Let's Remember the BrandCore Collabs of the 2010s

Let's Remember the BrandCore Collabs of the 2010s
Aliens: this is what scrolling music blogs from 2010-2015 looked like.

Welcome to Inbox Infinity, a music writer's attempt to recapture excitement via his Gmail inbox.

The first three essays I've written for Inbox Infinity have either been depressing or sappy, so for a change, let's talk about something fun. While I was working on the Danny Brown anniversary essay that ran last week, I found myself face-to-face with a specific slice of early-2010s music phenomena that was everywhere at the time but now seems impossibly dated and woefully under-discussed. There's not an existing umbrella term for this swath of culture, so bear with me as I attempt to set its borders.

In the mid-2000s, two massive corporations, Toyota and PepsiCo, launched record labels. Scion A/V and Green Label Sound were attempts by the company's more youth-targeted offshoots (Scion and Mountain Dew, respectively) to engage in what they called "lifestyle marketing." If you associate A-Trak or the Cool Kids with a product, the thinking must've gone, you're more likely to buy it. For a decade or so, both would release a fairly wide range of music before folding in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

While everyone from Meshuggah to Matt and Kim put out music on these labels, there's a specific type of single that stands out as representative of not just Scion A/V and Green Label Sound, but of an entire era of what I'd call "crossover appeal" marketing. You take two or more fairly disparate artists—say, The Black Lips and GZA—and put out a single on a label that has ties to an entity outside of the traditional music industry, such as a TV station, a magazine, a clothing company, or a soda.

The biggest players in this brief-but-prolific game were, along with Scion and Mountain Dew, NYC streetwear brand MISHKA, Cartoon Network programming block Adult Swim, VICE Media, The FADER, and Mass Appeal (the last three all beginning as magazines but branching out into other media once it became clear that print media wasn't going to keep the lights on all by itself). This phenomenon is also impossible to discuss without DJ-run labels like Steve Aoki's Dim Mak, Diplo's Mad Decent, and A-Trak and Nick Catchdubs' Fool's Gold, which actually worked with Scion for a while. But even when an outside company wasn't involved, these one-off collaborations often felt less like the product of artistic camaraderie and more like crossover attempts. It's not quite GRAMMYs medleys or the new Chris Stapleton/Cindy B Santana/Snoop Dogg Monday Night Football theme, but it's not that far off.

For this reason, I'm gonna call it BrandCore. The song matches the criteria I established above, was released between 2010 and 2015, and maybe has bright, flashy single artwork? That's BrandCore, baby.

BrandCore has its roots in the mashup culture of the 2000s, which most famously gave us Girl Talk, but also inspired things like A-Trak's Dirty South Dance series, Crookers' hugely popular remix of Kid Cudi's "Day 'n' Night," the duo N.A.S.A. (who else had The Spirit of Apollo on CD?), and Diplo and Sinden's series of Free Gucci tapes. Kids like me were hungry for anything that mixed hip hop with dance music or indie rock, and that's why in October 2009 I ended up test-driving a car around a couples of blocks in the Lower East Side to score free tickets to a Girl Talk/OJ Da Juiceman show. When I've told this story in the ensuing years, I've identified the car as a Scion, but upon Googling this exact concert now, it turns out it was actually a Kia Soul?! Apparently they had a whole "test drives for tickets" initiative in NYC that year. Car companies were really going for it back then!

I had this poster in my dorm room.

BrandCore is mostly dead, but anytime an EDM artist collaborates with a rapper, or in the case of someone like Carnage, makes that their entire thing, you see its legacy persisting. Perhaps the most lasting vestige of BrandCore is Run The Jewels, the once-unlikely duo of Atlanta Dungeon Family member Killer Mike and New York Def Jux founder/Company Flow member El-P. The pair were introduced to each other by Adult Swim's Jason DeMarco, and released a Killer Mike album (produced by El-P) on the network's Williams Street label before forming RTJ.

But now for the really fun part. Here are my picks for the five best and five worst BrandCore singles of all time. If I don't mention your favorite (or least favorite) please drop me a line!

The Best

  1. Killer Mike & Flying Lotus - "Swimming" (Adult Swim Singles, 2011)

Pre-RTJ, it was shocking to hear Mike on this type of beat. Even if it was an existing FlyLo beat, pretty cool.

