The influence of video games winds its way through Bryson the Alien’s discography, from pixel art aesthetics to production concepts, like this summer’s grimy Rumble Pak EP. It shows up in his approach to art as a whole, even when he works outside the nerdcore, as on his latest release, the collaborative EP Keyboard Kid Vs. Bryson the Alien. Consider the Sega Dreamcast, which the Rose City rapper calls his favorite console:
“I feel like it was very underrated; It was ahead of its time. It wasn’t quite understood. It was like a glitch in the Matrix, almost, because compared to Playstation and Nintendo 64 graphics, it was just amazing. Like Sonic Adventure–that shit looked unreal at that time. I always remembered how jarring that was.”
Though it spelled the end for Sega as a hardware developer, it also pioneered online gaming and second-screen features–a spirit that BTA carries on by taking risks and pursuing left-field ideas in music. As a dark horse in indie hip-hop, you could call him the Sega Dreamcast of rappers, lacking popular recognition but carving out more and more space in his own niche. That led him to work with Keyboard Kid, the artist best known as producer and tour DJ for veteran rapper Lil B. They connected at the suggestion of BTA’s Sumalienz labelmate Just Alfa.
“Alfa told me he seen Keyboard Kid was having a beat sale. I had already sent Juenethia to Lil B earlier this year, and he said he really liked the record, so that gave me confidence to message Keyboard to collab.” BTA saw an opportunity in the “intergalactic vibes” of Keyboard Kid’s production style–a springboard for his own spaced-out imagination. “I like that it’s different. It puts me in that really creative zone when I hear his stuff.”
With mixing help from Alfa, he wound up with six Keyboard Kid-produced tracks, narrowed down to four for the finished list. As usual, he aimed for outside-the-box ideas, as on the single “The Way,” featuring Fat Tony: an ode to a woman who makes her living as a sex worker on OnlyFans. He zeroed in on the concept from an earlier iteration of the song; BTA’s first verse in the finished track was originally the second, but he decided to cut bars about himself to focus on the track’s female lead.
“It kind of dawned on us, no one has made anything like this yet that really shines that light in a funny, positive, kinda quirky way,” he says. And to give it even more depth, Alfa also produced the EP’s intermission skit, “Toxic,” as a lead-in to “The Way.” It came together after the rest of the project, and again, BTA wanted to flip the script of other records.
“I thought it’d be kind of funny to have a skit of girls talking about how shitty dudes are,” he says. “You know, I thought it would be something you typically don’t see. I wanted to put them in the driver’s seat.”
With features from higher-profile artists like Fat Tony and even The BasedGod himself, Keyboard Kid vs. Bryson the Alien may be ahead of its time in BTA’s discography. But the way he sees it, as he rapped on a track from Rumble Pak earlier this year, his only peers are his idols. He says the opportunity to work with them was a dream come true and the product of hard work.
“I wouldn’t have expected to have something like this this early on in my career, but also, I feel like people see that I’m really trying and I’m really working, so I think they want to give me that push. It’s an amazing feeling, and I’m happy to share it with people.”
With the onset of the pandemic back in March, BTA was laid off from his restaurant job, but the silver lining was more time to record. That’s when he set up a home studio space in the shed behind his house and got to work on the dozen-or-so releases that have already come out this year. It also prompted him to change the way he tracked vocals, taking on a gentler, more whispery delivery to counteract the harshness of the times.
“I’m just trying to be the pleasant part of your day. Like, I’m not trying to get on here and jump and scream and yell orders or be misogynistic or nothin’. I’m just trying to get a couple laughs out of you, tell you a couple of things I’ve learned, some shit I’ve been through–it’s more like a conversational thing. I want people to feel like I’m right next to you telling you this story.”
The whisper is an exclusive 2020 special, but he’s got plenty more (and more out-there) stories on the way. Rumble Pak featured outtakes from his upcoming third full-length album, BTA World 64, which he hopes to release in the spring. As the title implies, it leans harder into his gaming inspiration, this time drawing on the classic Sega beat-em-up Streets of Rage.
“It starts with the ‘press start’ screen, and then each song is like a different stage. Then it ends with ‘game over.’ It’s kind of a dystopian, sci-fi vibe, like if it was set 100 years from now,” he says. “I talk about going through portals, laser guns, fighting off enemies and stuff, so it’s more like a conceptual record, in a way.”
BTA says he’s grateful that although so many things have been disrupted by the dire circumstances of life under lockdown, he’s also been able to reach more listeners and potential musical partners while everybody’s more dialed into social media and electronic means of communication.
“It’s just been really cool that this has even been able to happen during this pandemic. I really feel like it was a blessing in that way, slowing things down, to be able to grab people’s attention and collaborate.”
Keyboard Kid vs. Bryson the Alien is available to stream and download now, and be on the lookout for more from Sumalienz before year’s end.