Deezie Brown and Jake Lloyd aim to break a cycle of hurt with buoyant 'Geto Gala'
"Thank God he can read good, and writes great, run the whole entire state with the right bass. Thank God he’s not a chess player, over-thinking (expletive) keep it player, mayonnaise and mustard with the slowed-up sound. Thank God he’s poet now. Poster child you flagrant fouls. Thank God he can run fast and he can jump high ... or else he’d be a dead man." — Deezie Brown, “Sumn' to Say”
Growing up in rural Texas, Deezie Brown observed what he thinks of as “small-town syndrome.”
Young Black men would either play sports or fall into crime, he said on a recent episode of Austin360’s streaming show, the Monday Music Mashup.
With “Geto Gala,” his new EP with fellow rapper and R&B singer Jake Lloyd, Brown hopes to show people “that we actually have choices,” he said.
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The five-song collection is a celebration of obstacles overcome and aspirations achieved. It’s an ambitious platter of rich lyricism slow-dripped with Texas soul, an opulent ode to Southern swag clad in designer duds. While Brown and Lloyd don’t shy away from hard truths about social injustice, the album doesn’t linger on pain and fury, choosing to focus instead on uplift.
“We can be anything we want, if we put our imagination to it,” Brown said. “We can go out and do whatever it is that we dream to do.”
“We as Black people and people in general, we are the commanders of our destiny. We write the story,” Lloyd said. “We have a lot to be proud of, and we have a lot to be thankful for, and we have a lot to celebrate.”
The South got 'Sumn' to Say'
Lloyd and Brown are both true Texas sons. Lloyd grew up in Round Rock, with familial roots tying him to Corpus Christi and the coastal plains where his grandmother spent 40 years as a gospel pianist in Victoria. Like all great R&B singers, he cut his teeth singing in church, but family time was also slow, loud and banging. On trips to the coast, his older cousins introduced him to Houston rap, “Big Mo, Screw, Chalie Boy and all of the underground stuff,” he said. By the time he was in high school, he was making regular trips to Round Rock’s indie music hub, Piranha Records, in search of mixtapes.
Brown is a native of Bastrop. “If anybody really knows, like, the culture of Screw, they will know that (DJ) Screw is actually from Bastrop County, because he was born and raised in Smithville, Texas,” he said. “So him being from there, that's all we knew.”
The pioneer of the slowed down, chopped up sound that defines Texas rap was a local icon. “That was our hero. That was our Jay-Z. That was our Dr. Dre,” Brown said.
Brown moved to Austin in 2011, after losing “pretty much everything” in the wildfires that devastated Bastrop that fall.
“I was looking for a start over,” he said.
For the next decade, he and Lloyd moved on the scene as solo artists. Their paths regularly crossed at the studio and shows.
“We just knew that we wanted to collaborate,” Lloyd said. They weren’t trying to create a new project, but “just making songs and having fun and just, you know, bouncing ideas off of each other,” he said.
In 2019, Brown began developing the concept of the Geto Gala.
“I thought that everyday blue collar workers deserved at least one night to celebrate all of that hard work,” he said. He imagined a lavish bash where construction workers, teachers, ordinary people could come together and indulge in extravagance. “I was wondering what was out there for us, what we had to say, ‘Ah, it's been a good year. I've worked my butt off. Now let's get it again the next year,’” he said.
‘We are triumphant and we are strong’
"Don’t try to shut me up. Don’t try to bring me down. I’m workin' on a come-up. I’m trying to pin it down." — Jake Lloyd, "Sumn' to Say"
As Brown and Lloyd conspired to create an elegant audio affair with an open guest list, the world came crashing down.
“Everything that we were going through in 2020 was only a test,” Brown said.
He believes we were collectively being shown “what we had already, and what we weren't being grateful for,” he said.
“So I think, for us, it was like, ‘Yo, we got to show people that we can work through this,’” he said.
As spring of 2020 stretched into summer, a nation in lockdown was shocked into action. Protests erupted around the country in response to the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis.
Brown and Lloyd grew up learning about the civil rights struggle and the work of Black leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. As children, they saw Los Angeles explode following the police beating of Rodney King.
