Barak Records was one of the essential elements that placed Detroit on the hip-hop map. Some people may think of Eminem when they think of Detroit, but underground / independent hip-hop lovers think of Slum Village and Barak Records. The Motor City has produced artists like Phat Kat, Ta'Raach (Lacks), Jay Dee (J Dilla), Lawless Element, and Athletic Mic League. With the exception of a few labels or artists, Barak Records has been the epicenter of Detroit’s underground hip-hop scene. Not only did the label play a major role in the creation of Motown’s hip-hop sound, Barak Records is also Detroit’s most well-known hip-hop label.
The “Detroit sound” was created by the signature mood inside the unique production. Thick handclaps and booming bass hits are woven into a stylish, ghetto fabulous groove. One of the most respected producers in hip-hop, J Dilla (Jay Dee) is the Godfather of the Motor City hip-hop sound. He created beats for The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, Madlib, Busta Rhymes, and Common. Originally the primary producer / emcee for Slum Village, J Dilla led the group as they laid the bricks in the house of Barak. Dilla’s production overshadowed everything else on “Fantastic Vol.1” LP and the “Fantastic Vol. 2” LP. Many people purchased the albums just for Dilla’s production. After J Dilla left the group, Slum Village and Barak Records were forced to evolve. This incident began the continuing cycle of change for the group and the label.
Born into Barak Records, Young RJ has been carrying the torch for Detroit’s underground hip-hop sound. He is the son of RJ ‘The Wiz’ Rice (former leader of RJ's Latest Arrival and head-honcho of Barak Records). Nepotism may have opened the door for the budding producer, but Young RJ had to fill Jay Dee’s legendary shoes. When J Dilla left Slum Village, Young RJ stepped in for the making of “Trinity: Past, Present, & Future” (Capitol Records / Barak Records). Simultaneously, Young RJ formed the production duo named B.R. Gunna with fellow producer, Black Milk. As a team, B.R. Gunna produced a handful of the tracks on the “Dirty District Vol. 1” LP (Sequence / Barak). Labeled as a Slum Village release, “Dirty District Vol. 1” was actually mix-tape that introduced the world to Detroit’s finest underground producers and emcees.
Slum Village and Barak Records experienced another major change. Due to a tragic case of schizophrenia, Baatin and Slum Village went their separate ways. Baatin (the one with the turban) claims he got kicked out of the group. This major change increased the pressure for Young RJ, as well as T-3 & Elzhi.
B.R. Gunna became the primary production force for Slum Village. They handled the majority of the production on the “Detroit Deli” LP (Capitol Records / Barak). Even though Kanye West took the spotlight the single, “Selfish”, B.R. Gunna was responsible for the rest of the album. Finally, fans began to appreciate the musical and lyrical maturity. Although many fans compared him to Jay Dee, Young RJ remained a prolific artist who created his own sound. In 2004, B.R. Gunna released “Dirty District Vol. 2” (Barak Records) under their own name. Completely independent, “Dirty District Vol. 2” showcased B.R. Gunna on every song. Guests included J Dilla, Mu, Elzhi, Phat Kat, Fat Ray, MC Breed, Que D, Guilty, and The Dramatics.
2005 marked the complete independence of Slum Village and solidified Young RJ’s bond with the group. Without the assistance of a major label, Slum Village released their self-titled (“Slum Village”) LP on Barak Records. As a producer, Young RJ’s star shined bright on the album’s various songs. Although the SV were offered beats by a myriad of other producers, Slum Village employed Black Milk & Young RJ to produce 92% of the album (12 out of the 13 songs). With more grit and energy than “Detroit Deli”, the “Slum Village” LP displays the soul of Barak Records and Young RJ’s production. Some songs are produced by Black Milk & Young RJ as B.R. Gunna, while others are produced only by Young RJ. The album’s opening cut, “Giant” grabs the listener with a thick, boom-bap sound. With live instrumentation, the song “05” displays the musical chemistry between the emcees and Young RJ. On “Def Do Us”, RJ provides a bubbling background for T3 & Elzhi to express their loyalty for each other. As B.R. Gunna, Black Milk & Young RJ created magnificent Detroit beats for Slum Village. “Can I Be Me” has a thick rhythm and addictive melody. The first single, “EZ Up” is a magnificent up-tempo track that keeps the listener’s head nodding. Alone or with Black Milk, Young RJ is bringing Slum Village into their next chapter of independence.
As one of Detroit’s youngest and most prolific producers, Young RJ has already earned his place in Detroit’s hip-hop hall of fame. Alongside J Dilla, Karriem Riggins, Wajeed, and Lacks (aka Ta'Raach), the duo of B.R. Gunna are taking Detroit’s signature hip-hop sound into a new dimension.
MVRemix: What goes on?
Young RJ: Nothing much. I’m in the studio, working on the new B.R. Gunna album.
MVRemix: Your last B.R. Gunna album, “Dirty District Vol.2” was released on Barak Records. Tell us about the album.
Young RJ: We did this album to display the talent in Detroit. It was a way for us to get out some ideas we had and also, display some of our tracks.
MVRemix: You and Black Milk formed the production duo called B.R. Gunna. What is the meaning behind the name B.R. Gunna?
Young RJ: Black and RJ and were gunning for the top of the charts.
MVRemix: How did you and Black Milk meet and eventually form the group?
Young RJ: We met through a mutual friend who was trying to get signed. He was rapping over Black’s tracks. I told him, ‘I can’t really help you, but I can help the dude who did the tracks.’ The track that I heard was, ‘What Is This’ from the ‘Trinity’ album (Slum Village). Then, we moved on to the ‘Detroit Deli’ album. We were doing most of the production. We said that we should just form a production team. That's how we came to be B.R. Gunna.
MVRemix: Do you have a favorite song on ‘Dirty District Vol.2’?
Young RJ: My favorite track was ‘Stix’ because it was so grimy.
MVRemix: What song took the longest to complete on ‘Dirty District Vol.2’? Why?
Young RJ: None of them took a long time. We only took 20 minutes to do each track. That's all it took. We didn’t even separate the tracks. We two-tracked everything straight from the MP.