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Brooklyn, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2015 | INDIE

Brooklyn, New York, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2015
Solo Hip Hop




"The Real Crooklyn: An Interview with the Brownsvillain, I.O.D."

"The images I.O.D. lyrically paints struck, shocked, and stayed with me, so I reached out to him in hopes he’d be down with CL coming through to see what he’s about." - Ben Toren

"I.O.D. - ARMME//Video"

"Im Hintergrund ein Schild mit der Aufschrift »The End«. Naht das Ende? Eher nicht, denn hungrig und hyperaktiv zugleich beginnt der erst 21-Jährige I.O.D aus Brownsville, Brooklyn auf »ARMME« über instrumentalen Minimalismus zu rappen und lässt einen nach vier Minuten mit einem erstaunten Blick zurück. Entsprungen aus dem Stadtteil, in dem sich die New Yorker Kreativität derzeit bündelt, verkaufte er sein letztes Mixtape »11212« stilecht in einem eigens eröffneten Pop-Up-Store." - Von Johann Voigt

"New Video: I.O.D. - ArmMe"

"There’s going to come a time when “mainstream” Hip-Hop will stop ignoring New York’s increasing talent all emerging from the big apple to take over the scene. I.O.D.’s newest visual for “ArmMe” further cements him as one of NYC’s most prominent MC’s, close to the level of mass appeal." - Radamiz

"Sound Opinions: I.O.D. - Ebola"

"Speaking directly about Ebola, but also using the spreading panic as symbolism for human faults such as dishonesty, planned ignorance, and other common issues we complain to our other friends about, I.O.D. makes this song relatable, quotable, and overall BROOKLYN!" - Profound_Effect

"Best Songs of the Week"

"Gloriously tasteless, energetic, consciously comical, and catchy as hell, "Ebola" is exactly the sort of song a young rapper from once-gloried New York should be making right now—something that feels like it exists in its own creative sphere." - Jon Tanners

"Pigeons and Planes: Best "5 On It" 2014"

"At surface, it’s absurd enough to make average listeners reach for the skip button faster than you can say, 'bitch, u guessed it,' but repeat listens reveal slyly intelligent humor woven into a dynamic flow." - Jon Tanners

"Up NeXt by DX: I.O.D"

Former HipHopDX Features Editor Andre Grant said in his “Defense Of The Struggle Rapper” editorial, “Out of all the things the Hip Hop web has vilified, the “struggle rapper” might be the least deserving of all that ridicule.” Before Kendrick Lamar became big enough for Barack Obama to sing his praises or Drake found himself making deals with Apple, they were artists without a significantly large fanbase attempting what seemed like the impossible. Hitting the top of the charts became a distant goal to making past one hundred streams of a song possibly made within the confines of their bedroom walls and gaining likes, re-post or anything else that would reach someone. Providing a weekly outlet for those getting their feet wet in the sometimes brutal sport of Hip Hop, allow us to give readers a look into tomorrow’s possibilities through “Up NeXt.”

What does the I.O.D. stand for?
“I.O.D. is a double meaning. In Brooklyn, when someone says, “You’re odeeing” it means your going to far or your taking it to the max. I feel like that is the only way to describe my presence in this world. 100% of the time going in in every facet of life from the stage to the studio. I.O.D. also stands for Inner God. I’m not religious but I’m very spiritual and I believe God is within us all. So when somebody says my name I want them to feel that power in themselves. You saying your ready to go in with the Inner God in you every time you say, I.O.D.”

When was the one moment–the butterfly in the stomach moment–when you knew you would make rapping a career?
“I don’t intend on making all of my money from rap so I don’t think you can call it a career as much as it is a hustle and a passion bu that one moment actually happened at SXSW. Seeing so many artist that are in different stages of their music careers and seeing how much is lacking from the Hip Hop industry I now see that my place in music is one that is necessary. We need more artist like myself who are here to build real experiences and connections for the people. We need more love and its so apparent. So if I myself can’t revolutionize the game then I will definitely be the one to inspire the person that does.”

Do kids in NYC still take pride in their place in the Hip Hop community or do they follow whatever trend the radio plays?
“There’s a lot going on in NYC. A lot of different vibes and waves so I choose only to speak for myself for this question. I take pride in my place in all Hip-Hop. The radio, the streets, the poetry slams, the kickbacks, the cyphers, the jam sessions, all of it is instrumental in our story. All of it matters. Whatever the kids are doing, i don’t know and I would hate to assume. All I know is me.” - Hip Hop DX

"Brownsville Rappers Speak Out Against Wrongful Arrest, Police Brutality"

Our only desire was to get out of the house and do something inspiring with life,” Brownsville, Brooklyn rapper I.O.D. wrote in a post for Cypher League, “but it feels like every single time there’s too much melanin in one space there are cops not too far behind.”

