The piano tossed out of the window and a loud boom. Made you look, as the rapper Nas once chanted with heart-slapping bravado. That is what an old school photographer said to me once whenever he knew a great new musical artist had burst upon the scene. Well that is precisely how I felt when I stumbled upon Grammy Award-winning trumpet player Maurice “Mobetta” Brown very recently in New York City. For he is that piano crashing down and I had to look and ask Yo, who is that, exactly?
Think Louis Armstrong and his trumpet uploaded for the 21st century to a hiphop beat, and you begin to understand who this young genius is. Maurice is a classically-trained jazzman mentored and supported by the iconic Wynton Marsalis and the legendary Ramsey Lewis. But “Mobetta” is also a hiphop head for life, and that journey on this planet rock literally parallels the history and evolution of rap. Little wonder that Maurice not only blows the roof off God’s sky with his horn, but he also spits lyrics the way Satchmo spit his own brand of vocalese back in the day. Yup, Mobetta is a horn-playing-rhyme-spraying- dancing machine that jazz-hiphop collaborators like Donald Byrd and Gang Starr’s Guru or Ron Carter and A Tribe Called Quest fantasized about in the early 1990s. No need to cram to make that jazz-hiphop experiment happen in these times because Maurice Brown is the living and breathing embodiment of it all, a one-stop shop destined to be this era’s Quincy Jones. And then some.
Which brings me to his new cd, “Maurice vs Mobetta,” or, rather, Maurice’s jazz side versus his hiphop persona. Technically a remix of his second opus “The Cycle of Love”—complete with Maurice’s original horn work intact—this third album instead becomes its own thing: a fresh re-imagining of Maurice’s collaborative vision for music. That equals tracks featuring some of the finest veteran and up-and-coming producers around today plus cameos by underground hiphop mic controllers Talib Kweli, Jean Grae, Consequence, and Mobb Deep’s Prodigy. And it includes the soulful chops of singers like Saunders Sermons and Chris Rob. Which means this Chicago-area native who got his feet dusty in the jazz holes of New Orleans ain’t half steppin’ on “Maurice vs Mobetta.”
Check the stutter-step percussion licks and ring-the-alarm horn playing of Maurice Brown framing Talib Kweli’s hiphop emancipation proclamation “No such thing as too intelligent” on “Fly By Night.” Check the pounding second-line march of “Misunderstood Part II,” a jam so funky you could either sweat to it on a dance floor or the heated pavement of NOLA’s 9th that kickstarts with a house-y Chicago opening romp then electric slides into an elastic musical spliff that Prodigy and Mobetta smoke like the best rap tag teams of hiphop’s Golden Era.
This is a mere sampling of the 9 tracks on “Maurice vs Mobetta.” Brown has more in store, not only on this new effort, but coming down the pike. Fresh off of winning his very first Grammy with Tedeschi Trucks Band for Best Blues Album of the year in 2012 (Maurice was the horn arranger for the 11-piece ensemble), know that “Maurice vs Mobetta” is a gumbo sound lab for this dynamic young trumpet player-arranger-producer.
And Maurice “Mobetta” Brown is just getting warmed up…
by KEVIN POWELL
Kevin Powell is a writer, public speaker, college lecturer, and music historian. He is the author or editor of 11 books, and has written extensively on American popular culture for publications such as Esquire, Newsweek, Ebony, Rolling Stone, and Vibe, where he worked for several years as a senior writer.
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I got to see Bradley play the Calgary Folk Music Festival in 2012 and fell immediately under the spell of his voice. An unbelievable performer, he owned the stage for an hour, and left an indelible impression on me. Right now in 2020, we need his music more than ever. Adam