With 'DSM,' Van Buren Records Is Looking to Put Brockton and Themselves on the Map [Q&A]

From The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, to the modern-day Ill Addicts and 99 Neighbors, hip-hop collectives have been some of the most enigmatic forces in music. They both shape and are shaped by the culture, leading the people because they are the people. Dynamic and overzealous, Van Buren Records are singlehandedly reformatting the system. 

Comprised of 13 members, Van Buren Records are not reliant on gimmicks; they have a scathing grit that’s spat through raw and unembellished rap. Representing the city of Brockton, New England's sole black-majority city, they’re aggressive not just because of their desire to be seen but to put a spotlight on a severely overlooked city .

With an air of both G-Unit and The Underachievers, we could pick apart the science behind their cypher etiquette, but where their true magic lies is in the sense of home they’ve built within their brotherhood. Behind their bite, they’re just a regular group of friends who clown on and uplift each other in the same breath. With an infectious camaraderie, Van Buren Records respect each other as artists, giving each track they attack their all while making sure there’s adequate room for the next man.

With the release of their latest project DSM, Van Buren Records are demanding their due respect with a vengeance. There’s no diluting, no cheesy, repetitive hook to decay your brain into thinking it’s consumable. It’s the heart of true hip-hop, served on a silver platter. We had the pleasure of sitting down with the collective to talk about the project, the magic behind rap groups, and why Brockton should be the next major market city.

Ones To Watch: What does it take to make a hip-hop group iconic, and who do you think were the best of the best?

Luke: I think to be an iconic rap group you really have to push a narrative. You gotta have something special, an “it” story. Wu-Tang is one of the best rap groups of all time because they were the originators and one of the first to implement kung fu and that type of style into their music. And if you look at A$AP Mob, they really brought style into their group. So I think we have to introduce the world to something that they aren’t used to. If you look at us, we’re just cool dudes. We’re really ourselves, we don’t try to be something that we’re not. We’re really comfortable in our own skin.

Meech: Yeah, I think what makes a lot of groups special is that individualism. There are a lot of collectives that came and went during the blog era, but I think individuality is what’s most important. So, with Wu-Tang, you’re able to say Method Man, Raekwon, RZA, Ghostface, and all their names hold weight. I think that’s why we get the comparison, because we can all hold our own. Our own work, our own projects, our own verses hold weight on their own. If other groups don’t reach that, it’s because there’s one person that’s bigger. 

How have you mastered the art of having that many cooks in the kitchen?

Jiles: We’re all friends, so it’s easy. We’re not scared to try different sounds when it comes to music. Ideally, I’d never do a record with someone like Invada because his sound is different than mine, but the way we approach records is “It’s 2022 and everything is for grabs.” If I hear a record I like, Imma jump on it. Same thing for Luke, if he presents something to the group and we like it, we’ll jump on it. And if it’s not good, we have people in the group that will say “Nah, that’s not it.” Nine times out of 10, we know our limits too, so there can be records where I’m like “I’ll sit this one out.” And that comes from the camaraderie that we have as a collective. 

Meech: VB is built off of our individual projects to begin with, so like Jiles said, if Luke brings a record or if I bring a record, it’s already in our world and whoever wants to be involved with it, let’s get it. With this DSM tape, I don’t even know if there was a record we were all in the room at the same time for. Maybe like two or three.

How has being from Brockton shaped your artistry? 

Luke: We walk with a chip on our shoulder. We’re all trying to prove something to the world because Brockton is not a major city in the state that we’re in, and it’s not respected in music. We’re trying to break that and make it a city like Atlanta or New York because I know it’s talented enough, it just doesn’t have the resources. Personally, I hold that dear to my heart and take that very seriously. 

Meech: You see major market cities have this boom bap sound going on and then here comes something like Pro Era or even Pop Smoke, who brought a whole different type of tone into the city, so the culture came to them. For us, there’s a certain sound already in our city that’s not ours, so we’re putting our minds together to form something of our own that hits. We’re gonna see the shift happen and I rather people just trust it once they see the success of it.

Your name originates from a Seinfeld reference, the “FOUL” video was inspired by The Brady Brunch. There’s a clear influence from visual media. What have you watched recently that’s inspired you?

Luke: I’ve been watching that Mike Tyson show. A very, very good show. Wow.

Jiles: Don’t watch that show. Mike doesn’t want anyone watching that show. 

Luke: I just felt for Mike Tyson man. That’s my guy, he’s a good dude. Very misunderstood. He had the lisp and I feel like you gotta stand behind people like that. 

E: I watched 30 seconds of that show and it was terrible.

Meech: I would say The Bear. Lower class, cooks and chefs, it’s a different culture that isn’t highlighted as much. Culinary being produced at that kind of mainstream level was really dope and inspiring.

Tell us about DSM. What went into this project and what do you want people to walk away with from it?

Meech: It’s the album of the year.

Luke: My objective with this album is to break out as artists. Showcase those of us that don’t get showcased enough. There’s been a flavor for each artist, which is beautiful because when “FOUL” dropped I saw multiple people say “Yo, Meech got the best verse, Jiles got the best verse, I got the best verse,” and that’s the goal. For each person to find their artist within the group.

Jiles: Yeah, be open to new sounds. I think we’re one of the few collectives where nobody sounds the same so you’re going to hear so many different kinds of genres and sounds but quality rapping and music at the end of the day. I’m just excited for people to hear new music because it’s been over a year and I know people are wondering what we’ll drop.

And as far as Brockton artists go, who are your Ones To Watch?

VB: C4, MTS, Garret Merk, Pat Michel. 

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