I.O.D. was recalling the evening of June 6th, when undisclosed members of the NYPD’s 84th Precinct arrested two of I.O.D.’s friends from Brownsville–Levar McDonald, aka @TheLevarShow, and rapper Hazeus–in Brooklyn Bridge Park, choking and then repeatedly punching the former into submission without providing any reason for the arrest itself. “It was shocking, expected, and confusing,” said McDonald. After watching the video of the arrests, his words speak the harsh truth. At the outset of the video, no questions are answered, and what ensues is, as I.O.D. puts it, “chaos and confusion.”

Chaos and confusion can fuel some terrible fires. But I.O.D. and his friends decided to take this unfortunate event and defy it on their own, peaceful terms. I.O.D. was set to perform with Grandmaster Flash at an event for Brooklyn’s Northside Festival this past Friday. Before the set, the rapper, his friends, and members of Cypher League, a Brooklyn-based media and events company with a hybrid label/management arm called Dojo Records, decided to walk down Bedford Avenue to McCarren Park together in an expression of solidarity.

“I wanted to bring us together and the plan was to bring [all my friends] on stage,” I.O.D. said, “Despite not being on stage with all my friends, I hope that the experience of getting together just to chill, hang out, and support one another is one that stays in their minds over the all the stress we’ve been dealing with as of late.”

I.O.D., whose name both stands for “Inner God” and alludes to “OD-ing,” which he describes as “what people say in the hood for giving something your all or giving above expectations,” has been rapping since he was eight-years-old, inspired by his brother and fellow Brooklyn native Jay-Z. At 22-years-old, he believes in the importance of blending activism and art. “Art, I feel like, is only art, to me, if it has a message behind it and if it has a clear and concise goal.” Though he doesn’t like to call himself an activist because “that word itself produces a lot of boxes,” he believes that he is a messenger who “fights for good, you know, my truth.” His music reflects his words.

On his recently released single, “’Round Here,” the first off his upcoming mixtape, The Brownsvillian, I.O.D. “explores the ideas of villainy and otherness in American society.” Alongside the track release, he also announced that he set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds “to provide a day of music and free food to members of the Brownsville community.” The event is a way to give back to a community that he sees as “a bunch of colors, people, problems and perceptions,” not as dangerous.

McDonald told his side of the story on Twitter, in a hundred (or so) passionate tweets. He also came out on June 10th to walk and cohost the Northside event’s afterparty.

McDonald, a prolific internet presence (with 39,100+ tweets) and an aspiring rapper, is known for putting together #NoNegativity, a secret Facebook group where him and his friends can express their “thoughts, have debates, not feel alone, and to also learn more about themselves. The group not only has fun together by throwing parties, making music and art, or planning events, but they also “work on how we communicate as human beings.” McDonald says, “no negativity is literally what it means— no negativity, but more a sense of just not caring at all.”

In 2014, the New York Times featured McDonald in a video where he discussed the necessity for “a middle ground between arm chair activism common on social media and confrontation on the street.” Two years have passed, and his ideas haven’t changed. He offers a proposal: “Think about it. If you get a bunch of people to stand in the middle of Times Square and not say one word while they hold signs and stuff. Imagine over a thousand people doing this. It would stop and gridlock everything. Now, it becomes a peaceful protest. Now, the world can watch and wonder what is going on.” In the video, he states that while yelling and screaming isn’t productive, armchair activism isn’t either. Although he’s extremely active on Twitter, McDonald believes that there are too many people just using social media for the likes, without putting much heart into the cause.

I.O.D. agrees. “If people figure out the balance between social media and real life and really know how to coexist in both realms, then we can definitely have further advancement as a people.” - Milk Media

"Ka and The Hidden Lineage of Brownsville Hip-Hop"

Ka uses a minimalist’s palette — haunted instrumental loops and laconic delivery — to color his songs’ brutal realism and serrated wit. The 44-year-old New York MC doesn’t deviate from that formula on his fourth solo LP, the recently released Honor Killed the Samurai. Even without juxtaposing it against the two more obviously mainstream records that came a day before (Rae Sremmurd’s turn-up soundtrack Sremmlife 2 and joyless OVO singer PARTYNEXTDOOR’s P3), the realities that Ka animates with his terse wordplay are still eye-twitchingly bleak.

