Mad Brains is the former Merseyside-based, rum-sluggin hip hop head who’s made the killer debut mixtape ZADES. Getintothis’ Peter Guy talks to the one of rap’s most exciting talents on collaborating with the likes of Mr Scruff and Two Lone Swordsmen, working with the Wu Tang’s designer and how he’s bringing back the good old school vibes.
Mad Brains may not be a name you’re overly familiar with. But you will be.
The 21-year-old former Merseysider has made one of the finest hip hop records of 2013 – and certainly the finest from this region in years.
Fittingly, in a year which has seen old school hip hop come full circle with superlative releases via the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Chance The Rapper and Danny Brown, Mad Brains‘ debut mixtape ZADES fizzes with dusty beats, sharp keys hooks, swapping lyrical profundity with daft rhymes and a playful edge.
In short, it’s fun as fuck. We were slow on the uptake; released back in April, it wasn’t until after EVOL and No Fakin‘s Pharcyde show back in July, that we discovered the joys of ZADES through Getintothis snapper Ian Gamester.
Looking for a regular hip hop writer and several blind alleys later, we’re exchanging emails with Barcelona-based Cameron Toman aka Mad Brains. Turns out this Widnes-raised rascal has a strong history with Liverpool’s hip hop community and having left the region to ply his trade he’s ended up collaborating with the likes of MF Doom, Mr Scruff and Two Lone Swordsmen.
One listen to ZADES and it’s easy to see why this Scouse-imbued artistry has attracted such heavyweight production talents. Immediately catchy, laugh-out-loud funny and drenched in an easy-going vibe, you can’t help but be drawn into Toman’s laid-back hip-hop world.
For a full autobiography check out his life-checking Too Much Rum, Hush charting his journey from trackie-sporting, ASDA bag-carrying kid to acid-munching hippy, Slipknot-listening metaller through to easy-going hip hop head.
In the meantime, we caught up with Cameron to get the lowdown on his debut mixtape ZADES, working with a raft of contemporary production icons and below we’ve the exclusive of his brand new track Half British produced by RAMI.B(izzle) from his forthcoming EP due early next year.
Getintothis: Hey bro, what’ve you been up to today?
Mad Brains (MB): Today is going to be a very quiet day for me. I filmed a video for a new track in my shed last night and it involved a lot of drinking. Good fun though, and the video is going to be wicked!
Getintothis: Let’s cut to it, ZADES is a fucking incredible record, but we completely missed it when you put it out back in April, and it wasn’t until some Liverpool photographer put me on to it that we discovered it’s majesty. What’s Mad Brains’ links with Liverpool?
MB: Well, I was born in Manchester and I moved to the states when I was four, then came back to the UK when I was 12.
I moved in with my dad in Widnes and that’s when I started spending a lot of time in Liverpool, because let’s be honest no one wants to spend time in Widnes do they!
Getintothis: Tell us who and where you hung out when you were here in Liverpool?
MB: When I am back in Liverpool there are a few things I do: go and have a look in Lost Art, then Probe Records, and I always end up in The Pogue Mahon.
I once found £50 in there and I just go back in hope it will happen again!
But Liverpool has gotten me to where I am now to be honest. Liverpool opened my eyes (very widely) to the club scene.
I used to sneak into Chibuku when I was 16. I met a girl who lived next door to the Masque, we all used to go and get wrecked in hers then we would all jump over the wall and run off into the club.
I spent a lot of time in Liverpool growing up, such a vibrant, under-rated city.
Getintothis: For some time we’ve noticed quite a considerable amount of hip hop talent on Merseyside yet it’s so all over the place, seemingly lacking in a nucleus or leading cornerstone to take things to the next level that it stays on the periphery.
What’s your impression of the hip hop scene in Liverpool – and do you think this lack of organisation is indicative of UK hip hop in general?
MB: I completely agree, the UK hip hop scene isn’t advertised nearly as much as the States.
You have to either be involved or go out of your way to find good UK hip hop, because it isn’t advertised nearly as much as the States for example.