“It's not new, but I was never a grown man when it was as prevalent as it was in 2020,” Lloyd said.
“The unfolding of events just back to back to back. From 2019 to 2020, it seemed like somebody was getting killed every month. That's what it felt like,” he said. “We really wanted to just show like, hey, we need to be knowledgeable, we need to be careful and we need to hold each other and love each other. But we also need to celebrate. We also need to celebrate all the things that we have done and are going to continue to do.”
“I tell people all the time, it's almost like when they were making music during Vietnam. They had no choice but to sing about war. They had no choice but to sing about what they were going through,” Brown said.
For Lloyd and Brown, creating art during a pandemic and the largest civil rights uprising of their generation, “we had no choice but to be ourselves on this record,” Brown said.
They refused to let the pain and the trauma define their work.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on, but we have even more things to be thankful for,” Lloyd said. “And we are excellent, and we are triumphant, and we are strong. And we really wanted to just just show that.”
‘Fighting for that respect’
"I don’t wanna be no idol. I’m just here to break the cycle." — Deezie Brown, “Geto Gala”
Getting Austin to pay attention to a hip-hop release is hard already, but it was even harder for Lloyd and Brown, who dropped “Geto Gala” on Feb. 16, two days after the worst winter storm in decades shut down power across Texas.
“Texas had never gone through anything like that. So we were trying to enjoy (the release) for one piece, and then we were trying to survive,” Brown said.
With the power out at his house, he was forced to decamp to his in-laws' place for several days. When he returned home, the water was off.
The duo delayed a release party but dropped the album anyway.
“I think that me and Jake were willing to take whatever challenge that was going to come our way at the time, because we had worked so hard on that project,” Brown said. “It couldn't have been better timing, because it showed our bravery. You know, it showed we really just wanted to push that message.”
The Austin hip-hop scene has been rich with talent for decades, but the city’s tastemakers and talent buyers have been slow to get behind it.
“It's been an ongoing theme for my tenure as an artist in Austin, just trying to fight for that, I hate to say equality, but just fighting for that respect,” Lloyd said.
It’s been a struggle to make people understand that “rapping is a form of art and it takes just as much ability to do it well as it does to do, you know, any other facet of music,” he said.
Both men acknowledge that the ATX hip-hop scene is not new. They shout out rappers like Tee Double and Smackola, who packed clubs in the '90s, as the pioneers who helped lay the groundwork for today’s scene.
“But it still feels like a baby,” Lloyd said.
When Brown entered the scene a decade ago, the talent and quality of music was on par with what it is now, but “we just didn't know what to do,” he said.
There was no industry infrastructure in Austin, and there were no home clubs for hip-hop.
Austin has gradually become more accepting of rappers as standard bearers for our city’s sound, but despite undeniable talent, we still haven’t had an artist break nationally. The “Geto Gala,” which writes the next chapter of Southern rap as a buoyant celebration marked by grand ambition and soulful sound beds, has broad appeal and breakout potential.
If it doesn’t happen, Brown and Lloyd will keep grinding.
“I just want to be the guy that got the baton and ran as fast as I could with it, and then handed it off to the next guy and said, 'Look, I’m as far as I can get, it's your go,'” Brown said.
And if it inspires the kids at home, that’s cool, too.
“I'm hoping with this music and me being from Bastrop County, you know, me being from the same place that these kids are from, it gives them some type of motivation to kind of just keep pushing and keep going,” Brown said. “I’d love to be the leader of that.”
Austin360 Artist of the Month: Geto Gala
Lead artists: Deezie Brown and Jake Lloyd
Additional artists and support team: DSii, Charles Moon, Malik, the Teeta, Southside Hippie, Big Wy, Hailey Orion, Wane Lindsey, Eric Rad, Will Knack
Jake Lloyd solo releases: "The Lloyd Pack" (2020), "MoonLit Mornings" (2019), self-titled LP (2018)
Deezie Brown solo releases: "Candy Blue Like Screw" (2020), "Judith" (2018)
More information: 5thwheelfairytale.bandcamp.com