The lanky 20-something-year-old J. Brookinz has enjoyed rising prominence in the Circle City's hip-hop community as a beat-maker and producer. His remix of Europe's "The Final Countdown" is getting notice on the web. His upcoming EP Revisionz features his remixes of work by local performers Mystikos Quintet, Com.Dot and Eisenhower Field Day. The Heavy Gun label he runs with the emcee Grey Granite ("my right-hand man on my left-hand side") has put out a string of releases this year, promoted from an increasingly popular blog at HeavyGunBlog.com.
In short, Brookinz should be a happy-go-lucky guy. And up until a month ago, he was. But now?
"I'm a little more aware of what's going on," Brookinz says during a recent late night with his Heavy Gun consorts. "Before I just didn't care. Everything was peaches and cream; it was all flowers and sausages. Now it's like, damn, people be hurting. Life is bad."
Only a broken heart could bring about such sentiment. His five-year relationship with the mother of his 2-year-old daughter ended just a few weeks ago and the pain is fresh. So much so that Brookinz has lately had Sade in heavy rotation.
"If people didn't know, Sade is dope break-up music," he says. "It sounds like she was breaking up with a dude every week."
This doesn't sit well with Granite.
"You don't listen to Sade unless you're fresh in love," he advises his friend, sitting with him in the rear lounge of the Melody Inn.
Still, Brookinz is aware of the strides he and his cohorts have made in recent years.
"It seems like I've been getting better as far as moving up and doing things, getting noticed and making a fan base," he says.
Brookinz has won some recent remix competitions, including one organized by XXL Magazine (for his take on Asher Roth) and the 2008 Scribble Jam Pre-Lim Producer Competition.
But as life's juxtapositions so often cruelly reveal, his craft also contributed to the demise of his relationship.
"It's bittersweet but the dream don't stop," Brookinz says. "It keeps going."
It's a dream that began to take shape 10 years ago, when Brookinz bought some turntables off the Internet and began to teach himself to DJ. It's something he'd like to do again, even though he confesses a lack of skills. From there Brookinz moved into producing, creating beats for artists in Indianapolis and Evansville, where he lived for a few years after college. Granite heard one of Brookinz's flows before he actually met him.
"I was like, man this is crazy," the rapper says. "This is exactly what I'm looking for."
He convinced Brookinz to return to Indianapolis and help him run a recording studio on the southside with Bob G. Barker (from the local rap duo NightRiders) and DJ BTAM.
"I've always had this run-out-and-get-it type attitude," Granite says of that venture. "Even if I don't know how, I'll learn."
In those days before online social networking became ubiquitous, they would literally sell their music on the street. Now Brookinz and Granite run HeavyGunBlog.com, a site they've labeled "a salute to all kinds of BadAssery." Aside from music, there are posts on art, music, videos, technology and more.
"It gives people an opportunity to interact with us on a daily basis and get to know our personalities," Brookinz says. "I've found if people like you, it doesn't even matter what you put out. They gonna ride with you regardless. There's too many people out there. The thing that sets you apart now is your personality."
Brookinz says that he's often felt lonely in the Naptown music scene, where, particularly in hip-hop, there's only been room for one big name: The Mudkids. No disrespect. That collective helped break Brookinz into music. But when people ask where he's from, the followup question tends to be: "Ever heard The Mudkids?"
"We have the most talented musicians, but I don't think people know about them," Brookinz says. "We have all these cool people doing all this cool stuff. But the scene here, especially the hip-hop scene, only a limited number of people know about it."
Adding to the frustration is the lack of venues willing to embrace the genre. Some clubs around the city have either dropped such themed nights or closed altogether.
"People are so scared of it, like it's some kind of monster," Brookinz says. "They don't want hip-hop in their clubs; they don't want anything to do with it. It's not as bad as what people think it is."
Not that local performers aren't somewhat responsible for their anonymity, according to Brookinz.
"People in Indianapolis are quick to jump on a New York rapper thing or a down South rapper thing, and that's one of the reasons why somebody ain't blown from here," he says, trying to stay warm in the bar's backroom with a thermal sweater. "That's the problem. People think they're artists, but they're really fans. They're not progressing music."
That's why the Heavy Gun crew thinks it's on to something here with its slapdash take on club music.
"We've started something here," Granite says. "This is the foundation."
"We're a fully functional machine," adds DJ BTAM, who serves as Heavy Gun's recording engineer. "From pre- to post-, it's just us."
Brookinz's remix of "The Final Countdown" is but one example. The hair metal salute was already a histrionic anthem. In Brookinz's hands, it becomes a B'More banger, complete with vocals by Granite and Philadelphia rapper Illy.
"Who's not going to jam to 'The Final Countdown'?" Brookinz asks. "It's not even a white person thing. It's a jam all the way across the board."
Brookinz admits his listening tastes have become bipolar, even though his love remains hip-hop. It explains why he would interpret a range of genres by local artists on Re'Visionz (available Dec. 8 on iTunes) and remix a set of Killers songs (he's a big fan of their debut Hot Fuzz). Earlier in the evening, he was in his bedroom turning Van Halen's "Jump" into a stylishly staccato groove on his computer. Being an '80s child, Brookinz has plans to do more club versions of hits from that era.
"People need to be dancing right now because everything else is fucked up," he says.