The ‘90s were prime time for hip-hop labels turning into empires. Master P’s No Limit Records went from a label to a recognizable brand built upon family principles, becoming one of the most successful entities of the decade. Death Row Records and Bad Boy Records played instrumental roles in the East Coast/West Coast rivalry that transformed careers and cemented legacies. One of the lesser-discussed labels of the time is Tony Draper’s Suave House Records, a Houston-based label that launched the careers of some of the most influential Southern rappers, such as 8Ball & MJG and Tela. At the heart of most of these ventures was a desire to craft pockets of creative freedom instead of relying on mainstream labels, and Bruiser Brigade Records is bringing that back.
At the helm of Bruiser Brigade Records is acclaimed Detroit rapper Danny Brown, best known for his ever-changing image and sound that digs deep into the recesses of his psyche. In February 2021, Brown tweeted, “I was told XXX wasn’t good enough to be a album so they put it out as a free mixtape,” referring to his groundbreaking debut XXX, released on Brooklyn-based independent label Fool’s Gold Records. Through this frustration came the ethos for Bruiser Brigade Records: family and freedom.
TV62, whose namesake is inspired by WGPR, the first Black-owned television station in America that was marketed in Detroit, is a proper introduction to one of the most exciting labels to come out of hip-hop since Griselda’s meteoric rise. The album feels like flipping through television channels, capturing the small quirks that make each Bruiser Brigade act so unique.
Each track is its own character study. Shining star Bruiser Wolf glides over soul samples with his light-footed talk-rap and ridiculous double entendres, such as “Life was intense like camping grounds” on the Black Noi$e-produced “Everything.” Fat Ray’s gruff delivery oozes braggadocio reminiscent of old New York radio staples, and newcomer J.U.S. spits like a seasoned emcee, with hidden rhymes and clever wordplay that requires a third or fourth listen to catch. Label head Brown is at his most unhinged, with “Dylon” bringing back his signature nasal delivery and “Welfare” channeling the spirit of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, unknowingly recorded on the legend’s birthday in an anecdote shared by Brown. Beats primarily handled by in-house producer Raphy serve as the album’s main undercurrent, with his signature videogame samples and grainy lo-fi sounds serving as a versatile backdrop to the rotating cast stating their cases.
At the heart of TV62 is its scrappiness, beginning with television static and the group laughing in the background before the program begins and the audience is submerged into their own playful public access show. Much like the television and movie tropes of what makes a good group, perhaps most eloquently explained by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, each member falls into their own distinct category. J.U.S and Fat Ray are the muscle, with their gruff-voiced portrayals of violence and pride suggesting a precise tunnel vision. Zelooperz and Bruiser Wolf are the wildcards, with the former marking the album’s turning point through hypnotic, feedback loop-like rapping and Wolf bringing a comedic edge to his drug tales that are riddled with endless puns. This makes Brown the brains, although he wears multiple hats as he channels his versatility with a stunning ease.
Brown is the most interesting character on TV62, utilizing the album as a space to explore riskier sounds. Aside from the aforementioned ODB homage on “Welfare,” there’s the Dizzee Rascal-inspired “The Ends,” where Brown channels the wordy, cartoonish qualities of grime music and U.K. garage, and adds them to his arsenal.
After the intense critical eye and subsequent adoration from fans and critics alike that came with the release of 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition, Brown has become almost fetishized for his gloomy, stark portrayal of his mental health struggles and addiction. In comparison, both from his performance on TV62 and in the previews of the album on his Twitch channel, Brown is beaming with joy and pride for not just himself, but for his friends. Freed from the expectations that come with record labels and press cycles, the Bruisers have found their playground.
The album is a testament to Brown’s keen ear for music just outside of mainstream earshot, and the camaraderie found throughout the record is very telling of a greater bond that’s less a shared label and more a tight-knit brotherhood. Bruiser Brigade Records is part of a larger canon of Black-owned independent record labels created out of both love and necessity. When giving them the space and freedom to create, Bruiser Brigade Records proves they can run with the big dogs and they will do it in a pack.
Jade Gomez is Paste’s assistant music editor, dog mom, Southern rap aficionado and compound sentence enthusiast. She has no impulse control and will buy vinyl that she’s too afraid to play or stickers she will never stick.