On the self-produced Samurai, he describes an impoverished land where the law must be broken for the sake of survival; as he explains on “Just,” “To get what we need / We do what we must.” The production — guitar-sampling dirges with smatterings of soul — underscores tales of nihilism (“Was a nightmare, felt like life here was as good as dying”) and deadpan threats (“Got bread? / Pull the heat, toast is served”). Ka closes the LP with a painful sentiment: “I wish we didn’t have to live like this.” It’s a moment made even more poignant by what’s conveyed in his distinctive croak, a mix of sour acceptance and the numb exhaustion of someone raised on the streets of Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood.

“There wasn’t a block where you could get a break,” Ka, born Kaseem Ryan, tells SPIN over the phone, recalling his old stomping grounds. “What you saw growing up in and out of your block molded who you were. You could hear it in what we talk about — in our tone.”

To say that New York City has gone through some changes since Ka’s formative years in the ’80s and ’90s would be an extreme understatement. The graffiti-bombed train cars have disappeared, Times Square has morphed from a smut-peddling hub into a tourist attraction, and crime rates have dropped to record lows.

But even though New York City — and Brooklyn in particular — has transformed into an ever-gentrifying, high-cost megalopolis that’s become increasingly foreign to any lifelong resident over 40, Brownsville is still Brownsville.

Google “Brownsville New York” and a few of the first results are articles detailing its gang activity, it being the neighborhood that gentrification left behind, and the fraught relationship between police and members of the community. Like most other high-risk areas, crime is poverty’s consequence: Nearly 40 percent of Brownsville residents live below the poverty line. The neighborhood also has the country’s densest concentration of public-housing buildings. The young adult who looks skyward from Mother Gaston Boulevard, one of Brownsville’s major streets, doesn’t see high-rise condos in construction, but stories-high decay.

“Most Brownsville dudes know how to fight,” says Jahmal Bush, 40, professionally known as Rock, who formed the rugged duo Heltah Skeltah alongside the late Sean Price. “You had to fight for everything. You had no elbow room, you were always pissed off, and there were plenty people to fight growing up. That’s just what mammals do in the wild.”

Ka’s carefully constructed verses and grizzled perspective carries on the tradition of the Brownsville MCs that came before him: the great Masta Ace, the rough-and-chiseled Boot Camp Clik collective (composed of Smif-N-Wessun, O.G.C., Black Moon’s Buckshot — who’s from Crown Heights — and Heltah Skeltah), and the buss-ya-s**t-open duo M.O.P. His sparse instrumentals fit in line with today’s emphasis on crisp production, but Ka’s ethos and artistic focus also mesh with his ’90s compatriots.

“[Ka] kind of represents the best aspects of all those artists,” says ego trip magazine founder and hip-hop expert Jeff “Chairman” Mao. “He’s old enough to experience all [of ’90s New York] firsthand. What he’s doing as a rap artist in his 40s [is] still very contemporary because it’s not like he’s doing throwback music. He’s making something that is very introspective.”

Ka explains that the title of his newest album has multiple meanings: both a surface-level reference to the suicidal act of seppuku committed by dishonored samurai, and a single-line synopsis of his career thus far. “I’m treasuring something in the art of hip-hop that isn’t really treasured anymore,” the rapper says. “I’m hurting my career, by treasuring lyrics in an art form when no one really cares now. But I care. I kill myself for that.”

Although the aforementioned Brownsville acts utilize different styles, their lack of mainstream viability could be attributed to that same sort of stubborn devotion to old New York values. East Coast hip-hop spent the mid-’90s shifting from rawer production (Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang) to brassy, expensive sampling (Bad Boy, Bad Boy, Bad Boy). The transition happened relatively quickly, too — it only took two years for Nas to trade Large Professor’s smoked-out instrumentals for the Trackmasters’ mainstream street maxims.

So the Brownsville MCs veered from the zeitgeist. After making his first on-record appearance on “The Symphony” (one of history’s greatest posse cuts), Masta Ace became known for effortlessly linking tightly wound verses to concepts like the gangsta-rap satire in 1993’s SlaughtaHouse, the debut crafted by his group Masta Ace Incorporated. He was also one of the few NYC artists who experimented with West Coast sounds, predating today’s post-regional hip-hop when coastal tensions were still rising. One result is 1994’s “Born to Roll,” a remix of SlaughtaHouse’s “Jeep Ass Niguh” that caught on with Bay Area natives who had never even heard of “The Symphony.” The single peaked at No. 23 on the Hot 100, making it the biggest hit to come out of Brownsville — but it didn’t even sound like Brownsville.

