The German producer behind Que's inescapable smash "OG Bobby Johnson" tells us how the hit was made, how to get discovered on the Internet, and the one song he just can't stop playing.
By now, you've probably heard Que's "OG Bobby Johnson" more times than you can possibly remember. The song, released late in 2013, peaked at #20 on the Billboard Hip-hop/R&B charts and the music video has four and a half million views on YouTube. It's become a mainstay of Top 40 radio and sees regular rotation among club DJs, and you'll be sure to hear it blasting out of car stereos everywhere this summer. Off the strength of "OG Bobby Johnson," Que secured a contract with Atlantic Records and dropped his first official EP Who Is Que.
The song's title has two meanings: it's a reference to a character of the same name from the classic 1992 movie South Central, and it's the name of the beat's producer, Bobby Johnson. Born Adrian Brusch and based in Germany, Bobby Johnson has already established a name for himself through a number of collaborations—he's worked with Tree, King Louie, Ransom, Jose Guapo, and Zilla, to name a few. Complex recently spoke with Brusch to learn how he got into production, what it was like to work with Que, and more.
Interview by Gabriel Herrera (@gabrielherrera)
So tell me a little about yourself.
I'm 24 years old, and I have been making music for about 9-10 years now...I'm from Germany.
[A city in] northern Germany; it's called Bremen. The biggest city near it is Hamburg.
Did you get into rap music from an early age?
The first stuff I liked was rock music and nu-metal, and then later I got into hip-hop. That was around when I was 12 or 13 years old.
So you first started making beats after that?
Yeah, around 14-15 years old. The thing that felt the most natural for me was making beats so I stuck to that.
Why did you choose the name Bobby Johnson?
I gotta clarify that it has nothing to do with the character [from the movie South Central]. I didn't even know that this movie existed. How I got the name, it's actually pretty random: I was at a party, before I started producing, and some guy starts calling me Bobby Johnson...I'm not exactly sure why, but I guess it was because back in the day when it was cool to wear baggy clothes, I showed up wearing [that], and I was the only one [laughs]. So I guess to this guy it looked American, and so he decided to call me an American-sounding name. A couple of months later when I started making beats, I was looking for a name, and that popped up in my head, and so I stuck with that.
So how did you originally learn to produce?
Before I started producing, I was playing the drums. I started playing drums when I was six years old, and I played for about 6-7 years, I think. I'm not a good player but that's how I learned basics about rhythm...it was a good foundation. I guess I just learned by doing. When I first started I didn't even have Internet. This was nine or ten years ago, so not everybody had Internet back then. When you log onto YouTube nowadays, you see tutorials all over the place, and everyone teaches you how to make beats, which is a great thing. But when I didn't have Internet, [I] had to learn it by myself. I just made [beats] for fun, and I liked it, so I guess I just taught it to myself.
What software did you start out using?
[Laughs] I started out with the classic Magix Music Maker, with the little loops. Then I switched to Fruity Loops, and now I have been using Cubase for five years.
Do you use any hardware, too?
I've just got a MIDI keyboard.
Did you first contact Que about working together?
Yeah, absolutely. I heard his stuff on mixtapes, the "Young Hitta" track. I decided to hit him up off that, send him some beats. One or two weeks later he hit me back on Twitter, and then he released ["OG Bobby Johnson"]. It was first released on a tape from the Southern Smoke series by DJ Smallz.
When I'm making a beat, as soon as I get the melody, the rest starts playing in my head. I can just hear it.
Can you tell the story of how the beat was made?
I was playing around with presets for the melody, and I found this one—the arpeggiated melody is layered, and you probably don't hear that, but I started with one of those sounds. I came up with the melody pretty quickly. Most of the times when I'm making a beat, as soon as I get the melody, the rest just starts playing in my head, so to say, if that makes any sense. I can just hear it. The trick is to program it fast enough before you forget it, or it fades out in your head, you know? It's actually kind of quick. You've got the melody, [which] is a matter of seconds, and then the rest of the beat, the structure and the concept, I laid that down in ten to fifteen minutes. And then there's mixing, and I spent some time to get the details right, little stuff. I think Que mixed the vocals, and he did some rearranging of parts, too. He re-ordered it a bit.
How did things change after the success of that track?
Some stuff changed, some things stayed the same. Some stuff gets easier. A lot of people contact you. People that you've been trying to connect with for a while actually end up hitting your inbox, which is a pretty good feeling. Doors open.
