For Maryland rappers Brain Rapp, Nature Boi and Ezko, it takes a village to make dope music.
That’s the premise of their collective, Dope Music Village — a play on the letters that represent their stomping grounds, the DMV. It’s meant to support all forms of art and bring together artists and fans alike.
“It’s like, ‘Let’s build [a platform] that not only we can stand on … but other people we like and respect can stand on with us,” says Brain Rapp, who says he came up with the name at work.
That communal effort plays strongly into the trio’s first collaborative release, You’re Welcome, a project that welcomes others into their village. They join their distinct flows — Brain Rapp rides on steady, cultivated energy; Ezko hits on strong, free-flowing lyrics and Nature Boi matches his own melodic, adaptive production — in a way where not one of them outshines the other. The eight-track release shows a wide and fluid range of moods: from restless, frustrated energy in “Venting” to appreciative affection in “Ms. Amerykah Badu.”
The collective first came together in 2015, when someone said “Dope Music Village” on a track for the first time on Ezko’s Sleep EP.
Brain Rapp and Nature Boi have known each other since they were teenagers. The 20-somethings solidified a working relationship while Nature Boi produced Brain Rapp’s 2015 release Elevator Music, and they’ve even lived together. Ezko came into the mix after Brain Rapp connected with him on Facebook, noticing the younger rapper on music blogs.
“At the end of the day, these guys are my family,” Brain Rapp says.
One song, “It’s Been Lit Ever Since,” came from a phrase Ezko once uttered. Brain Rapp and Nature Boi took it and ran with it. They had to wake Ezko up to record the song.
It’s hard to categorize the hip-hop trio, Brain Rapp says. He jokes that he looks more like a Starbucks barista than a rapper. Brain Rapp’s father is a well-known entomologist, and he studied environmental science at the University of Maryland. Nature Boi has been making music for at least a decade, but he’s a collaborator at heart, and he only recently started focusing on solo work. Ezko — whom Brain Rapp likens to Joey Bada$$ —just tries things out in a freeform way until it sticks.
Together, they don’t ride only wave of hip-hop. They play with R&B rhythms and trap beats, and their subjects flow from politics to weed-smoking.
“Now that I am [older]… I can’t escape the realness and the gravity of the world,” Brain Rapp says. “For four minutes, I would like to not live in that reality.”
The three artists are working on their own projects at the moment, but Brain Rapp hopes to keep shaping Dope Music Village — into a broader collective, perhaps, or even a record label.
But no matter what, he says the focus will remain on spotlighting their music as well as their community’s. That’s what it means to be in a village.
“There’s nobody in my mind that’s up and down 295 the same way that we are,” Brain Rapp says.