“The idea of ‘retrofuturism’ definitely comes into play, since I feel as if we live in an epoch where ‘everything has been done,’ but not everything has been synthesized or combined.”
Jason Cornell is reflecting on 2019, another year of prolific musical output for the Rhode Island-born musician. Amidst a year of the usual guest appearances on releases such as Swordplay’s Paperwork, Zak G’s Mutant, and Anthony Maintain’s Plugging Holes in the Same Boat, the General Manager of MilledPavement Records still managed to compose a soundtrack for the Nomar Slevik UFO Documentary Otherworldly Amour (titled Abduction Themes ) and tour France and Switzerland with the French band D-FAZ to promote their dual release OneNationUnderDog.
The track that Jason is referring to is “A Banker’s Prayer,” one of the opening tracks for Blooddrive Volume 4, the final release of 2019 for the progressive emcee who goes by the moniker BRZOWSKI. Layered with rugged industrial riffs thanks to the aggressive production from PT Burnem, “A Banker’s Prayer” wouldn’t sound out of place in a late nineties industrial album, yet at the same time, the song feels right at home in the 21st Century. It and other songs on the latest in the Blooddrive series are reminiscent of the feel in Jason’s split tape with MC Homeless from last year. Titled Dig Two Graves, the BRZOWSKI tracks evoked synths and sounds from the eighties with compelling narratives and urgent political themes.
In the artist’s own words, Blooddrive Volume 4 is “a compilation of new, rare, demo and collaborative material spanning 2011 to 2019.” The concept of a compilation album isn’t anything new, but what makes Blooddrive stand out is that the project sounds like a cohesive album that was recorded with the purpose of being a unified statement. I wouldn’t even know it was a compilation if he hadn’t advertised it as such.
“I attempt to make everything I release exist as a cohesive statement, and this was no different,” Jason confirms, though he adds “This isn’t intended to be an album, by any stretch, in my mind. This is meant to be a guided tour through the songs that I felt did not get enough traction upon first release, freshly released demos, and some new songs to be the glue.”
Clocking in at a hefty 70 minutes, this tracklist was actually reduced from the original 40 songs brought together by BRZOWSKI and producer C$Burns, who “mixes, masters and handles post-production on just about everything I do, I don’t really trust anyone else,” says BRZOWSKI. In an era where artists have eschewed long albums for releasing singles, five-song EPs or half-hour LPs, Jason Cornell can still release an old school hour plus release because, to quote Sum 41 from the aughts (much to Jason’s chagrin), his projects are “All Killer No Filler.”
Aside from the aforementioned “A Banker’s Prayer,” there are plenty of standout tracks in an album full of standout tracks. “Thieves” is a posse cut featuring killer verses from kidDEAD, Brandon Brains, and a stellar chorus from Spoken Nerd that is equal parts catchy and well-written. Nerd also offers up an additional track called “The Weather Machine Killed the Snowman” from his legendary Cult a Cola cassette series.
Repeat guests are found all over Blooddrive Volume 4, as kidDEAD can also be found on the delightful lo-fi track “In Between”, along with Hell Hole Store co-owner ialive. “This volume certainly put some favorite comrades to the forefront, and I want these songs to have new legs. I want listeners to check for my music friends,” Jason confirms, and this statement is definitely true when he collaborates with longtime friend Swordplay.
Swordplay, known to the government as Isaac Ramsey, the Richmond, Virginia born emcee and BRZOWSKI go together like peanut butter and chocolate, or any cheesy combination you’d rather see in this sentence. “We have been good friends for over a decade, we just gel well together on tracks, laugh intensely when we talk and hang out, and have a lot of mutual respect/fandom for the other’s music.”
“All I wanna do is get crunk and rob banks.”
This is definitely one of the strongest statements made in Blooddrive Volume 4, it can be heard in “Bombs Make Noise,” a track guest-starring Swordplay and PT Burnem that could just be a spiritual successor to the seminal late-80s/early-90s era Public Enemy albums. The other Swordplay feature on this compilation is “Wonderful Things,” a delightful track that allows Isaac to express a smidgen of his folk rap side, more of which can be found in the classic Malista tape release and last year’s instant classic King George.
When asked about creating a potential full-length collaboration with Swordplay, BRZOWSKI replies noncommittally, saying “we don’t have any express intent to do a split, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. Issac can plan 5+ years ahead, I’m only good for 8 to 10 months at a stretch.” Jason gives listeners a glimpse of hope by adding that “when one of us proposes a collaboration, we can almost intuit how the other one is going to approach it, based on the beat, which is rare chemistry, so who knows?”
So what is next for Jason Cornell?
“I don’t like to talk expositionally about the future, as there is no guarantee anything will arrive on time if it isn’t already boxed up and delivered.”
With some additional prodding, BRZOWSKI is willing to reveal that he is “doing a series of shows in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas with my friend Character (from Denton, TX) in March of 2020.” The self-proclaimed “New England artist” moved to Dallas, TX January of last year and still hails from Portland, as he was a pioneer in the “then-nascent rap/electronic scene of Portland, Maine from 2001 to 2018.” It looks like Jason is slowly starting to settle into his new place of residence in the Southwest, however, which will hopefully lead to even more art from the tireless DIY musician in 2020.
He was also willing to commit to having “a collaborative project with C$Burns in the pipeline for 2020, with him handling all production.” When asked what it would be like, Jason admitted that “it is certainly shaping up to be a bit out of my comfort zone, as I usually immediately veto productions with guitar upstrokes, noticeable jazz chords, or anything that might possibly be construed as “funky,” but this project is a shared communal arena. This record does not have any chorus-heavy songs.”
2019 was also a year of accolades for BRZOWSKI, as his 2017 album Enmityville was included on a list of “100 Maine Albums of the Decade,” and he was also ranked by website Underground Fossils as one of the “Top 10 Rappers of the Decade.” The Nomar Slevik UFO Documentary Otherworldly Amour (that BRZOWSKI composed a soundtrack for) hit 130,000 video streams on Amazon Prime. OneNationUnderDog, the album he did with D-FAZ, was named one of the Top 100 Albums on the Ferarock radio networks in France/Belgium/Canada two months in a row.
But Jason doesn’t let the success get to him.
“I’ve seen 4 rap-generations of people get salty and abandon their passion to be a sandwich-maker or dental hygienist, or what-have-you, never to return. You can’t be in this musician/artist-life for the ancillary benefits (attention, cool-points, accolades, etc), you really have to love what you are doing, understand the sacrifices, and ultimately decide to roll the dice and bet on yourself in the face of adversity.”
“Although I haven’t run it past a focus group yet,” jokes BRZOWSKI, “my campaign slogan for 2020 and beyond is ‘Still Here, Still Weird.’”