“Greeting The Day With The Pioneer Valley’s Most Esteemed Speaker”
by Charlie McLeod.
It’s nearly morning on 1177 North Pleasant Street and I’m sitting across from Dro Brown as he lays into the new Gears of War III. A three-bedroom apartment and the kids he lives with are awesome, I must say. Pete and Ben, and they go hard for FIFA. It’s a nice apartment, and from the window, in the near twilight of the sun rising, you can see the leaves are changing in time for fall here in Amherst, Massachusetts. Dro only recently moved back home from Denver, and already he’s got some good stuff going on. Since his self-release of the original tape “Cognac,” in March of 2011, he’s received some attention from “the blogs” and had performed around the Denver area. “Got some blog love, but nothing really came out of it. I really, really like everything about Cognac. And mostly, I give a fuck about what anybody else says about it. It was like a birthday present to myself.”
As of September, he’s been cast as the lead in UMass Amherst’s production of Marcus Gardley’s “Hell in High Water,” directed by Gil McCauley. He’s currently working on a mixtape, due out in November. He’s got his eyes on the music scenes of Washington, D.C., New York City and then good old, Colorado. But first, I need to find the perfect font for this interview. And why not ask Dro?
“So, Dro?” I chuckle, at my own cleverness. “If you were a font, what would you be?” He looks at me, and sighs as if he’s already thought about this, and voiced this opinion a million times. “Wingdings”, he says. “Cause that shit don’t make no damn sense.” And that’s kind of the bottom line with Dro… I pry him away from the Xbox for long enough to really talk to him — to learn something about this young man who could easily become ‘someone’ in a very short time, should everything continue rolling the way it has been.
Born in Cleveland, OH, Dro has been around the world and back since a very early age. He started playing saxophone at seven and then lacrosse at eleven, and both things quickly became yet another reason for proud parents to celebrate. “I definitely learned a lot,” He says, and then stops to think. “I learned a lot about getting the job done.” A nod. “My parents have always been really supportive, and my dad played D3 soccer, so he knows what it takes to succeed in your respective playing field. So it was natural for us to go that way.”
When the family finally settled in Amherst, it seemed like the perfect place to lay their roots. “Might just be the coolest place on Earth,” Dro says of the town, and I have a hard time imagining otherwise. The place is beautiful. Mountain ranges loom in the distance, thoroughbred steeds gallop through pastures. It’s like Narnia.
And for a town with a history of producing poets like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, you’d have to say it makes sense for a kid like Dro to call this place home. We have a long talk about originality and practicality and what those words meant him. “I just don’t wanna – I wanna be me,” he shrugs. “I wanna be an individual. I don’t know….”
And it’s not that Dro is trying to be an individual. The task comes very easily to him. You’d have to follow very closely to see where the boy is coming from, even in his music. When I ask him how to describe his music, he releases a disgruntled ‘harumph’ and goes on to say: “I’d have to describe it as the sonic equivalent of someone really liking something, and then ultimately not giving a shit. Being content with the way things are. And that’s kinda been my life. Things have just been subconscious. That’s really,” he takes moment to laugh at the reality of this thought. “That’s really how I operate. Kinda, like, living on my toes.”
So, where did it begin? “What?” he asks. “ The music? Or the me? I began in 1990.” Dro recounts that he was mostly successful in sports because of the way it felt. “When my body was moving, and I wasn’t thinking, I was at my best. I can’t describe it,” he says of his determination on the lacrosse field. And that’s the way he writes his music. “When you feel it you can’t not– you just find it – there’s no other way to spit it,” he says.
When did rap come into the picture? Early on, as Dro tells it. “I’ve been listening to rap forever. I’ve been writing poems since I was real young. We had this magnetic poetry thing,” he remembers. “And when I was younger, I would take words and stick them together. Random words that I would flip together on a magnet board.” He stands to demonstrate and as I sit and watch Dro, at top speed, hurls a handful of imaginary magnetic words at an imaginary board. He sits and grins, proceeding to tell me about how the one time he performed this feat, a school assignment happened to call for a poem. “I’d completely forgotten that I’d done that, and then when my teacher asked us to write a poem, I copied the whole thing.” As the story goes, that teacher was so impressed by Dro’s word skills, she submitted the piece for review to possibly have the poem published in a children’s collection. Supposedly, it’s published. “I can’t remember what it’s called,” he says.
