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DJ Nino Brown’s Trailblazin’ Triumph

The DJ, curator and producer arrives at his debut album after a 20+ year journey in the music industry, using it to highlight Australian talent and enhance the memorable moments of a night out. He talks us through being independent, producing for some of the best in the country, and the essentials you need to create a good club song.

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DJ Nino Brown is a man who lives and loves music. His presence has been a staple in the Australian scene for multiple decades, punctuating his powerful skill to create good times through his iconic Blazin mixtapes series, consistent radio mixes, and hype-harnessing live performances alongside the likes of Eminem, Hilltop Hoods, and loads more.

Now, Nino is continuing to add to his accolades with his debut album TrailBlazin. He produced and curated this album as an ode to the night out, aiming to capture every aspect and vibes that appear in these memory-making moments. There’s hard-hitting hip-hop serving as the soundtrack for partygoers jumping in unison, and there are slower jams designed to enhance the euphoria heading into the after-hours territory. Going hand-in-hand with this versatile approach is Nino Brown’s highlighting of Australian talent, tapping the likes of Big Skeez, Babyface Mal, Ms.Thandi, Timomatic, and more to handle the vocals. It succeeds in being a companion for good times, and an encapsulation of how good Australian music is right now.

To learn more about the album, I hopped on Zoom with DJ Nino Brown to talk through releasing this project independently, producing for today’s great Australian talent, and the essentials required to make a great club song.

Congrats on the release of the new album. How are you feeling?
I’m excited. I’m fully independent for this one, so I’ve done everything myself. I did a lot of stuff with Universal before this and I can’t lie; it is nice getting that label help. I know major labels aren’t a popular thing to talk about sometimes, but they can be very good. I miss having the extra hands sometimes, you know? 

As you alluded to, major labels are often criticised in music discourse today. As someone who has worked with them, can you elaborate on the utility they offer?
I’ve had nothing but good experiences with everyone I’ve done business with, and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now. Even at the very start, I was serious about my business, and I always made sure I read things going into these relationships. You have to look at a label like you would any other relationship, in the sense that if you do right by them, they’ll usually do right by you. You’ve got obligations to fill, and they’ve got obligations to fill. If they’re not doing right by you, start a conversation. I’ve never really seen a label tell artists what to do, and that’s something I’ve seen talked about a lot. Usually, if you’re working with a label, you’ve done something to attract them, and they become invested in that. A label is handy because they take care of all the little things you don’t even think about when it comes to a release. And don’t get me wrong, artists can for sure blow up without a label, but if you go from 0-1000, it’s easier to reach the million with their help, because they have the infrastructure.

On the flip side, are you feeling any extra sense of fulfilment approaching this album independently?
I definitely find it satisfying. Handling everything is a pain, but it’s probably easier for me than others because I’ve been doing this for so long now. I’ve been able to adopt strategies from my time working with labels. So you’re right, it is fulfilling.

I love how this album explores a variety of sounds but sounds perfectly put together for a night out. What do you think are the essential components of a good club record?
I’m glad that you feel that way because I wanted this album to feel like a compilation of all the different types of music you’d hear in a DJ set. It’s all music that can be played at different times of an event, depending on the vibe. A big part of making a good club song is the sonics, where you’re exploring the fine line between what’s popular, and what’s going to be the new thing in 6-12 months. I remember ‘In Da Club’ coming out, and immediately thinking that there was nothing else that sounds like it. Another essential that the song nails is a simple but catchy hook. I also think club songs have to be relatable, and avoid any over-rapping. Biggie didn’t over-rap on ‘Hypnotize’ because a club song is not where you flex that skill. 

You use this album to highlight some of the amazing artists that are popping off in this country right now. While they’re all different in their styles and backgrounds, what do you think is the common thread that links them?
I think the common thread for this album is the relationship we’ve had. I’ve been on the radio providing mixes for a long time, across different stations. I’m at CADA now, which was formerly the edge. For a while, I was the only one pushing Australian hip-hop in a mixed DJ format on the radio. I’ve built a relationship with these artists, meeting them at events, and a lot of the time being one of the first few people to play their music. So I think that made the vibe of this record great. The other common thread is that they’re all just genuinely talented. They strive for greatness in their art. I’m someone who has seen this scene evolve from people rapping about VBs in their backyard, to where it is today, where everyone, whether underground or mainstream, is excited about putting out quality music and lifting the overall market. 

You play the role of producer and curator on this album. How do you make sure your vision is projected through the voice of others?
I’m a DJ who produces like a DJ producer; I’m not one of these guys who can sit and make 10 beats a day. Usually, I have an idea or topic I want to cover with something I’m producing, and then the artists get on board with that. Songs like ‘Pillow Talk’ are the exception; where I had a relationship with Ms. Thandi for a long time, and I wanted to make the right type of song for us to collaborate on. It was out of both our comfort zones, where it was a little more raunchy than what she usually does, and more R&B than what I usually do. I got the track where I wanted it to be musically, and then gave her full reign to come up with the concept. We wanted to get a rapper on it, and Mal was the perfect pick.

Are there some moments that particularly stood out to you in the process of creating this album?
A great moment was working with Big Skeez and Queen P. I had built a studio during COVID, and Queen P came down. It was more of a jam session, so I let her do her thing for a bit, and when I came back, she had a verse and hook laid down. I sent that to Skeez, and he went crazy, incorporating the sample in his part. So I redid the track around his verse, and it was just super fun. Also with ‘Pillow Talk’, it was just amazing being able to record Ms. Thandi, because she’s like a serious, full-blown singer. She laid down 150 vocal tracks, so that song was a lot of work. Mal’s first verse he sent through for that was killer, but I realised that it didn’t mesh with the theme of the song at first. He was a team player, redid some things, and the result was phenomenal. So the real highlight of all of this was just the pleasure of producing these artists. 

The music scene here has seen a boom in recent years, and it seems harder for artists to make themselves stand out, or know how to handle the business aspects of the opportunities coming their way. As someone who is a veteran, what would your advice be to those trying to navigate this industry?
I did my Universal deal in my early 20s, back in 2002. One thing I think is important is to differentiate your value as an artist. What I mean by that is with this album, if I’m talking to a brand, I can’t act like I’m on DJ Khaled’s level, because I’m not. So I’ve always made a career choice to underpromise, over-deliver, and build relationships. It’s also good to sometimes think long-term. When I did my Blazin deal, I made history by becoming the only DJ to be signed to a major label as an artist. For that series, I negotiated higher royalties and less of an advance because I was confident of what I could do. And if I didn’t deliver, they hadn’t given me money that I would have to pay back or risk the ties being cut because they don’t want to operate at a loss. Use your common sense, read the paperwork, and know what you’re getting into.

Lastly, you mentioned how this album was created like that a DJ set, providing different vibes for different times of the night. How do you want people to feel when they hear this project?
Hopefully amazing. I’ve always looked at clubbing and club music as the whole night out. The people getting ready in their room listening to something, the music people hear in the club, the song that’s playing as you’re going home with someone, it’s all part of it. I wanted to make music that encapsulates all those emotional states of being. I also want people to hear where Australia is at musically so that those who may have historically not meshed with Australian hip-hop can hear how much it has grown. I want to show the older generations who haven’t liked the things coming out of Australian hip-hop that there most likely is something that’ll click for them now. I’m in a unique part of my career where I do things like the Eminem tour in 2019 and the Hilltop Hoods a little later, accumulating fans from the ages of 10 years old to their mid-50s. So I just want to bring people together, so they can enjoy this music.

Follow DJ Nino Brown here for more and stream the new album ‘Trailblazin’ now.

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