Butcher Brown has been bringing a strong sound to Richmond for about a decade now, doing so by bringing together five of the most talented musicians in the city around a nexus of soul, jazz, hip hop, funk, and the place where all of these genres intersect. It’s their very facility with all of these different genres that makes their latest release, a collaboration with Richmond hip hop heavyweight Michael Millions, such an amazing team-up.
“Black Man,” released earlier this month, is a standalone single with a sound powerful enough to make anyone sit up and take notice. The track’s foundation is a strong soul-jazz groove laid down by Butcher Brown, which recreates with live instrumentation the same sort of sound that legends like DJ Premier used turntables to create back in the golden age of hip hop. Overtop of this groove, Michael Millions lays down some powerful lyrics about the historical struggle of Black people in America, and how talking of things in mainstream historical terms feels like it erases the ongoing realities of working class life for people of color.
“I was thinking about cycles when I wrote this,” Millions explained. “Life, death and all points in between. About how things change and how things seem to just stay the same. The only thing I want to stay the same is my family, so that what I wrote about.”
The song began with a demo from Butcher Brown drummer Corey Fonville. Pretty quickly, they had the idea to work with Michael Millions on this track. “Different people in the band had begun to tap in with Michael Millions, because he has many different skill sets that bring lots of value to lots of people,” said Butcher Brown. “He is a legendary hip hop artist in RVA and he is one of the coolest people in the world. We teamed up to bring this sound to the ground level so that everyone has access to it.”
For Millions, working with Butcher Brown to create a track had an influence on how he put his contribution to the song together. “I recorded it straight thru too, no cutting up the vocals, because Butcher Brown cut they demos straight through,” he said. “That was the only way to do it. This whole collaboration has been a gem, and I’m excited to share this music.”
You can stream or download a copy of “Black Man” for yourself right now at your favorite online music provider. But before you start rocking it in your headphones, you should really check out the video, which is directed by Shirod Greene. It begins in a classroom, with a white teacher struggling to keep order as Michael Millions raps and the members of Butcher Brown, plus quite a few other familiar Richmond faces, cut up and toss paper airplanes. There’s a serious message here too, and you don’t just have to check Millions’ lyrics to get it: the whiteboard at the front of the class reads “History 101: White Man –> Colonialism –> Gentrification,” and as Millions raps, people hold up books like Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger and Dan Charnas’ Dilla Time in the background.
Eventually the entire classroom goes into open revolt, and Millions and Butcher Brown end up in the gym, performing the song to an appreciative audience of hyped-up Richmond kids — at least until the teacher from the classroom shows up and shuts the whole thing down. Watch for yourself, and check out the single at Butcher Brown’s Bandcamp, or on all streaming platforms here.
Top Photo by Danielle Barbieri