I have been listening to Lee Scott a lot recently, he’s the best rapper I have heard from Liverpool in a while I think. I think the UK hip hop scene is slowly developing a strong identity, and coherently becoming more organized.
Examples of this would be hip hop groups such as Mouse Outfit who are releasing hit after hit, so much talent. Also the UK hip hop dons High Focus who have achieved so much in such a short time, they have created such an authentic UK movement. Shouts to them lot.
Getintothis: I think part of of the attraction of ZADES is it’s blend of real-easy rhythmical numbers (like Exhaleee) which recall A Tribe Called Quest and Q-Tip, and the brasher Wu-Tang/down-tempo late night tales flavoured numbers.
What were your influences, both musically and non-musically, while recording the album?
MB: I just live for hip hop to be honest.
I remember waiting for my dad to leave the house so I could blast instrumentals in my room and freestyle for hours.
It seemed a farfetched dream to visualise myself actually recording material.
My influences are not specific artists; it is everything I have ever enjoyed listening to. I can sit down and listen to a Modern Life Is War album then switch to MF DOOM; I learn from everything I listen to.
Getintothis: Tell us about the artwork, isn’t there a Wu-Tang connection there?
MB: The artwork was done by my good mates in New York, the Pillasbros.
MRKA has done work for Wu-Tang. Minimaldose500mg is his project along side with them. They are an exciting artistic duo and I am really happy to have them on board with my projects. Definitely check out their work.
We are currently in talks about creating a line of Mad Brains t- shirts, so keep your eye out for them.
Getintothis: How much of ZADES is autobiographical, Night Time is pretty heart-on-the-sleeve lyrically…
MB: Most of the mix tape is based on personal experiences portrayed through different characters throughout.
It is my first project, and looking back on it I could have made it a lot better. This is the most important part of the whole growing process though. My next release is going to be the shit!
Getintothis: What are you reading at the moment?
MB: Right now I am reading the Bloody Chamber again. I forgot how good it was. Incredible concept behind the book and it is written brilliantly.
Along with a pile of gang and hip hop themed books as I am writing a feature on the glamorization of gang culture in hip hop.
Getintothis: Bobby’s Backpack is another beast of a tune, it reminds us of Jurassic 5, a real playground groove to it – do you think, to some extent, hip hop has lost it’s playful side?
MB: I am glad you noticed that. The aim of that track was to create a feel good old school vibe.
Hip hop has totally lost the fun aspect and rappers are getting more and more basic. It’s not about good flows and good lyrics anymore, it’s about $waggin out in clubs and drinking cough syrup with naked women with gold teeth.
Getintothis: Fantasy Festivals time; you choose the bill – who’s headlining a three-dayer with a select supporting bill chosen by Mad Brains.
MB: Jeez ok. Well location would be in Langkawi, such an amazing island.
The main acts would be Wu-Tang, MF DOOM, Earl, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Earl, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Chance the Rapper, Bonobo, Buena Vista Social Club, Charles Bradley, Death Grips, Rx Bandits and on special request (the young), Dizzee Rascal performing all of Boy In Da Corner. Sorry I went a bit mad there!
Getintothis: Staying on the fantasy front, you’re hosting a dinner party, name five people – fact or fiction/dead or alive – who’s coming round to your gaff for tea?
Firstly Marilyn Monroe would be sat on my lap. Meanwhile Jimi Hendrix would be playing his interpretation of a hip-hop sounding guitar melody while myself and Notorious BIG rap along to it. During all of this Keith Haring would painting my entire house inside and out. Then Joan Roca shouts from the kitchen “the food is ready“, and we all sit down to eat.
Getintothis: Finally, what’s next, any tour dates or new music planned?
MB: There is a lot going on at the moment for me. I have a few shoots lined up, and two videos coming out in January.
I am working on an EP with a producer called Rami B, which is sounding amazing already. And there is a tour being planned to Estonia early next year. Very exciting times!
Mad Brains on Soundcloud.