BRENTRAMBO is a case study of a generation raised on the internet. The 23-year-old's name comes from a 2013 meme centering around a young boy giving a thumbs-up in a ‘90s Apple promotion; his production tag riffs on a narrative voice found in the arcade game Crazy Taxi. It's a fitting reference since listening to a BRENTRAMBO production often feels like being driven by a character from the game: a maniacal ride from start to finish.
The Chicago native cites Chief Keef, Flying Lotus, and the Beat Pluggz roster as influences on his production, which sounds like a funhouse mirror reflecting the bone-rattling 808s and spacey, synthetic percussion associated with Atlanta trap; he'll flip a J Dilla song, ramping up the hi-hats and adding xylophone, with the same precision in which he mashes up Chief Keef’s “Earned It” with the ambient sounds from the Nintendo Wii main menu. His raps are subdued and minimalistic, to the point that Brent sounds like he’s eating chips on the couch in nothing but his boxers.
He first made a name for himself in early 2016 after Warhol.SS used one of his beats for “Speedracer,” which achieved a level of virality followed by credits on songs from Lil Yachty, Lucki, and Famous Dex. Through his work with Candypaint, NOLANBEROLLIN and Komla, a few artists operating outside the mainstream, BRENTRAMBO's also gained a rep as an internet-native A&R of sorts, even if he brushes the distinction off: “Fuck being the A&R, I want to be the artist,” he says with a laugh during a FaceTime conversation.
He tends to be funny without really trying; as we talk, a movie blares on in the background. “I’m watching Christopher Robin right now… not gonna lie this shit kinda suck,” he tells me. At points, it's hard to hear him over the phone, which he chalks up to “having my phone in the shower.” After he grabs a pair of headphones, I hear him loud and clear.
When did you start producing?
Not until after high school. I should’ve started earlier but I didn’t have the equipment to start. My mom had a labtop that I was trying to finesse and use sometimes. She used to get on my ass about that. No cap, I had Fruity Loops on that bitch. She thought it was a game I downloaded — something that would give her a virus.
You moved to Nigeria for a year as a child. How did that experience influence you as a person and artist?
My grandma lowkey is wealthy as hell in Nigeria. I went there and had — I don’t want to say the life, but it was pretty decent. I came back like, "Damn, I want to live like that. I want to have some bread for real."
Are there any other genres outside of hip-hop that left an imprint on you?
Jazz is so beautiful. I’m finna take up piano lessons for real cause there’s so much soul in it. If I end up hearing some house music, I’ll fuck around and bop my head to that shit too. Chicago lowkey the home of house music.
Does music ever feel like a job to you?
Nah, but sometimes it be lame, 'cause trying to get placements you have to dumb it down a little bit. But really, it’s whatever you want to do when you open up that program. How could you not have fun?
Occasionally, your music gives off exhaustion or annoyance towards the state of rap.
Man, these music people be lame as hell, bruh — putting on a persona just so they can get fans and all. You’re supposed to be yourself. Fucking doofus. People don’t last long either. They be getting forgotten in a couple years putting out some bogus-ass music that no one relates to. I couldn’t put on a persona like that.
Did the pop culture that you consumed as a kid find a way into your music?
Yeah, that’s facts. It just feels natural to bring all that out into the music, because all the stuff you were seeing coming up is really you. That’s why I make songs off memes.
What do memes mean to you?
Bro, memes are very important. People don’t understand. Memes be little ass pages of life, I swear. Memes are talking about real life things — really, it just be humorous in most cases, but they talk about real-life shit. Remember the Fry memes from Futurama? I’d be like, Damn, that’s really me.
Do you think memes are going to be the way we communicate as a species moving forward?
We don’t necessarily need them to communicate, bruh. They do help groups of people find who they relate to online.
Meme Pt1 explored the difference between how we exist online versus reality. Do you think what takes place on the internet bleeds into real life too much?
I wouldn’t want to say too much, because that’s the future now. You really can’t do shit about it. A lot of us rely too much on phone contact. People can definitely link up for that face-to-face interaction, but that’s just the future.
On the intro to that project, you pretend to be a late-night host, saying that “a lot of shit should be taken seriously but isn’t and vice versa.” What's an example of that?
