Having cut his teeth in Liverpool as a teenager, Mad Brains has spent the last few years globe-trotting while piecing together the first fruits of his debut album album, Getintothis’ Orla Foster profiles the most inspirational hip hop talent the region has seen in years.
Mad Brains is a force to be reckoned with. The 21-year-old rapper released his debut mixtape ZADES last year, and it’s an explosive listen, zigzagging between the anecdotal and the bizarre, and recalling old school hip hop in its prime. It’s a refreshing piece of work, pinning his name straight onto the map. We were hooked.
Let’s not forget the impeccable industry credentials either. With sleeve artwork designed by Pillas Bros (previous clients: Wu-Tang Clan), and album credits including likes of MF Doom, Mad Brains is already beginning to make a serious dent in the British hip-hop scene.
But it’s taken a lot of moving around to get to this point. Born in the north west, Mad Brains, aka Cam Toman, spent the first few years of his life in the States before settling in Widnes at the age of 12.
Stifled by suburban boredom, he would escape to Liverpool at every opportunity – and Merseyside quickly became his spiritual and artistic home. It was around this time that hip hop began to open a world of opportunities for him, and he recalls the early days with fondness; the messy all-nighters in Chibuku and the thrill of of taking first prize at freestyling contests.
“My involvement in hip hop began simply through my passion for the music,” he explains. “When I was younger I would spend hours just improvising to beats on YouTube.”
It wasn’t until he moved to London, however, that Toman’s hip hop career really started to take off. Having enrolled on a music journalism course at UCA, he soon started performing and recording his own material in collaboration with the Sonne Bien collective – and Mad Brains was born.
Cheer up Mad Brains, you’ve been nominated for a GIT Award.
Hallmarks of his style include a breezy, laidback delivery and a ready wit. Last year’s Too Much Rum, for instance, humorously recalls his personal evolution from dungaree-clad hippie, to punk, to seething Slipknot fan – finally surrendering all his pent-up rage to the realisation that hip-hop is his true raison d’être.
Crucially, it’s this music-lover mentality which shines through Mad Brains’ whole output. You believe in him because his passion and commitment to the genre seeps through every track, aligning him with an earlier, more energised era of hip-hop – specifically, the nineties – when the likes of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest led the way.
With this in mind, his track Grenade is a forceful statement of intent, decrying the woeful chart rappers of today who fund their champagne and “molly” lifestyles by reciting endless panegyrics to champagne and molly.
The way Mad Brains sees it, they’ve missed the point of hip hop; of having something intelligent to say and empowering yourself through finding a way to say it. Or, as he puts it: “The entire hip hop game is ready to be redesigned by you.”
Meanwhile Half British, produced by Rami.B(izzle), throws some light on Mad Brains’ decision to leave behind the “grey skies and bedribbled trousers” of the North West and forge his own path somewhere fresh. Honest, if a little acerbic, it’s a track which explains the drive and adrenaline behind an artist who flat-out refuses to stay in one place and stagnate.
So there you have Mad Brains: a super-motivated dreamer who won’t stop until he’s reached his goals. And he’s not lacking in those either. A passion for the written word informs not only his music, but a wealth of other projects, resulting in a schedule that would make your head spin. In short, don’t expect to catch Mad Brains on the hop.
“Right now I’m in the process of creating a magazine publication called Escapists which is based on the idea of individuals escaping from normality,” he explains.
“It means that I’m constantly on photo shoots, doing interviews and travelling around. I’m also working on my next album and we’re in the production stages of my new video.
“As well as this, I’m working on a secret project with a secret producer, and an album with Sonne Bien’s Trifecta featuring myself, Ricci Queens and J Flow.
“I’ve never been so busy in my life!”
To add to that list, this year he has already performed in Estonia, and is due to fly out to Barcelona, another home from home, later in the month. While he’s clearly not lacking inspiration from any quarters, does he feel that it is this wanderlust which has ultimately pushed him to explore more horizons in his music?
“Yes, completely. I have been travelling at every opportunity since I was fifteen, and luckily, I have been able to see a lot of the world. This is what inspires me every day, knowing that there is still so much left to explore.
“Slowly my dream is coming true, and music is allowing me to go to more and more places. I’m embracing every moment of it.”
These days he may be racking up air miles rather than counting out coppers on the 79C, but Mad Brains still acknowledges Liverpool as a springboard to success. After all, it was here that he first cut his teeth as a performer.
“Liverpool was the spark that inspired my hip hop career,” he remembers. “My teen years involved countless nights MCing at dubstep and drum and bass events. It was through these experiences that I developed a stage presence and the desire to have hold of a mic.”
Mad Brains live in Estonia with J-Flowz
His success pays testament to the often unsung hip-hop scene flourishing in Liverpool. Here at GetIntothis we’re well aware of the serious array of musical talent to be found in in these parts – but which other Merseysiders does Mad Brains doff his cap to?
“Tony Broke is a personal Liverpool favourite for me, I’m always listening to him and his Children of the Damned crew. Then there’s Ramson Badbonez, whose new album is still surprising me. And obviously Sonne Bien!”
Gloriously surreal and autobiographical in equal measure, Mad Brains’ ability to condense his surroundings into razor-sharp one-liners sets him apart from his peers. So what is his main focus when writing?
“Basically, I write about what I see. Sometimes my mind detaches from reality when I am writing, which is when the real Mad Brains come into action. Even so, I still have a lot of developing to do, and I think my next album will show a very noticeable improvement.”
That next album in question is set for release in June. In the meantime, Mad Brains is more than ready to show Liverpool what he’s made of at the GIT Award ceremony.
“The GIT Award nomination blew me away. Just the knowledge that people are actually listening to me and enjoying my music is what makes all of this work worth every second.
“I love the idea of Liverpool rocking my music, it’s home and that’s where this all started. I am ecstatic to be a part of the whole thing, and cannot wait to perform on the night!”
Funny, inventive and eloquent, Mad Brains is a unique proposition and one that we hope to hear a lot more from in 2014. Bring the rum.
Further reading on Getintothis:
Mad Brains: Wu-Tang, mixtapes and making Merseyside’s finest hip hop record in years
GIT Award 2014 launches One To Watch prize.
GIT Award 2014 judging panel announced.
Review and pictures from GIT Award 2014 launch at Leaf.
GIT Award 2014 returns with Leaf launch ahead of Kazimier spectacular in April.
GIT Award 2013: Baltic Fleet: To be involved and win will always stay with me
The GIT Award 2013 report, reaction and review from Leaf Tea Shop, Liverpool.
GIT Award 2013 winner announced as Justice Collective win Inspiration Award
GIT Award 2013: picture gallery featuring Baltic Fleet, Nadine Carina, Conan, John Heckle, Tyler Mensah and more.