  1. Low Pros Feat. Young Thug & PeeWee Longway - "Jack Tripper" (Fool's Gold, 2014)

If anyone seemed like they were making BrandCore for only the purest, most genuine reasons, it was A-Trak. He'll be on this list a few times, but here it's for Low Pros, his one-off collab with trap producer Lex Luger, most famous for his contributions to Flockaveli. "Jack Tripper" has some absolutely wild lyrics.

  1. A-Trak & Cam'ron - "Dipshits" (Fool's Gold, 2014)

This pair's long-rumored album finally came out last year, but we first got a taste of it back in 2014, when they shared this Yes-sampling banger co-produced by Just Blaze.

  1. Danny Brown & Araabmuzik - "Molly Ringwald" (Yours Truly, 2012)

Still as hard as it was the day it dropped.

  1. iLoveMakonnen, Ezra Koenig & Despot - "Down 4 So Long (Remix)" (Red Bull, 2014)

A classic that I still play all the time. The Vampire Weekend frontman has no right spitting as impressive a verse as he does.

Honorable Mentions: Captain Murphy, Viktor Vaughn, Earl Sweatshirt & Thundercat - "Between Villains" (Adult Swim Singles, 2013), RL Grime & Problem - "Secondary" (Fool's Gold, 2013)

The Worst

  1. A-Trak & CyHi Da Prynce - "Ray Ban Vision" (Fool's Gold & Scion A/V, 2012)

Remember CyHi?

  1. JJ & Ne-Yo - "We Can't Stop" (Adult Swim Singles, 2011)

Forget CyHi, remember JJ?? There's some real early 2010s memory-hole material.

  1. Steve Aoki & Rivers Cuomo - "Earthquakey People" (Dim Mak, 2011)

Play at your own risk.

  1. Uffie & Pharrell - "A.D.D. S.U.V." (Ed Banger, 2010)

Whatever the opposite of going off is, that's what Pharell's doing here.

  1. Major Lazer Feat. Bruno Mars, Tyga & Mystic - "Bubble Butt" (Mad Decent, 2013)

If you'd forgotten about this one, sorry for reminding you.

(Dis)honorable mentions: A-Trak, Juicy J & Danny Brown - "Piss Test" (Fool's Gold, 2012), Lil Herb & Earl Sweatshirt - "Knucklehead" (Red Bull, 2014), Flosstradamus & Caroline Polachek - "Big Bills" (Green Label Sound, 2009), Young Thug, A$AP Ferg, Freddie Gibbs, Salva & Nick Hook - "Old English" (Mass Appeal, 2014)

BOI (Best of Inbox) #4

A Beacon School - "Mantra"

It's always incredible to see an artist combine their influences in a seamless, singular way. Since he began releasing songs as A Beacon School in 2011, Patrick J. Smith has steadily evolved from rough-around-the-edges, garage-y dream pop into something more sleek and electronic-leaning without losing any of his initial spark. The Beach Fossils and Real Estate vibes are still there, but as he's improved as a producer, IDM braininess and Deerhunter lushness have also become dominant forces. "Mantra," the final single from his upcoming album yoyo, rides a krautrock-style locked groove that's as methodical as the song title suggests, while Smith weighs the benefits of stagnancy versus change over jangly guitars. Full disclosure: Smith and I were friends in college, but I don't think I'm being biased when I say that he consistently continues to top his last work. yoyo is out tomorrow, 10/13.

David Baron - "City of Nerves"

David Baron is a record producer, film composer, musician, arranger, and engineer whose latest album boasts an intriguing feat of limitation. The ARP 2500 was entirely recorded with its namesake, the circa-1970 synthesizer that was built by a NASA scientist. This user-unfriendly behemoth was a favorite among '70s rockers looking to prog out their sounds (The Who, Elton John), electronic pioneers (Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis), and modern weirdos (Aphex Twin, John Frusciante) alike. "City of Nerves" shows exactly what's special about this dinosaur instrument, delivering a specifically 20th Century-tinted vision of the future, a billowing ride over a brighter version of Blade Runner's dystopia. The ARP 2500 is out 11/17.

