Otis Brown III Speaks on The Back Story of 'Thought of You'

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On a crisp, Autumn October afternoon, HYPEFRESH® curator Clark Kennedy sat down with Otis Brown III, discussing a focused set of topics surrounding his newest album 'Thought Of You', which released September 23rd 2014. 

His new album features an array of exceptional composers/artists from the likes of Derrick Hodge, Robert Glasper, to singers such as Gretchen Perlato andBilal. Brown III, talks about the creative approach that he took when writing the record , and explains the back-story of the music delivered on wax.

Listening to Thought of You will give your musical taste buds a journey through Brown III's life and experiences, all intertwined in one body of work. Doing the unthinkable, he blends Jazz with Hip Hop vibes on the record, mixing in notes of gospel, soul, and R&B. This all makes for one huge conglomerate of musical excellence that can't be denied anywhere, by anyone.

Read the full exclusive interview below about his newest album and don't forget to listen/purchase his music for your personal collection!



Let's talk the origins of Otis Brown III. What moved you to pick up those drumsticks in the first place?

Well… I come from a musical family. Both my parents were music education majors in college, who became high school teachers around the time I was growing up. Then both later becoming principles.

They both were really involved musically in church as well. My fathers primary instrument were the drums, my mom directed the choir…So growing up, the musical influences were always around. Plus music was always played around the house, including me meeting and being around a lot of musicians because of my parents musical involvement.. So I guess you could say it was natural for me to wanna go into music, and pursue the craft - you know?

Any outside influences, other than your parents?

There were so many man.. (laughs) From me being involved in choir rehearsals and band practices in school, to being in the car with my dad listening to jazz musicians like Max Rosche, soul records like Al Green, etc…


What's the story behind the title of your album, the thought of you? The thought of who?

The "you" was interchangeable. A bunch of different things I was inspired from that I wanted to reflect on this album. Thoughts about God, family, music, musical colleagues and musicians I work with, all of that. I tried my best to encapsulate all these things on one body of work.

I also wanted it to be interchangeable for the listeners, so they could apply the "you" to whatever they could relate it to from listening to the music. It would mean different things to different people.

The blends of different genres on the record... What was the purpose of doing this?

I think I was just trying to tell a story… And most importantly, my story. And in doing that I didn’t want to ignore a certain part of it trying to cater to what people wanted to hear, or the different jazz crowds and listeners. I just wanted to tell my story musically and tie it all together.

At the root of it all, especially playing the drums, its all black music. The drums come from Africa, different branches, but all the same tree. I grew up studying jazz, I love jazz and I play it a lot. Also, being a kid from Newark, growing up in the 90's, Hip hop Is one of my favorites as well. And its also apart of who I am. I didn’t want to exclude that and not acknowledge that part either. I also did a lot of gospel growing up in the church.. So I just wanted to reflect all of this and intertwine them, because all these different genres are apart of each other.

Same root, different fruit.

(Laughs) Right, Exactly.

Its cool that this record takes the listener on a musical journey…

I got the opportunity to work with Herbie Hancock, who once told me personally that "Music isn't really music. It's a story about life that reflects different experiences." That's why I wanted to mix it up, because I have a lot of stories to tell. And I chose to share mine through the music on The Thought Of You.

 Robert Glasper (left), Derrick Hodge (Right) in studio creating together.

Robert Glasper (left), Derrick Hodge (Right) in studio creating together.

I noticed that your record has production credits from Robert Glasper, Bilal to Derrick Hodge. What's one of your most memorable experiences working with these guys in general?

Man, that's a hard one because I have sooooo many stories! (laughs). These guys are like family to me man. I've known them since the birth of my music career. I remember when we all met in New York (Robert, Bilal and Derrick) , trying make it on the scene. Bilal sang at my wedding for my wife. Robert, I've known since the better parts of my life. Derrick is a super cool dude, who's an incredible human being and an amazing producer. I've known him probably the longest of the three. Me and him go waaayyy back, since college. I remember I used to play saxophone (laughs) and I gigged with him around that time in my music journey.

So for me working with these guys on this record, was a super easy process. It all goes back to what I said about telling a story. These dudes are apart of my story, so they already knew what part to play when composing on this album. That's why its process was so organic in it birthing phases.

Your boy Derrick was and still is extremely involved in Maxwell's "BLACKsummersnight movement…

Oh, yeah. He's the man. He practically doctored the music around Maxwell and that record. As a matter of fact, a lot of our Blue Note crew were involved in that. From Derrick Hodge (bass), Robert Glasper (Keys), Keyon Herald (trumpeter), Chris Dave (drums)… Even Cedrick Mitchell (organ). That entire crew was considered the experiment crew, who teamed up with Maxwell and Hod David. A lot of our Blue Note guys gave BLACKsummersnight that organic feel and authentic touch that it has. I believe that's a big part of the reason why that record won the Grammy. (laughs)


Did you use this same "experimental" approach to the Thought of You album?

Yeah, most definitely. I had written the music myself, and in the studio we just played around with different feels that worked best before we settled with what we were going to do in the music aspect. In some cases, we kept things traditional (in some areas of the album) But for the most part, this record was structured very similarly to that experimental approach.

Man. Big shouts out to Blue Note Jazz.

Oh, yeah man. (Laughs)


Lastly, share some wisdom for up and coming musicians trying to make it on the scene in the music industry.

Don't come into the industry thinking your going to be rich straight out the door (laughs). Come in and be ready to hustle and work. Let stuff happen on it's own instead of trying to force it.

Stay humbled. When you make it to a certain part of the music industry, everybody can play exceptionally. No one wants to work with people filled with huge egos or are difficult to work with.

Stay away from the expectation of instant-gratification. In this industry, it just doesn't work that way. The younger generation coming up behind us has this issue, especially. I remember gigging with Robert Glasper for $30,00 shows and playing for tips! (chuckes) It takes time to get the top. You have to be willing to hustle and grind to get where you want to be in your career.

Always be prepared. Put in the footwork. Practice, and be ready for opportunities when they present themselves.

So, so true. Great advice man.

I would have never thought that I would have an album out on Blue Note Jazz to this day. I was happy with just having my album out on iTunes and Amazon. And because I stayed humble and worked hard, I've arrived to where I want to be. It's a great feeling, it is. And as long as people never forget these things, they too can have the same chance to do the same.