Recording artist and producer AARNxBRWN dropped a new video and has a new album on the way. His musical journey over the summer coincided with a quest to find himself and justice for his people through protests and activism.
Before this summer, rapper/producer Aaron Brown, known to the music world as AARNxBRWN, didn’t consider himself an activist. But when protests started around the murder of George Floyd and people began taking to the streets to demand justice, Brown joined in. He wound up with a megaphone in his hand and a new way of thinking about his music.
Since releasing his debut album, GHost, in 2019, Brown has built a reputation for his melodic production and expressive sound, as well as his dynamic lyricism. But his participation in the protests, where he marched alongside thousands of Richmonders for several weeks, made him want to record something as a means of expression. He produced the beat for his single, “Value,” and wrote the first verse after the first week or two, and returned to finish the track around a month in.
“I finally felt like I had enough information and enough experience and enough of a story to finish,” Brown said.
LOSINGMYEGO, a self-described “one woman multidisciplinary creative studio” and Brown’s friend, shot footage of the protests night after night using her phone and a Moment lens, unbeknownst to Brown. When he finished “Value,” she asked to make a video for the song.
“When I finished the song she was like, ‘I need it, give me the song,” Brown said. “She put together this crazy video with all these shots I didn’t even know she had.”
The end result is a powerful representation of the summer’s struggles. The black and white shots cut quickly from scene to scene, lingering in striking moments of visual symbolism — a fist raised in air filled with tear gas, a burning flag, masked protesters perched on the sides of the monument at Marcus-David Peters Circle. Between biting, emotional verses, Brown reminds his listeners, “know your worth / know your value.”
For Brown, knowing your worth means knowing who you are and what you deserve. He isn’t content to settle only for what bureaucracy and systems of injustice deem feasible.
“A lot of the older folks and people were like, this is how you do it I guess, one small step at a time, and we just need to keep trucking along,” Brown said. “I think my mentality was like, I’m really tired of just piecing together equalities for us.”
Brown knows he’s new to the work of activism. His experiences in the protests and working with justice causes now have changed the way he thinks about his music, but for him, it still comes down to his talent for putting what he experiences into words and beats. It’s just that now, his subject matter is slightly different.
“This is the first time in my life where I stepped out into the thick of something that was national, international attention,” Brown said. “A lot of my music is influenced, because I’ve been in new spaces and I’ve learned so much about my own culture and my own standing in America … It’s made my music more impactful, I think. It’s truer to me.”
Taking risks has become a central theme of Brown’s upcoming album, Save Me I’m Drowning, which drops November 6. He talks about a kind of inspired urgency — a willingness to jump in the water and ignore others’ fears.
“Now it’s like there’s a fire under my ass,” Brown said. “There’s a single off of the album … the whole concept is almost like a prodigal son story, the idea of going away and ‘jumping into water’… Taking that risk, whatever it is — whether it’s a social risk or a life risk or whatever that thing is — and people being scared of you taking that risk.”
In order to learn, the prodigal son had to leave, Brown explained. Even if it meant making mistakes, he could only gain and grow by venturing out before returning home.
“He had to go away to get enough wisdom to understand that everything he needed was home,” Brown said. “At some point of time he had to take that jump.”
For Brown, the future is all about risking dangerous waters to emerge as the person he needs to be — a prodigal son seeking justice for all.
You can pre-order Brown’s upcoming album, Save Me I’m Drowning, at Bandcamp, where you can also hear a two-track preview of the album.
Top Photo by LOSINGMYEGO