Photography: Timothy Smith
Production: Dominique Drakeford
Grooming: Daniele Piersons
Assistant: Boyz Bieber
Even if you don’t know Bobby Brackins, you know one of his hits. Tinashe’s “2 On,” Chris Brown’s “Loyal“—there are very few hip-hop bangers over the last few years that haven’t been written by the Oakland star. But after being behind-the-scenes of so many singles, the 28-year-old is finally ready to make a name for himself as, well, himself. And with a slew of releases on the way, including a new EP, it’s only a matter of time before you won’t be able to stop saying his name—or at least, singing one of his tracks.
BULLETT caught up with the singer, songwriter and producer to talk business, “big film” and The Bay.
How’d you get into writing music for other people?
I never actually planned to write songs for other people, but I was writing 100% of my own stuff, so people caught on asked me to help them write their new shit.
Is writing for yourself different than writing for someone else?
You just have to try to put yourself in that person’s shoes. You want to keep it organic and authentic, and I want them to be able to identify with it, as well. So you have to find a good balance between staying true to yourself and making it work for them, too.
The past few years have been big for you as a solo artist, coming out from behind-the-scenes. What has that been like?
It’s been a rollercoaster. I got my first deal right out of high school, and then I got my first big song, “143.” After that, I was writing for other people mostly. Then I started having success with my songs, “My Jam” and “Hot Box.” I just like to make music—I don’t care about being the most famous person or not. Music keeps the lights on, and it’s what I wake up for every morning wanting to do.
Do egos ever get in the way when you’re writing hits for other people?
No, but you never really know how someone is going to act. Some people are grateful and others just act like you’re their slave writer. It’s called the music business—you can’t work with your feelings involved.
It’s crazy how few people actually write their own music these days.
Even fewer than most people expect—they hear a song and just assume those are that artist’s thoughts. But there are some artists who don’t write their songs, but do a great job of making it their own—nobody would be able to do it like them. If Beyoncé took somebody else’s song, no one else could cut it like her. Certain artists just have a sound no one can recreate.
That’s the difference between being an artist and a performer, I think.
I think artists who don’t write their stuff are still artists, because they can capture the feel of the song in a way the writer or nobody else could’ve. There are a lot of artists who write for other people like Jeremih, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Ty Dolla $ign—those are my friends, and I keep them in my circle because they can switch gears.
Take me through your songwriting process. How do you get inspired?
I can start a song wherever. I just got a treadmill, and when I get bored, I start thinking of melodies—I’ve written a lot of songs on it, actually. I just record a bunch of voice memos when something pops in my head. Then when I’m in the studio, I start checking them out and try to draw inspiration.
You live in LA now, but you’re originally from Oakland. Has moving to Los Angeles influenced your writing?
I think it’s become a bit more polished. There are so many recording studios and great artists in LA—people are constantly making new music—so my writing has become more refined and more structured. I do go back to the Bay all of the time because I like the vibe and it’s the place where I was originally inspired—it’s where I’m from, I have friends back home, and that balances me out and keeps me grounded. With all of the super fancy LA studios and all of the big producers—that’s cool, but what’s real and what makes my music real, are the experiences I have near my roots.
How do you think you’ve evolved as songwriter over the last few years?
I know the vocabulary now—I know what a top line is and a songwriting time. People used to say shit to me, and I had no clue what they were talking about—I was just doing what I thought sounded good. Now, I’m just more educated and know how to properly communicate with an engineer and producer about format and structure. But that’s what you’re supposed to do if you work at anything for a long time—you need to study it from all of the different angles and learn how all the dots are connected so that no one can take advantage of you.
What are you working on right now?
I just put out a new song called “OB”—it has a really fun video. I also put out another song with my friend, Olivia O’Brien called “Might Die Young.” After that, I’ll be releasing a song called “Big Film” with G-Eazy and Jeremih. When that comes out, we’ll put out my EP, Be Careful. I’m just always keeping an ear to the street, trying to find the diamonds in the rough. Eventually, I want to start my own label and management company. I want to take the Jay-Z route—that’s how you have longevity in the game. I want to build my empire.
Other than Jay-Z, what artists do you look up to?
Business-wise—I’m from the Bay, so of course, Too Short and E-40. They’ve signed artists, E-40 is always doing liquor and wine deals, Too Short has acted in a lot of big movies. Once you make your name in music and establish yourself, there’s nothing wrong with diversifying and trying out new outlets you want to conquer. And of course, Jay-Z and Puff Daddy—these guys are starting their own TV channels and water bottle lines, all kinds of crazy shit. Once you get into your 40s, you can’t just rap about being in the club—you have to start trying to figure out something different.
Tell me a little bit about the upcoming EP. What were you listening to when you started writing it?
I listen to everything—my iTunes is crazy. I like smooth R&B, I like a lot of punk rock and alt-rock, reggae, ska, even some country stars—really, anything with a melody and a vibe. You don’t have to be stuck in just one genre. I think that’s why my songwriting has been successful—because I’ve been able to find the good and bad in all types of music. I don’t ever listen to one person too much—if you do, you’ll start sounding like that person, having similar cadences and melodies. That’s my advice to upcoming artists—don’t be the best version of so-and-so, be the best version of you.