Austin Brown: a melting pot of a mixtape

From Sly Stone to J Dilla: Austin Brown's mixtape Highway 85 is a melting pot of musical influences
From Sly Stone to J Dilla: Austin Brown’s mixtape Highway 85 is a melting pot of musical influences

Austin Brown has been making a name for himself over the last four years. Nephew to the legends Michael and Janet Jackson, and the son of Rebbie Jackson, he released a free mixtape “Highway 85”, on his website www.austinbrown.com last week.

It is an especially good career move for Brown; releasing free mixtapes has worked wonders for Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Azealia Banks.

Brown’s influences include Miles Davis, Sly and the Family Stone and the Beatles; he has said in interviews he wants his listeners to dig deep and discover the artists he’s referencing in his music.

The black and white video for the single “Ménage à Trois”  showcases he has a band behind him and demonstrates in true Jackson style, that his music is dance music.

The song’s intro is a reminder of the stomping feet at the beginning of “Where Did Our Love Go” by The Supremes; and sounds like classic Motown with a twist. Brown has described the process of creating “Ménage” with his producers as an attempt at marrying the hard drums of a Dilla beat with a James Jamerson vibe bass.

Austin Brown is a ghost writer, producer, musician and dancer
Austin Brown is a writer, producer, musician and dancer

Brown has been mentored by Q-Tip, Rodney Jerkins and Jermaine Dupri and has been ghost-writing for a while. He and his group, The Backpackkids, recently produced JoJo’s mixtape Agápē and wrote four records on it.

So “Highway 85” – the title referring to his musical journey since birth – is a delicious collection of funk grooves and infectious hooks.

The opening track, “Highway to the Sky”, is a stomper with a touch of Beatles influence. Brown instantly makes his mark with his mellifluous voice soaring over the marching beat.

“Where Were You” has 90s house influence stamped all over it; and then there are more sublime moments, like “What Did I Lose To Love You”, which could give Bruno Mars some healthy competition.

Within the melting pot of influences that can be recognised; it is “City of Angels” that solidifies Brown to his musical family. This track is showered in a multilayer of Jacksonified falsetto notes and is a wonderful mid-tempo groove.

“F’d With My Mind” is when you know for sure, Brown is putting his heart into his music. He opens the song by telling the girl it’s dedicated to: “I know you think that you’re the shit,” as he pleads “I still want you” over and over.

The record has blazing funk-groove moments, such as “Stargazer” which has elements reminiscent of Isaac Hayes’s Walk On By; to 90s hip hop. “Groove 92”; an easy going summery track to simmer down to after all the funk, is chock-full of early 90s references and winds-down to more slower tracks.

The standout track for me is “Volcano”; Brown’s voice catches onto a pulsating beat which builds up into a frenzy of chord changes which you can’t help but dance to.

The closing track, “All I Need” has a bubbling bass and crashing brass section which his voice effortlessly shines over – making it a good song to end on – because, you’re tempted to press play again right away and put this record on a loop.

Follow him on Twitter: @austinbrown

Watch the Ménage à Trois Music Video here:

Listen to Highway 85 on soundcloud:

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