The following feature on B+ comes from Johan Doobay of the kerrynini crew. You can also check a very Limerickcentric interview with Mr. Keepintime in the leader, this fine piece was by Frank O' Connell who has been breaking some good stuff recently( check his captain moonlight feature in the star here)
“You’ve got kids in Houston listening to screw music and drinking liquid Codine and then you’ve got kids in downtown Mexico who put rubber-bands on their tape-decks to slow down South American music and sniff glue. There’s got to be some sort of social correlation there.”
B+ is a man who likes to join the dots. Whether its documenting the inter-generational love of rhythms between drummers and turntablists or casually tracing the vocal similarilies in the local dialects of Limerick and Jamaica, he’s man who understands the social importance of studying the ways in which music echoes reality.
Better known to his folks as Brian Cross, B+ is more than just an artist. He’s basically an urban culture historian with a remarkable ability to link sound with image. With a curriculum vitae that includes collaborative work with hiphop’s most respected elite and a track record that belies nearly twenty years of hard work as a writer, director, photographer, designer, artist, collector and DJ, his role in capturing the aesthetic aspects of b-boy culture is remarkable.
And he’s from Limerick.
He’s a lot taller than you’d expect, and on initially meeting the giant, one could be forgiven for assuming that he’s a born and bred American. Gone is the hobo-esque long hair and beard that he wore around the time of DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist’s Product Placement tour, but the mandatory b-boy uniform of baggie trousers and trainers remain. Maybe it’s a testament to his unending appreciation for the ethics of hiphop culture, or maybe he just likes the look.
But every so often, his stateside drawl is undercut by an unmistakable Limerick brogue that reminds you that this is a man who grew up with Wanderly Wagon and Larry Gogan like the rest of us. He likes to talk a lot, but then so do I.
B+ first rose to prominence around 1992 after the release of the book “Its Not About A Salary”, a photographic journey into the minds and bedrooms of the hiphop artists that would dominate the West coast rap scene for the next 10 years. Having studied Art in Dublin’s NCAD, it was there that he started to trace the relationship between music and art, and their capacity to both reflect and structure our social environment. He explains how his interaction with various other classmates & artists led him to discover the correlation between the likes of Grandmaster Flash De La Soul & The Jungle Brothers and artists such as James Brown, Roy Ayres and Parliament. Pretty serious digging when you consider that this was Ireland in the 1980’s, and the only radio jock with the balls to give hiphop some airtime was “fuckin’ Gerry Ryan.”
“Even before I had left Ireland in ‘88, I had started trying to investigate a little bit further the roots of this music that was really inspiring me. So when I first went to the California, the first thing I did was to really start digging. And the nice thing about that was that at that moment in the late 80’s, you could find all those records that were being sampled for like dumb cheap…99cents or so. Basically, because no-one else was digging, it was unheard of back then.”
Explaining how he and his fellow Art students were taking the initial leap from punk to hiphop in a pre-ScaryEire Ireland, you begin to comprehend how exciting this era of musical creativity really was for B+. Essentially, it was the emergence of a truly underground art form that only a handful of heads in this country were clued into. He tells of how he and fellow students such as
Limerick DJ Paul Tarpey and various members of The Golden Horde once sat around in a dilapidated flat above a funeral parlour in Dublin and debated who was the most socially relevant; The Jesus And Mary Chain or Run-DMC. No prizes for guessing that B+ was screaming for Run-DMC.
Relocating to the sunnier surroundings of the California School of Arts to pursue a masters in
painting, he began photographing recording artists as diverse in nature as vintage conscious-rappers The Watts Prophets and the heavily tattooed walking muscles known as The Boo-Yaa Tribe. While people were somewhat amazed at how a white Irish guy was managing to produce some of the most interesting hiphop photography to date, he states that he didn’t see the social distance between him and the artists; “ We’re basically only one step away from these people, it‘s not that hard.”
His subsequent photo work with the likes of Ice Cube, Eazy E, and Tone Loc, along with the release of the “It’s Not About A Salary” book, cemented his impact on the LA hiphop circuit and soon his friendship with a young DJ Shadow led to his excursion into video direction, most notably with the award winning “Midnight In A Perfect World” , followed by “High Noon”.
Having formed an invaluable bond with the Solesides crew, who later became Quannam, he continued to work within the emerging indie hiphop scene that was providing a more interesting alternative to the gangsta rants churned by Death Row Records and its affiliate wannabes.
Still as busy designing album covers as ever, his most recent work included his involvement in the DangerDoom album, the cartoon-infused collaboration between the much lauded MF Doom and Dangermouse.
Which bring me nicely to his current choice listening cuts. “Doooom”, he responds, with an earnest nod of his head that assures you he’s not kidding. “There’s no-one from that great era of hiphop doing it on the level that he is, no-one.” When I ask him who else he believes is making quality hiphop, he says “I’m not really feelin’ too much of the new younger cats, to be
honest. Maybe Dudley Perkins, Madlib…”. I hate Dudley Perkins, always have. When I tell him
this, he just shrugs. I shrug back. We continue.
Record collections tell a lot about a person, so with B+, there’s a lot to tell. Having caught his
post-KeepinTime screening DJ set a few months back, its obvious that the man has a deep knowledge and appreciation of what is best classified as “good music“. Jumping from hiphop to funk to soul to afrobeat to salsa to Latin, its world music, Jim - but not as we know it.
Perhaps its this wide ranging appreciation of all genres that led him to make the KeepinTime feature, more so than his ol skool hiphop allegiances.More a live recording than an actual documentary, it remains a historic moment in music as it unites for the first time the beat sampling turntablists that have pushed the DJ medium into the future with the legendary funk drummers of the 60’s and 70’s whose recordings have provided the backbone to thousands of
hiphop records created over the past 20 years.
While the actual music created during the free-styled live performance may not reach the high standards that have been delivered by both camps throughout their respective recording carriers, it actually surpasses it in many other ways, primarily as an unconscious blue-print for the way free-jazz should be created; live, unrehearsed and without boundaries. The subsequent relationship that developed between the drummers, the DJ’s and director B+, has allowed the
project to flourish into an entity in its own right, much more-so than was initially planned.
If KeepinTime was minimal in terms of discussion and interviews, its follow-up feature Brazilintime promises to deliver a more accomplished and fully formed exploration into the uniting qualities of rhythm. Only this time, everyone got to go to Brazil. ”Its an attempt to show what a hiphop music history film would look like, as best we can. And we tried to make something that’s multi-layered and non-linear. It joins dots in ways that you’re not quite expecting, and I think we accomplished all that to some extent…When that comes out, we’ll do all the festivals, release the album, the remixes...and continue doing some stuff along those lines.”
Undoubtedly, Brian Cross is a man with a whole pile of tales to tell, content to shoot the breeze on the culture that has become both his life, love and work. His stories are animated, well informed and incredibly interesting, but after 3 hours of conversation and 2 Guinness’s too many, sometimes you just have to go home. I bid him my farewell, and head home to wait for the hangover to set in.
Photo of Brian Cross playing at a cheebah night in Costellos many years ago