Masta Ace had two lower-charting Hot 100 hits before spending the late ’90s trying to nab mainstream cachet through a major-label deal with Atlantic. The planned album was shelved, and fans had to wait six years after 1995’s Sittin’ on Chrome (Masta Ace Incorporated’s second and final release) for Disposable Arts, a solo concept album from Ace that revolved around a young Brooklynite’s release from jail. The acclaimed project found the veteran carving his own niche.

“Nothing will replace that feeling,” Ace, now 49, tells SPIN over the phone, “of being able to go in and make exactly the music you want to make with no influence, no suggestions from the cheap seats.”

Boot Camp Clik’s distinctively dusty boom-bap sound was perhaps the most succinct encapsulation of Brownsville’s hectic atmosphere. Their callous outlook (from Heltah Skeltah’s Nocturnal: “Don’t ask if the nigga Ruck’ll bash s**t like Cassius”) came through in bars that were sharper than switchblades. Enta da Stage — the 1993 debut from seminal group Black Moon, who shared a member with Boot Camp Clik — predated Nas’ Illmatic in kicking off the East Coast’s rap renaissance, but it underperformed commercially and was overshadowed by the ascendant Wu-Tang Clan, hence its status as an overlooked classic.

While the Boot Camp Clik had their Hot 100 hits, mainstream commercial success became even more unattainable through the ’90s as they stuck to their concrete aesthetic. (Wu-Tang Clan’s headmaster is a Brownsville native, too, but he isn’t known for repping it: RZA hails from Shaolin, but Robert Diggs comes from Brownsville.)

Ruckus-causing duo M.O.P — who also made the street gem “Welcome to Brownsville” — ended up capping Brownsville’s ’90s peak with the chin-checkin’ 2000 anthem “Ante Up,” a banger hard enough to single-handedly keep Timberlands in business for decades. The record rode in the same lane as DMX, who was then peaking as the definitive representation of street id. Now, “Ante Up” is arguably the most instantly recognizable hit to come out of Brownsville.

“We were talking about robbing people during the bling-bling era,” M.O.P’s Lil’ Fame says over the phone, looking back on their career single. “For us to be speaking about what we were speaking about and to go mainstream? There’s a lot of people singing the song and don’t realize what they’re singing.”

Brownsville ended up getting subsumed within the mega-success of New York’s shiny-suited Wall Street aspirants, who, in turn, have long been supplanted by Atlanta’s dominance and the West Coast’s millennial resurgence. With a cursory glance, New York’s lyrical and soulful lineage is now a blip in hip-hop’s more melodic (and sometimes modernist) landscape. These days, city pride has been so diminished that Drake can walk into Madison Square Garden, diss Hot 97’s most famous DJ, and still receive cheers. Brownsvillian bars — artifacts of a bygone era — are now hidden gems for hip-hop heads and digital crate-diggers to unearth.

In recent years, Bobby Shmurda — who’s currently imprisoned and awaiting trail for conspiracy, weapons, and drug charges — has become Brownsville’s lone claim to crossover appeal. Although the 22-year-old “Hot Nigga” star reps for the neighboring East Flatbush, the blocks he hails from (the East 90s) border the two hoods. His absence leaves room for other rappers to attempt to breakthrough with their own Brownsville-bred perspectives — rappers like I.O.D, whose latest single, “Round Here,” is a tribute to community pride.

“When somebody comes out of Bed-Stuy, it’s a trigger word — you get all this nostalgia for Biggie,” says I.O.D, 23. “There’s not really an artist that came out of Brownsville who you feel that same nostalgia for. That’s why I’m repping so hard to change that. All it takes is one person to make it out of the neighborhood.”

Ka says he hopes future MCs from the ‘Ville will be able to continue its lyrical tradition. But if they could rep for the neighborhood’s legacy without having to rhyme about the same street dangers he grew accustomed to, even better.

“I wish that they didn’t have to rhyme gritty because that would mean that they weren’t seeing the same things that I saw,” Ka says. “It’d be beautiful if all of a sudden, Brownsville MCs in the next 20 years were talking about stuff that an MC from suburbia was talking about. I’d feel like my neighborhood has now changed. That would be a beautiful thing.” - Spin Magazine


TheTheThe Brownsvillain EP - 11/28/16



Raised in the ghetto of Brownsville, Brooklyn, I.O.D. is the knight in shining bars. At the age of 23, he's opened for Talib Kweli, Grandmaster Flash, Pro Era and has put together two independent tours with the help of record label upstart, Dojo Records. Inspired by Jay-Z, Beastcoast and life itself, he has high hopes to leave his mark on the music industry and with the work ethic he exudes there is no doubt that he will. His debut EP, TheTheThe Brownsvillain, is set to release November 28th

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