Bryson Wallace is a great friend of mine I met while working at a certain unnamed San Francisco tech company. On the first day of work, I showed up in a sweater over a dress shirt and tie, and he was in a flannel, Red Sox hat, and jeans.
I immediately recognized him as someone much cooler than myself and the majority of the icebreaker-game-loving-ass coworkers that started with us the day. Our friendship was forged quickly in the hellish flames of a cold-calling environment ripe with insufferable hipsters.
At first we were typical work friends, exchanging vague complaints about our workday and sharing superficial details about our personal lives. But soon we discovered that we had a very similar musical palate, and from there it was history.
We would eat lunch together most days, taking full advantage of the free food provided to us, lacking as it was in variety. We would have these heated debates where we would talk politics or anything socio-economic in nature. But they were the best arguments you could have in the sense that neither of us would lose our temper or let the others’ views change our perception of each other.
Growing up in vastly differing environments, we often had polar opposite stances, but always chose to look at each other’s arguing points objectively. This is a trait that has helped Bryson immensely in his development as an artist. He relishes any opportunity to pick up something new from those around him.
Bryson is truly an old soul, always offering a smile and a kind word to those around him, friend or stranger. He has not had the easiest life, and has lost many people close to him in the last few years. Through all the perils he has faced, he remains determinedly positive and sees every roadblock he has hurdled as an opportunity to better himself.
The only problem that I have with him is that he’s modest beyond belief. He’s an incredible MC, but throughout his career, he has either doubted his abilities or simply wasn’t interested in receiving recognition. His unbridled passion for music is what pushes him to hone his craft, but it’s finally starting to dawn on him that “this whole music thing” may have something in store for a talent of his caliber. He is headlining an event tonight, hosted at Independent Brewing Company in Oakland.
I sat down with him yesterday at Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland. It’s just as cool as the name would suggest. I thought it was going to be a coffee shop, but it turns out it’s more of a café-bookstore-live music venue.
I don’t think I’ve been anywhere that captures the essence of “cozy” like this place. There’s only about 12 tables, most of them close enough to shake the hand of the person at an adjacent table. There are shelves of books wrapped around the red brick walls. A guitar is propped against a stool in the front corner of the café, accessible at any time to any brave soul willing to interrupt the soft rock vinyl record playing. Bryson ordered a salad, at which I couldn’t hold back a laugh.
“I’ve been bad lately,” he admits with a sheepish smile.
Favorite meal: Burger and fries
Dream collab (2 artists for one song): D’Angelo & J. Dilla
Favorite jersey you own: Orlando Magic T-Mac. Black with the stripes
Trump in one word: Volatile (“I don’t know why that word in particular but it just came to me first.”
Last movie you saw in theaters: Get Out
Guilty pleasure: John Mayer (“I have his DVDs bro”), Twizzlers
Most influential book you’ve read: Forged by Fire (“I found it in the library because the guy on the cover was wearing a really similar shirt to me that day.”)
Interest people may not know you have: Film. I love documentaries and filmmaking in general
Lampin': Growing up in Bakersfield, a somewhat isolated city, what was the music scene like and how do you think that affected your tastes and preferences?
Bryson: Bakersfield was such a small place. At least small in a musical sense. I think that growing up in the era of MySpace and Limewire, your taste was only limited to your imagination. So for me, I was able to get into all kinds of genres.
The popular radio stations were so widely listened to that there wasn’t a lot of unique music circulating. I wouldn’t let Bakersfield tell me what to listen to. Of course there was like the punk scene and they hyphy scene which trickled down from the Bay. I hung around everybody, so I was able to soak up everyone’s taste. Only a select few were into old-school hip hop like me. I had a few friends that played the guitar while I was listening to Busta Rhymes. I just wanted to be open to everything.
At what age did you start beginning to dabble in rapping/music production? And walk me through that process. Were you planning on it becoming an eventual career path for you or was it just something fun to do with friends?
I wanna say I wrote my first rhyme when I was 7 or 8. My cousin was heavy into music and he was rapping all the time and he wanted me to give it a try. He would always laugh at it (chuckles). But I think it was around 7th grade when it took a serious turn.
I had a group of friends and we’d call ourselves the Southwest Boys. We’d either skate or hang out at my homie Vic’s place. He had this Snowball microphone in his room and he had cool beats. But I had the best taste in music of all my friends (laughs). I knew about sampling from guys like 9th Wonder and J. Dilla. Not many people know of 9th Wonder, but he’s a big influence of mine. But my friends wanted to make a track, and I was like “yeah, as long as I can make the beat”. So yeah, it started with my friends but it gave me a better ear for music and I started getting more into it from there.
What attracted you to Northern California? As Bakersfield is a lot closer to LA than the Bay Area, I’m wondering if you had any thoughts of moving further south to LA where many young artists flock to.
I went to college out in the LA area (CSU Northridge) and I had a nice network down there. I was rapping with this guy named B-1 and he was really cool.
He was like 27, he’d been through some rejection in the industry, but he had a lot of valuable experience. He pushed me a lot when it came to music. He wouldn’t let me leave the studio if my verse didn’t sound great. He would be the first one to say, “yo this is whack.” I’d be like, “damn, I thought that was pretty good” and he would just be like “nah, that was whack. No one’s gunna like that” (laughs).
I was like 18, 19 spending the night in the studio on the floor. Of course it affected my schoolwork, I was living too much. And they don’t give out financial aid for students to have a good time (laughs) so eventually that ride ended and I had to go back to Bakersfield which caused a lot of issues…. But it was actually my best friend Ramon, who I grew up with, who had moved up to the Bay about three years before I eventually did.
