Brian Brown is something of a hometown hero. As Nashville’s hip-hop scene started finding its footing in recent years, Brown has remained at the forefront of that movement. The East Nashville representative’s debut album Journey arrived in January 2020 after a five-year wait, and it immediately felt like a paradigm shift. Subsequent releases by Tennessee talent surpassed the level of local buzz and made the case for being worthy of a national spotlight. Brown’s guest feature presence on releases by such talent as Namir Blade, Reaux Marquez, and $avvy made Music City’s hip-hop “moment” feel all the more official.
Journey fulfilled his promise of moving from SoundCloud loosies to a fully-realized encapsulation of his affable, southern everyman relatability over warm, soulful production and murky samples. It was a leveling up moment for Brown and his hometown scene. His inevitable follow-up seemed poised to up the ante, but his new EP, Two Minute Drill, has a separate goal entirely.
Two Minute Drill is not just a title but a mission statement. Each track lands just shy of 120 seconds but is filled to the brim with new ideas. Its small package provides a low stakes space to experiment with new sounds and flows, but don’t mistake this for Brown phoning in a performance. He raps with the hunger and urgency implied by the title; it might just be practice, but he delivers like he’s down by six with two minutes left on the clock.
Things start in familiar territory with a woozy vocal sample by Nashville producer and frequent collaborator Sir Illington on “Nba Jam.” Brown gets right down to business catching you up on the past three years of a downtown bombing, unemployment, and pandemic-induced isolation with the acute authenticity you wish you could respond with when asked how your city is treating you. It’s like catching up with a friend who can skip right past the pleasantries.
Familiarity in sound quickly fades once the melodic keys and 808 bass hit on “Gotta Give,” but Brown effectively melds his persona into each new style he tries. Although he floats across this second track’s radio-friendly pop trap with boastful bars about his progression like “Yeah we hittin’ off, really seems like I can’t miss / This was natural, but shoutout to my angels in the field,” his success is still rooted in giving his support systems a win as he follows with “R.I.P. G-Baby, life threw me a hardball / Gotta knock it out the park and do it big for all y’all.” A hit Brian Brown song is a hit for his community.
On the opposite end of the trap spectrum, the gritty piano of “Trillville” channels a classic mixtape era hit. TikTok trends didn’t exist to prove a hit in those days, but house parties, aimless teenage driving, and lyrics as Facebook statuses were perfectly viable metrics. Brown brings late aughts energy with a constant barrage of head-turning quotables indebted to prime mixtape Lil Wayne, even directly paying homage to Tha Carter III classic “Phone Home.”
“Icy” closes out the EP as perhaps the strongest track of the bunch, immediately coaxing the listener to run it back from the top. Texas-based producer Por Vida provides the perfect backdrop for Brown to display yet another side as its wind chime and atmospheric synthesizer loop brings out his player ways with his smoothest cadence yet. Its final seconds host the best encapsulation of each style Brown brings to a track: “From the country with that swang, Cowboy Bebop.”
What’s more remarkable than the versatility displayed across these four tracks is Brian Brown sounds his most confident as an emcee to date. He’s ironically never seemed more comfortable behind the mic than in stepping just beyond the sounds that have historically brought out the best in him. Two Minute Drill won’t curb the appetite of fans waiting for another full-length release, but it’s an impressive peek into his creative growth. These glimpses display an artist with a realized capability to take his next offering in limitless directions.