the record label for passing on it … you gotta know how good a song is yourself before anybody else does.
You just trust your instincts.
Tell me about writing “I Hit It First” for Ray J.
Me and Ray J had some success with the "143" song, but he was mostly focusing on TV and stuff, he hadn’t had a song of his own in a while. He’d had all these public relationships and people knew the story line. Sometimes when I’m writing,Ii put myself in other people’s shoes. I was thinking to myself: if I was Ray, what would I write a song about?
I love any situation where you ask yourself "What would Ray J do?"
Yeah! It debuted #55 on Billboard which is really good, like the first week it came out. It got so many different responses ... some people loved it, some people thought it was disrespectful, but it was never intended to be disrespectful. It was meant to just be fun. But when you make a song like that, you gotta be prepared for anything.
Do you live in LA now?
Yeah I've been in LA for six years.
You go back to the Bay a lot?
Yep. All the time.
You get any flack in the Bay for moving to LA?
Nah I'm up there all the time. My Mom and Dad both still live in Oakland and I'm up there a lot. I could see if I never came back people would be like "oh he's bougie" or whatever, but I'm always back. I'm going to the same spots everybody's going to. People see me. They can't say I'm abandoning the Bay.
Given how active the music scene across California is these days, it feels like there’s relatively few collaborations between the Bay and LA. It’s like Million Dollar Afro was the first project to bring the two scenes together ...
That's wrong though! In the new generation, the first collab was me, YG and Ty$ making a mixtape like three years before that one called The Young and Hungover mixtape. In the new song with Zendaya, I say it, "Bay to LA, I built the new bridge" because I did. Me and YG got signed at the same time.
We went on our first tour together, then Ty came and he was opening and Mustard DJ’d for everybody. I was the Bay boy in LA mobbin with the kids who are the hottest stars in LA now ... in 2010 we were all up and coming. But now YG and Mustard and Ty are all doing their thing, and that Young and Hungover mixtape was the first bridging of the gap.
Kreayshawn was filming on the tour and like two weeks later when we got home, she put out "Gucci Gucci" and she blew up overnight. It was weird ... I bridged that, I brought Kreayshawn on the tour with YG and Mustard and Ty.
So right now you're out here doing press and supporting G-Eazy?
Yeah just letting people know about that "Hot Box" song and telling people about “My Jam" ... doing "Hot Box" with G-Eazy tonight [at Webster Hall]. All his fans know it, they go crazy when it comes on. It's been fun doing shows with G. I really support his work ethic and he's from Oakland too so it's good seeing somebody from Oakland really be able to do shows and sell out any city in the country that they want to.
How do the crowds for G-Eazy shows compare to your shows or, like Ty$ shows? Is it the Macklemore crowd coming out?
I never been to a Macklemore show but it's definitely more white kids. It's a lot of girls. All the guys get the G-Eazy haircut before the show. He's got a lot of hardcore fans ... it's definitely a lot more suburban than you would see at my shows with Ty$ or YG or some shit like that. But it's all good! Fans are fans.
Who are the young songwriters coming up that you're seeing behind the scenes right now that haven't quite hit the mainstream yet?
This girl named Lady G ... she's really dope, I been seeing her with Puff a lot lately. She's based out of LA. My friend Marc Griffin is good ... he was in this band called The 2 AM Club and they were signed to RCA, he's just been writing mostly now. [Editor’s Note: he now goes by Marc E Bassy]. This girl Chloe that does pop stuff for Katy Perry ... there's a lot of people that pop world but that's kind of a different world than what I'm doing.
It's a different world but isn't there a lot of overlap these days?
Yeah definitely ... like I went to work on Gwen Stefani’s album and Diplo and Pete Wentz were there. We were just all in this house producing records for her. Pete was singing his ass off, Diplo was playin beats. It's fun to do stuff like that. I never thought I was just gonna run into Pete Wentz, you know? I'm friends with this girl CL now, she's like the biggest artist in Korea. She hit me up to go work on some songs with Florence and the Machine! I couldn't do it because it was the night before we were flying out to New York but that would have been crazy to work with Florence ...
... and an artist from Korea?
I've worked with CL before! She's dope. but I love Florence ... we're so different though, I never thought me and her could be able to merge. Random collaborations are happening.
So this is pretty common, to bring a bunch of artists together. Like a lot was made of how Kanye flew everyone to Hawaii to work on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but that's actually how albums get made these days.
Yeah these big stars can call anybody and people are down. My friend Nic Nac got called out of nowhere to work on Rihanna's album. You never know. I mean I started off as a rapper and here I am writing R&B songs for white girls. That's what they used to do ... old Motown songs were 20 musicians and 5 producers, all coming in to collaborate.
This sounds like work on spec. How do you make sure that’s a good use of your time?
I mean ... it's really a gamble because you have to hope the song you make gets chosen for the album. And even then, that's cool but really you want a single. That's how you make money … getting a song on an album is cool but when a song is pushed as a single, that's how you get serious profit. But there's a formula for the radio, for singles. You have to know, like, what BPM’s will work, but it's not that hard for me to make a song that can be played on the radio.
Does angling for a single make you curb your creativity?
Honestly, once I've done like two songs for an artist that I feel could be strong singles, then I try and get avant garde and have fun with it. I get that out the way, then I can be as creative as I want.
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