The crazy shit these rappers be talking about should definitely not be taken seriously, because they ass be lying. I guess they set a good vibe, even though they talk about some wild ass shit. What should be taken seriously is the messages that rappers try to put into their shit. They’re telling you life lessons, and that’s important for kids and people who aren’t going through the same thing so they can know how people are.
Your sound is hard to describe. How would you put it into words?
You know how my name is ‘Ramboway’? That’s the ramboway — I’m just experimenting. I love doing this shit, because if you can make music out of anything you fye. I just made some shit that nobody knows how to make right now. Gonna get bit later on.
Do you remember the moment you took the leap towards a music career?
It’s funny, 'cause I was making beats and shit. This was the beginning of our SoundCloud era — not the SoundCloud era, but me, Warhol, Yachty, and all that. Chris Travis and them, Sesh and Hollowaterboyz, they the real SoundCloud guys. When I started, I was just sending shit out to people. My mom was trying to make me go to school, and the same day she made me register for classes I was credited on a FADER piece about Yachty. I was showing my mom like “bruh I really don’t need this shit.” We had gone through the whole registration process so I was stuck for one semester. I got straight C’s, was focused on producing, and didn’t go back to school after that.
As an independent artist, how important is it to branch out beyond music?
Very important. If you’re not super hyped-up, music can’t be your main source of income. You got to learn what else you can do with your talents. I fuck with clothes, but I don’t want to make shirts no more, that shit is kinda basic. I’m trying to make masks and shit.
What about Rambo-Pods?
Hell nah, I lost my AirPods.
Nah, I suck at all video games except for Smash. I’ll give anybody the work in Smash. That’s facts. Snake my main, and King Dee Dee Dee.
Does building a following through platforms like Soundcloud and social media give you more leverage when it comes to signing deals with labels and seeking management?
Definitely. When they start to throw little ass numbers, you can show them your numbers like, Yeah, I’m actually that guy, you can’t just give me that little ass shit. They start rethinking. That’s what I’m going through right now. I want some big numbers in terms of what people are trying to give me. I’m not too thirsty, I got to see what I want in order to sign anything. I’m going to keep doing this shit how I’ve been doing because it’s been working for me. Building it on your own is just way more genuine.
I got some more fye shit that I’m really trying to get out to the people. The people haven't heard my best beats. Me and Uglyfriend’s beat snippets always be going up on twitter but nobody ever tries to get on them. I don’t know. Lucki fye bruh — he's a really good artist and he be saying shit with ease. Seeing him work is inspiring, especially since I used to fuck with his music before I started making beats.
We go a long way. That’s just the bro. He’s really talented and we put our minds together to make whatever. He lowkey helped me a lot and I really appreciate him for that. Yeah we just be making crazy music. Making fye shit whenever we link up.
You work with bigger names and more underground-leaning acts. How do you choose who to collaborate with?
I don’t care about plays or views. It’s more about who I’m hearing from friends. Maybe some song comes on randomly on Soundcloud and I might say, “Hey this dude kind of decent, what is he on?” and tune in. For me, it don’t be hard to see who really talented in this. You hear it straight from the music — instantly, like the first couple of songs. I got that from everyone I work with.
Do you make it a point to stay tuned into the underground?
I listen to what’s good, bro. I don't give no fuck about no "The underground is better than the mainstream." At the end of the days, it’s good music whether you’re doing it from the crib or in some type of mansion. That shit come out fye? I’m tuning into it, loving it, playing it, and I’ll want to work with you because I feel like I’m making good music too.
Who are your dream collaborations?
T-Pain. I feel like I’m Soundcloud’s T-Pain on gang. He brought back Auto-Tune. His production always been fye and he used to make his own beats, just like me.
I heard "Bartender" recently.
That shit was hitting still, huh? I feel like any big name right now is tangible, 'cause of how people fuck with my music and who I came up with.
What projects do you have coming up?
It’s called Everyone Loves Rambo — I made a meme for it. You know the Everybody Loves Raymond cast? I just put my face over Ray Romano’s. It’s gonna be about all this clout shit, 'cause I like dead don’t understand how I got all these people fucking with me like this. I love it bro, 'cause that’s what you aim for when you start, but I’m still like, "Damn, this is really reality?” I’m trying to talk a little bit more about being in this shit. Just see how I’m coming with it but also kinda flex up a bit too. I’m gonna talk about it in a way that people can relate to it and find it humorous. Trying to produce the whole thing.