As a young gun, Dro thought it would be impressive to get into jazz. Not necessarily because he liked it but more so because he thought older people would be impressed. And maybe it was out of this self-regulated mandate to entertain at all costs, Dro found rhyme, and for himself.
The first time he went out and hung with kids, drank and smoked and happened upon being a teenager, friend’s of Dro’s started a cypher, enlivening a social gathering with flows of their own. The friends rapped, and at first Dro wouldn’t contribute. “I had it in my mind,” he says. “I always had two lines cued up.
And yet Dro never went in on the cyphers, even as they progressed into normalcy amongst his group of friends. When asked why, he says, “I was just nervous.” That nervousness soon faded away. Dro was recruited to play lacrosse at Brewster Academy, a private school in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. His ’08 season, the team finished 52nd in the country. When confusion arises about the team’s final standing, he quickly clears things up. “I don’t remember the number [ranking],” he says. “Might have been high 50’s, might have been low 50’s. It might even have been 60s. All I know is we won [our league].”
Dro quickly fell in with another group of kids. “Goon kids,” as Dro describes them. He lived on the same floor as them, and before long they were spending a large amount of time together, mostly in the dorms, honing their individual crafts. “Cheeks and them,” Dro recalls. “Every moment that wasn’t spent in class or at practice, was spent with these kids. And either we were gaming or flowing.”… Then, as Dro transitioned from high school and into college, it began to dawn on him that higher learning maybe wasn’t the best thing for him.
“I think deep down inside I knew that school wasn’t for me,” he says, picking back up the X-box controller. “I don’t know why.” He plays for a while and then pauses the game, turning to me. “Sometimes I think I have a learning disability and then I’m like, nah. That’s not it.” He smiles. “I have a whole lot of ‘fuck it’ in me.”
And maybe it was for the best, because since leaving the University of Denver this year, and moving back to Amherst, Dro has gotten opportunities to share his music from some heavy contributors to the entertainment community. One that sticks out — and upon the mention of it, Dro get visibly a little excited – is an opportunity to acquire billings through Washington, D.C. area, and align himself with up and coming artists initiative The Full Circle Collective (fullcirclecollective.com, also based in the D.C. area) – all thanks to the help of manager/promoter Juan “RealHiphop” Jose.
Currently, Dro is working on a new mixtape, so far untitled, that is he is hoping to release this November. Somewhere in the process of looking up local recording studios in order to lay down tracks, Dro found Angelo Quaglia.
“I just looked up recording studios on line. Looked mad professional. Went in to talk to the people — just to be professional about it,” he adds. “And it’s a fucking dopeass facility! They built it themselves, and its really… impressive.”
One contributor towards the upcoming mixtape is grammy nominated engineer Angelo Quaglia. Of Quaglia’s many projects, a plaque for multi-platinum R&B recording artist Joe’s 1999 album “My Name Is Joe” shines the brightest. On working with Angelo, Dro says: “I know how to record, but he’s just, like a technological wiz… I know what I want it to sound like. He makes it happen.
As the sky fills with hints of blue ushering a new day, I feel it’s appropriate to question Dro about the future. With so much awesome shit on the horizon for him, he must have the whole thing planned out.
“I don’t know,” he muses. “I just love doing this. I love the grind – and it is a grind,” he adds. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with this. I like to think I’m always changing and growing. ” I continue on, asking him where the story ends in his mind. He leans back on the couch, shoves his hands into his pockets and glares in my direction. “When the story ends. Fuck.”
And then, in what I can only assume is an apology for being so crass, he makes a Star Wars reference I don’t understand. Then laughs and tells me not to put that in there.
Don’t worry, Dro. I won’t.