Kerry “Krucial” Brothers epitomizes the classic example of the ever-present, yet semi-elusive man that works all of his magic “behind the scenes.” As the co-founder of KrucialKeys Enterprise, his musical collaborations with Alicia Keys have generated millions of album sales worldwide. After a decade of faithful and relatively exclusive production services for Keys, “Krucial” has focused his time, energy and talents on the development of Mateo – a singer, songwriter and musician from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Considering the successful track record “Krucial” has maintained thus far, along with the rave reviews linked to Love & Stadiums, the singer's critically-acclaimed mixtape, expectations are running high for Mateo and his Krucial Noise debut. In the midst of a promotional campaign for Love & Stadiums II, Kerry "Krucial" Brothers squeezed some time out of his busy schedule to settle down for an interview with AllHipHop.com Alternatives – he reflects on his love of poetry, his personal connection to classical music, and a decade of significant success.
AHHA: Although you are well-known for your musicality and production capabilities, in the early years – at the age of nine – your artistic beginning was focused moreso on storytelling, and later transitioned to creating the “soundtrack” for these stories. At such a young age, what peaked your interest in language arts?
Kerry Brothers: I was inspired by poetry at a young age. I come from a family that appreciates art of all types. But in school, there was something about language that really grabbed me right away.
AHHA: As you engaged in songwriting, are there any particular elements that you have always found yourself incorporating into your songs over the years?
Kerry Brothers: There isn’t one particular thing. Basically, when I'm writing or creating anything, it is really based off of feeling: the kind of zone I’m in and what I’m thinking. Once I get the words out, if it sounds too cliché or sounds like it's been said already, then I might try to make it more poetic or try to say it in a way that it hasn’t been said. I just like to get my expressions out and tweak them later.
AHHA: At what point did the musical component come into play? Did a particular artist, album, or instrument inspire you?
Kerry Brothers: I don't know. It was probably a gradual thing. Growing up, music was always around the house. My parents always had old records and vinyls sitting around on the floor. I used to play music all weekend. We had instruments around. I had an uncle that played trumpet. I guess I was around the age of eight or nine when Hip-Hop started coming out and "Rapper's Delight" came out. And at that very moment, I wanted to be a rapper. From rapping, I turned to DJing. And from DJing, I came into making beats and playing on the keyboard. It just gradually grew. I never saw it as something that would really turn into a career. It was just something that I liked to do.
AHHA: Being born and raised during Hip-Hop’s “glory years,” it is interesting to note that none of your music really falls into that category. Considering your musical diversity, what insight can you give into your mixing of classical strings, soulful bass lines and hard break beats?
Kerry Brothers: As I learned more about poetry and writers in general, I was introduced to other styles of art. Classical music was something that always grabbed me. It also made me want to get more into the stories of the people that created this music - Johannes Brahms. With classical music, we automatically think of it as sophisticated, high-class music. But these musicians and composers were actually poor. It made me relate to their story even more, and made me relate to their compositions even more. So that pulled me in, and it helped me see the connection of why I like certain minor chords and things of that nature.
AHHA: Very little information is known about your educational background. It is obvious and apparent that you are very knowledgeable about the business aspect of the music business. What do you attribute to your wisdom an general business sense?
Kerry Brothers: That also took a little minute. But one thing I can say: “since I was a kid, I've always wanted to own my own business.” What would that business look like? I did not know. At the time I was coming up, I was never encouraged to make music as a career or to make music my business, even though it was the one thing I was very passionate about. Somewhere along the line, when I got to like twenty-years-old, I said to myself: “Since I want to own my own business, why not make music my business?”
And I did everything you can imagine – the whole thing: checking out books and getting to know more about the music business. Another important thing: hands-on learning. I was fortunate enough to see the evolution of Alicia's career from the very beginning – the growth, the struggles, the ins and outs. And learning from experience – watching and learning – that really got my chops up. I always had that independent mindset of owning my own company, controlling my own destiny, and adding something to the business that I felt was missing.
AHHA: With the introduction of Mateo, Krucial Noise’s newest artist, you have taken a very personal approach to artist development. Having worked with Alicia Keys for the past decade, do you think that an artist’s possession of the “X” factor is innate or developed over time?
Kerry Brothers: Well, you see people with raw talent, and you see they have the potential, and basically artist development is necessary. A lot of people don't have the time. We're in a whole age of instant gratification. Labels don't want to bother with trying to take time and money and figure it out and wait for it to happen right. This is why they want an already "ready-made" star to bring to the next level. But I always appreciated being part of the beginning process: helping an artist figure out what they're going to be or figure out their own unique.
With Mateo, I am at the same place that I was with Alicia 10 years ago. It wasn't like she knew exactly what kind of sound she wanted or what exactly she wanted to do. It was a process of figuring things out and trying different things to discover the uniqueness of the artist. I enjoy that process just as much as any other process in creating songs. Not just creating songs, but creating a legacy in which the artist has a voice and been given a platform to express themselves. Mateo keeps me inspired to keep trying more things. This is the energy that helps an artist have longevity. With artistic development, it takes time. It's no fault of any up and coming, aspiring artist or musician, but it is very easy to fall into the traps of the music industry. It is common to hear: "You have to do this to sell. You have to do this to be successful." And unfortunately, that limits you and can cut off valuable lessons or detour something that you had not discovered yet.
AHHA: When you were first introduced to Mateo, is there a particular quality that drew you to him? What convinced you to invest your time and energy into his artistic development?
Kerry Brothers: It was definitely the voice. But as a fan of poetry and language, I became intrigued by his songwriting, too. Everything else fell into place when I finally met him: his personality was great, he had the right attitude, and he had the work ethic.
AHHA: Do you recall the first song that you heard by him?
Kerry Brothers: "Complicated." When he shared more of his songs and more of his ideas, he just had that special thing that got me inspired to think that our collaboration would only make it better.
AHHA: Upon reviewing your discography, I notice two remarkable tracks that highlight the wide range of your production skills - Keyshia Cole’s "(I Just Want It) To Be Over" and Christina Aguilera's "Impossible," both of which rank high amongst my favorite songs. Pick one of the two and share any memories you have of the songwriting process.
Kerry Brothers: I saw Keyshia's song "I Changed My Mind," and I loved her voice. I saw the video and I was like Wow, I really love her voice. I like where she's coming from. "(I Just Want It) To Be Over" was an undeveloped idea that I had down. And when I heard she was working on an album, I threw some ideas together to attract her. With that song, I combined talents with Tenisha Smith, and we started writing ideas down. I called her manager up and said: "Hey, I've got this song for Keyshia. I want to come to the studio and play it down." We didn't have it all written yet, but we had the vocals and the chords down. She came through, and Alicia also came through. We just finished writing to the track that I already had. And from there, Keyshia executed the song very well. I don't consider myself a real musician, but I am a fan of musicians. I like to mix things that have that raw soul but still have musical elements that a musician can appreciate.
AHHA: When you reflect upon the successes of your career, is there a particular goal that you are still yearning reach?
Kerry Brothers: Where I'm at now is I really feel like I'm just beginning, as funny as it sounds. I love what I do. I love discovering new talent. I love trying things. I love creating and I love building legacies. I feel like I've just started and I'm not done yet. I love what I do and I just plan to keep doing it and continue the legacy. The Quincy Joneses of the world – and the Russell Simmonses on the business side – inspire me. These are, should I say, like blueprints I love to follow. And there's so much more to do, so much more to achieve, but I just enjoy the process. As long as God continues to bless me with the talent, I'm going to keep doing my thing.