Born and bred in Staten Island, Bobby Briz is an underground hip-hop artist with a longstanding connection to his local scene. Briz is also the first signee of rapper/son of Wu-Tang Clan’s U-God, iNTeLL’s Intellectual Entertainment label. The pair released the He’s Black / He’s White EP last year so, with so much going on, we grabbed a bit of time with Bobby for a chat about his friendship with iNTeLL, life growing up in Staten Island, and the hip-hop scene.
Thanks for your time, it’s hard to start anywhere other than the current race troubles in America. What is life like in Staten Island at the moment?
Bobby Briz: “You’re welcome! Thank you for yours as well. Staten Island is a very interesting subsection of NYC. Taking a look into the psyche of some of the residents on the south shore from what I see in online forums is disturbing, to say the least. As someone who grew up in the middle of the island and being part of not just the hip hop scene but the arts & music scene in general, I’ve had the unique chance to observe the broad spectrum of the island’s inhabitants. There is a lot of tension. People of color are made to feel unwanted in certain areas while an unprecedented number of white people continue to judge them based on stereotypes that have existed since before I was born. These people feel this way out of fear and generational conditioning. I truly hope we will catch up with the rest of NYC in integrating people into a better understanding of one another. It is insane to me that I am speaking these words in 2020 while simultaneously living in one of the most ethnically diverse cities the world has ever known.”
Racism sadly isn’t an issue that is going to be resolved any time soon. What do you personally hope people learn from this ?
“I hope that people, especially people who judge others by their genetic makeup and not their character, will learn unbiased empathy. People who have empathy for an officer who is wounded or injured on the job just trying to keep the community safe should feel the same empathy for someone who is assaulted or murdered by an unhinged police officer, and vice versa. We are all humans. We all have families and we all bleed. There are dangerous people within the civilian population and there are dangerous people in positions of authority. I simply ask people to remove the filters that only allow them to see wrong in specifically targeted demographics.”
Growing up in Staten Island, what were your experiences and have you seen any changes over the years as a Staten Island native ?
“I grew up in Great Kills which as I mentioned is in the middle of the island. I did not know of the racial tensions growing up because most kids I grew up around were accustomed to diversity and heavily embraced black culture in the early 2000s (much to their parents disapproval). Many of those kids grew up to become just like their families anyway as far as ideologically, but it wasn’t until I became an adult and had more interactions with the adult population here that I realized just how bad things still are here. I am told things are better than they used to be, but I still hope to see much more progress in the coming generation. I think we will inevitably will.”
Onto your music now, what was it that got you into hip-hop and what were your early experiences ?
“To be quite honest, I felt from the first song that I ever listened to that I had become possessed. I was never into listening to music before that and never even so much as dabbled in any other creative outlets. Suddenly, at the flip of a switch, I was channelling these words and ideas that I never knew existed within me. The first song I ever heard was Eminem’s “Without Me” and I just remember thinking how much fun it sounded like he had making it. Then when I started digging down the rabbit hole I remember the next song that really inspired me was Immortal Technique’s “Bin Laden”. I couldn’t believe he was using the same fun rap music I was hearing from other artists to tare apart Bush’s war in Iraq. I thought to myself… this is such a powerful tool. I can speak my truth, change the world, AND have fun and entertain people? I was sold. It took me a long time to come into my own with it, but once I hit my stride I never let up. It has been a 16-year journey for me since the first rhyme I ever wrote.”
You’re now working with iNTeLL, who has family connections to the hip-hop scene. How much of an inspiration were/are Wu-Tang on you as an artist and as a person ?
“Of course growing up in Staten Island, every hip hop fan here regardless of their political ideologies or socio-economic backgrounds feels a sense of pride for what the Wu-Tang Clan has been able to accomplish for our island. If you go to the Staten Island mall and sit there for a day observing, it’s very unlikely you won’t spot their logo on someone’s attire at some point. They were, as a group and as individuals, definitely within the mix of artists that shaped and molded me into what I am today. I don’t think too much about iNTeLL’s blood relations to them. He is his own person and will always be like a brother to me. That said I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m honored and proud to be even a single thread in the cloth of the group’s everlasting legacy.”
How did your relationship come about and how would you describe that relationship?