But he knew I wanted to get out of Bakersfield and was telling me about how dope the Bay is and all the opportunities that were there. I was hesitant to make that step, but a lot of my friends were dying in shootings and I didn’t want to be in a place where I was susceptible to that. And people will be like, “yo, you moved to Oakland to be safer?”
But people have the wrong idea about Oakland. There are so many great, talented people to surround yourself with. LA might have casted a wider net for me, but I feel like Northern California can be a little more eclectic and it fits my style a little better. There’s a lot of local artists that aren’t actually local, they come from all over the world and you can pick up little things here and there from them. I’ve been listening to a lot of punk, so my sounds have been more synthy lately. I’m still a jazzy dude though (smiles).
You have a very unique style that meshes a few genres together. What did you listen to growing up and how were you exposed to new music?
I listened to jazz, blues, funk, and soul as a kid. KC & The Sunshine Band, The BeeGees, Commodores…. There were a bunch of records in my garage and I was the only one that was really into them. I would dig around for records everywhere.
Also, a lot of rock. Rock for me was like diving into somebody else’s culture. Red Hot Chili Peppers were my shit. I would just listen to different records and radio stations and not turning myself off to things right away. From there, it just made sense to combine different genres when making my own music. I just like stuff where it’s like, “whoa…what is this?” (laughs)
For me Brazil will always have a piece of my heart. Samba, Bossa nova. It’s foreign to America in a way, but it’s also ingrained into our music when you realize how many American artists have sampled their work. It’s a goldmine for sampling and it has such a unique sound, and that’s kinda what I think I embody and what I wanna bring to the table.
Your song “Cowboy” is themed around problems you see in society today (pollution, over-reliance on technology, the disconnect of government and governed). Moving forward, will social consciousness remain a big part of your music? What would you say to people who want to affect change but don’t know how?
Saying something with substance is always my goal. Cowboy was just a observation of what was going on. It was during the government shutdown a few years ago, and it seems even more relevant today (laughs). You know that there’s a solution out there but these people (government) with their pockets in mind, rather than the people. So I just was trying to tell people to keep their eyes open. A lot of people out there are like a horse with blinders on, not really able to view their surroundings. But I think the best way for people to make change is just to educate yourself, and vote. If you don’t vote, it’s just noise in the wind. But if you have passion about an issue, make videos, make a podcast, do something.
You’ve been rapping for years now, but from the moment I met you, you always seemed a bit hesitant to share your music with people. In an age where spreading the word on social media is the easiest and the most utilized way to gain notoriety in the rap scene, why have you held back?
This is where it gets tough (laughs). Being critical of myself is a big thing for me. I’m so hard on myself. With mainstream hip-hop being so much different from my sound, I knew I wouldn’t be met with the same acclaim as these guys that are chasing what’s hot.
It takes a lot more effort for someone like me to get out to a mainstream audience. But yeah, it was a mixture of doubt, of fear, of not feeling prepared. But I wanted to get to an age where I had more to talk about rather than drugs, money, and sex.
And there’s more to life than that, and I wanted to live life more before I put anything on wax. But I think I’m getting to that point. The stuff I was talking about at 15, trying to be Mr. Smooth, Mr. Cool. But I had to go through a lot to get to where I am. I’m proud of my scars though and more more willing to show them. My music is my scars and my wisdom. But I had to go through all that before it materialized in my music.
You told me once about when you got a chance out of nowhere to open for Kendrick. How did that happen and what was that experience like?
It was 2011 when Kendrick wasn't super well-known, but I knew that he was legit. It was at the El Rey Theater in LA. I got a last minute call from someone at Sean Healy (music talent agency) who knew of me and asked if I could step in for someone that couldn’t come in. I didn’t have ANYTHING prepared though! I had a few friends at USC that played a few different instruments so I asked if they would play live with me. It was nerve-racking to get together last minute but I was able to and I told them just to jam after my first two tracks and then I'll freestyle.
You’ve got a show coming up tomorrow at Independent Brewery and you're headlining. I have a few questions about it.
I had this show in Bakersfield about four years ago called Jerry’s Pizza. It was kind of the proving ground for artists in the area. But it was the first time I performed for my own friends with new music and I killed it. But it so cool because people were juiced off of hip-hop. But that has been one of the defining moments of my career. But because I’m so hard on myself, it would’ve hurt my confidence if it hadn’t gone so well (laughs).
This guy named Dometrius James, he’s a DJ and is in a few bands. But he saw me in a bar this one time, and I was freestyling and he heard me. He dug it and we exchanged numbers. But I ran into him again when I was drunk (laughs) at this show called Black Marble. He was like, ‘yo, I’m gunna keep you in mind, a lot of people have been talking about you.’ And I was like, ‘what do you mean, I don’t really even share my music with that many people’. But he and All Eyes Manifest ended up getting me the headlining position and it should be cool. There’s gunna be beer, vinyl sales, people selling records, and a lot of rapping. It’s gunna be a great time.
(Smiles) I don’t know man, hopefully. I’m excited to perform. I got some old songs, and some new songs that I’m excited to release. But I get nervous though, I feel it in my legs when I’m up on stage.
Ok, last question. What do you think about the NBA Finals so far?
(Exhales deeply) (laughs. This was a joke I hope).
It was an absolute pleasure to get a chance to pick Bryson’s brain. I know the future holds much in store for the kid from Bakersfield who spent all those hours rummaging through record collections. If you’re in the area, be sure to catch Bryson’s set at 9:00 on Friday the 9th at Independent Brewing Company in Oakland.
Check out Bryson’s SoundCloud and follow him on Twitter @BrysonWallace