Is the song popular in Germany? Have you heard it on the radio or anything?
Nah, not really. The hip-hop fans in Germany, loads of them know the song, but the musical landscape [here] is a bit different. In the US, hip hop is way more mainstream than here. It wouldn't fit in the radio landscape here at all.
Even though you work with artists who have a strong base in Atlanta, you don't stick to one city, or a regional sound. You've worked with Tree and King Louie from Chicago as well, how did that come about?
When I make music, it's not like I'm trying to mimic a certain regional sound. I just make what comes out. Of course, there are influences, so in my music you can probably hear the Atlanta influences, but you can also hear Drill and Chicago influences, also West Coast and Bay Area influences. I just decided to hit up King Louie and Tree, and the tracks came out pretty good. I'm trying to make a sound that is kind of universal, and that goes well with rappers from different regions.
Do you have any plans to come to the US?
Yeah, I'm going to be there in about two weeks—I'm going to Atlanta, we'll see what happens.
What else have you been listening to recently?
I've been listening to the new Migos tape, which is absolutely crazy. I have been listening to Young Thug, who is also great. Let me check my iTunes—Kevin Gates, K Camp, Ty$; Johnny Cinco, I really like his stuff. Gunplay, too. I think I say this in every interview, but I gotta say it because I like it so much, the "Work" remix by A$AP Ferg...I really love that track, I can't get enough of it. Mostly when you listen to a track, after a while you get fed up with it and you move on, but that track, man, I can listen to it over and over again and it doesn't get boring. I gotta give my respects to the producers, Chinza and Fly [Beats].
How do you discover new music usually?
I check blogs. I check OnSmash, Complex of course [Laughs]. I check Pitchfork. There are so many blogs. I like blogs that post a lot of different music, not just hip-hop. It's interesting to broaden your horizions, not to limit yourself too much in listening habits.
The "Work" remix by A$AP Ferg...I really love that track, I can't get enough of it.
What else do you listen to besides hip-hop?
I mostly listen to hip-hop, but some other artists I like are Florence and the Machine, Lana Del Rey, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Frank Ocean. I have to name the big nu-metal bands from a decade ago, like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, that music still pumps me up. Or Papa Roach, that's still great music to me. I'm pretty basic in my approach—if I listen to it and I like it, then that's it.
Do any musicians in particular inspire you?
Back when I started, I was heavily influenced by all the big guys like Timbaland, the Neptunes, Dr. Dre, Needles, and Scott Storch. All those guys basically laid the foundation for my perception and understanding of making beats. For my current sound I also have to give credit to Death Grips. Nowadays, I just listen to whatever interests me, not any certain producers. Like with "Work," if you listen to it, it sounds kind of simple, but it's so texturized and complex and the sounds are so well picked and arranged and the beat doesn't get boring. This is something that inspires me to do something like that to my tracks as well—to make it sound simple on one hand, but really have it texturized and well-produced.
Have you heard of Young Ravisu?
He's a producer from Poland. He did the beat to "Citgo" from Chief Keef's album Finally Rich. It reminded me a little of what happened to you—he just had his beats up online and Chief Keef got in contact with him. It seems like there are more and more producers from around the world getting in contact with American rappers. What's your take on that?
There's definitely luck involved, that goes without saying. But on the other hand, of course you have to stay consistent. You gotta have quality. Of course the Internet is essential. You have to bring something that distinguishes you from other guys. Also relationships are key. If you're sending tracks to a guy like Que, you have to know that you're competing with some of the best producers in the game. Sonny Digital, Metro Boomin, he knows these guys. So when you email him, he doesn't even know you! It's definitely harder to get work done via email. He doesn't need to check his email to get beats, but if he does and clicks on one randomly, there's already luck involved. To stack the odds as high as possible in your favor, you have to stay consistent, and you gotta bring quality. That's what it comes down to.
Have you considered collaborating with some American producers?
Actually, I did some collabs already. I worked with Sledgren from Taylor Gang, I did a track with Reazy from The Renegades, also Kino Beats.
What rappers would you like to work with in the future?
Young Thug, the whole A$AP Mob, Kendrick and the whole TDE camp. Really it's so many people...so many people have their own individual sounds.
Have you seen South Central yet, by the way?
[Laughs] Actually, I still haven't.