“Like I said, iNTeLL is like a brother to me. We met through word of mouth. I was filling out the line up for a show I was putting together to celebrate the release of my group OBX’s mixtape in 2016 and I wanted to network with new artists outside of my orbit. I was still relatively new to the whole Staten Island music scene at the time. A friend of mine told me I should reach out to iNTeLL. She showed me his music video for “Resurrection Of The Real” and I thought it was incredible. He accepted the invitation, we rocked to a packed house, and the rest was history.”
You’ve collaborated on an EP He’s Black/He’s White, have you talked to iNTeLL about his experiences growing up ?
“I never really asked too many questions at first about his upbringing and family ties. I think everyone deserves the opportunity to present themselves as an individual before I concern myself with the context in which they became that person in. Actually, I think that is a microcosm of the exact issue we are seeing in the world today. As we got closer over the years I did become more curious of his background. Most of that curiosity stemmed from listening to and reading interviews he has done with other media outlets and asking him to elaborate on things I didn’t know. He’s one of my favorite emcees so of course having direct access to him I do try to take advantage of that now. I’m sure anyone would love to be able to dig deeper into their favorite artists’ minds if they could. I recently got to ask him a lot of questions I had pondered over the years when I interviewed him for my podcast called Brizness Hours.”
Going forward, what are your plans for the partnership and have you spoken about working together on future material ?
“iNTeLL has a ton of work on his plate already with his solo career, GFTD, 2nd Generation Wu, promoting the other artists he has chosen to bring under his umbrella, and with being a dad! It was an honor to get to work so closely with him on He’s Black/He’s White and I was lucky to catch him at just the right time. He will always be invited to be featured on any project that I release to the public and if the stars align again one day, I’d be all in for another EP together. We both work very quickly and efficiently, so I’m not going to say that it’s outside of the realm of possibility.”
The video for “PENdulum” is shot entirely on iphone, how did the idea come about ?
“Well it was mostly iNTeLL’s idea, but we knew we wanted to put a specific visual to the back & forth lyrics and hoped to mimic the effects of a pendulum… so we could hypnotize people into listening! (Cue the diabolical laughs). He shoots all of his music videos and short films on iPhone. He filmed 3 of my other music videos on his phone as well. You can hardly tell.”
Going back to the initial topic of the race troubles, phone footage is being seen all over the world. Do you think the growth of social media and mobile phone footage has changed the way people view news ?
“Absolutely! And hopefully soon that will mean good riddance to CNN and FOX and the likes. It is so much harder to control the narrative when we are able to see things unfold with our own two eyes. No tampering or falsification of footage to spin stories. We have access to what is really going on now and with the tap of a screen any and all of us can become reporters of the news.”
Do you think giving people the ability to produce their own “news” is a good or bad thing ?
“I think the good outweighs the bad. As someone who has been able to speak my truth for years I think everyone is well within their rights to do so. The people who choose to create and echo false and harmful realities are simply going to bring themselves to the surface to be stomped out. I truly believe the majority wants to live by what is fair and what is righteous. It is far more dangerous to me to only have certain people, all of whom are wealthy and powerful, controlling the narrative that is consumed by the public. It has been proven time and time again that they can not be trusted to shoot it straight with us and provide unbiased and accurate reporting.”
To date you have released two solo albums, are there any plans to release more solo material ?
“For this year the plan is to release a part two mixtape with my group. In the mean time I am writing for my 3rd solo album titled The Emperor and would like to begin recording very soon for a late 2021 release.”
Your work with local artists in New York has been documented, what is the hip-hop scene like in New York in 2020 – artists, venues, labels etc. ?
“To be quite honest I would like to see more venues open up beyond the big name ones. Specifically, ones catered to a hip hop audience much like the rock scene has for local bands. I think the market is there. There are thousands of kids who dream of this who may not know the steps to take to go about pursuing it. I wish there were more places for them to practice their craft with likeminded people. It is certainly an advantage to live in NYC however, as we have access to a lot more than aspiring artists in most other cities.”
If you weren’t involved in hip-hop, where do you think your life would have taken you ?
“I have no idea! I could not even begin to know what I would be doing instead. I wonder quite often myself. I guess we will never know.”
Thanks for your time, do you have any final message to fans and the hip-hop scene in general ?
“You’re welcome! I just want to say that I encourage everyone to always live and speak their truth and to embrace their healthy outlets. We are all creators. Cooking is art. Fixing cars is an art. The universe itself is art. We all make art every day. To my fans, I am eternally grateful and appreciative of your lending me your ears and for your continued support.”
You can hear more of Bobby’s music over here on Spotify