Del Paxton - "Up With a Twist"

It makes total sense that Buffalo trio Del Paxton's new album Auto Locator is out on emo stalwart Topshelf Records, because it's got a knotty earnestness that reminds me so much of the label's classic output during the early-to-mid-2010s start of the "emo revival." A hooky, riff-littered song about the shittiness of modern architecture? Sign me up. If you're a fan of (deep breath while I Remember Some Guys) Prawn, Yourself and the Air, Legs Like Tree Trunks, Nai Harvest, or anything up that alley, this will scratch an itch.

The Keening - "The Hunter I"

Anyone else miss SubRosa? The SLC-based baroque doom band were one of the most unique metal acts during their all-too-brief 14-year run, delivering two albums that deserve consideration on any 2010s metal list (2013's More Constant Than The Gods and 2016's For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages). Thankfully, lead singer/guitarist Rebecca Vernon is back with a new solo project called The Keening, and it satisfies the starved SubRosa fan in me while also boldly venturing further afield from metal. Little Bird is more gothic folk than anything else, but it retains some of that doom muscle. "The Hunter I" is the opener of an enrapturing two-part murder ballad that, in its scanning of the nocturnal horizon for its pursuer's campfire light, recalls the Hobbits' flight from the Nazgûl as well as Butch Cassidy's repeated quandary of "Who are those guys?"

Laura Misch - "Hide To Seek"

Laura Misch is a jazz-pop saxophonist/singer/producer with a distinctly British sound, and I'm devastated that it took me this long to hear her music. "Hide To Seek," the opener from her upcoming album Sample The Sky, begins with pillowy ambience before Misch's rich voice and a skittering, UK garage-indebted beat carry things into more danceable territory. That little turn at 1:57 where the synth pads come in? Fuck me, that's cool. Sample The Sky is out tomorrow, 10/13.

Morag Tong - "A Stem's Embrace"

Naming your doom band after Skyrim/Dark Souls/Elder Scrolls/Elden Ring ephemera is the new naming your doom band after Tolkien ephemera. Morag Tong are a London band who play devastatingly beautiful, yet still crushing melodic doom, and this centerpiece of their new album Grieve showcases what they do best. The first third is a gradual, graceful build with mournful clean vocals; the second is heavy and mournful; the third brings us home with a tasty, fuzzed-out guitar solo that leads into a crushing breakdown.


ODUMODUBLVCK is a Nigerian rapper/singer who just released a fantastic mixtape called EZIOKWU (THE TRUTH) last week. I was torn between featuring this song and the much harder "SHOOT AND GO HOME," but ultimately opted for the prettier of the two. "KUBOLOR" boasts a nimble, effervescent feature from Ghanaian-American singer Amaarae, whose Fountain Baby is one of the year's best pop albuums.

PYNUKA - "Burn (club mix)"

How's this for an odd pairing? PYNUKA is a new synthy collaboration between Goodflesh/Jesu's Justin Broadrick, Antibalas/Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings affiliate Anda Szilagyi, and producer Christian McKenna. "Burn (club mix)," a dancey highlight from their upcoming album Not In The Sense That We Did Something Wrong, is I suppose somewhat akin to Broadrick's more uptempo work in Techno Animal and JK Flesh, but even still, its loose, playful vibe comes as a pleasant surprise. Not In The Sense That We Did Something Wrong is out tomorrow, 10/13.

Tee Grizzley Feat. Finesse2Tymes - "Grizzley 2Tymes"

I often forget that Tee Grizzley's still out here making consistently great music. Emerging in 2016 with the best "First Day Out" since Gucci Mane's, the Detroit rapper is known for his tireless flow, which often slowly crescendos during a verse, to thrilling effect. Add in a beat by hometown stalwart Helluva and you've got a slapper.

Walter "Wolfman" Washington - "I Feel So At Home Here"

The Wolfman, a New Orleans blues legend, just died at age 79 last December. Just before passing, he recorded a final collection of songs with some members of the local jam band Galactic, and those song will be released in a posthumous album later this year. "I Feel So At Home Here," the lead single, is simply gorgeous, lushly arranged with technicolor strings and horns that swirl around Washington's weathered voice and honeyed guitar licks. If this song is to be believed, the man went out at peace with the rich life he'd led. Feel So At Home is out 11/17.

All Inbox Infinity picks are available in playlist form via Apple Music and Spotify.

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Jamie Larson