By Cameron Lee
August 15, 2021
While rapper and singer Dayleen Brown, aka Day Brown, has lived in Charlotte since the age of five, his musical influences derive from an early upbringing in Brooklyn. Born to a father with Caribbean roots and a mother from North Carolina, both of whom were raised in New York, his passion for music is a family affair.
Brown was brought up on the music of rock pioneer Fats Domino and the soulful echoes of Marvin Gaye, thanks to his grandmother, but the family’s love for music extended further. His mother, a singer and rapper, was heavily influenced by Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott, and his brothers CB and Ty aspired to be rappers during Brown’s childhood.
“My brothers were rappers and they rappped like gangster shit, like hardcore shit. My mom was like the neo-soul, militant lady,” he said. “So I got that like Black power [in the music], you’ll hear part of that on the album…in the song “Dolla Billz,” I’m just kind of kicking that old flow.”
From his latest album Dayday, “Dolla Billz” speaks on the trappings of seeking money in the streets. It’s layered over a dreary self-produced beat with cinematic horns, and Brown sings on the hook: “Dollar bills just come to me, let’s runaway, no fumbling, no funds / My brother said that n***as die like every day, don’t you be the one.”
While the impact of Brown’s family is evident in his music and lyrics today, rap wasn’t always condoned in his household. The youngest of three boys in the family, Brown’s mother predetermined a separate path for him after they moved to Charlotte in the late ’90s. Brown got a taste of the “rap life” early at the age of 11, when his older brothers brought him to a music studio, but Brown was pushed away by his mother, who didn’t allow him to partake in the violence of video games and gangster rap music.
“So my mom just kind of signed me up [for dance class] when I was 12. It was the same time I went to the studio for the first time, basically that same summer,” he said.
Learning traditional dance like ballet and jazz, Brown discovered an affection for hip-hop dance, which would eventually lead to a career as a professional dancer in his teenage years. His dance prowess led him to competitions, conventions, and even appearances on BET’s 106 and Park and the musical comedy film, Hair Spray, released in 2007.
When Brown started to grow weary of being in the background as a dancer, he cultivated the musical ambitions that were boiling inside of him. So at 17, he began taking vocal and piano lessons to develop his skills and grow as an artist.
At South Mecklenburg High School, Brown was a part of a hip-hop collective called the Gifted that went on to play at venues in the city like Area 15, Red@28th, Dupp & Swat, and Petra’s. It wasn’t until around 2017 Brown started working on solo projects, later releasing Midnight Blue and later 199G on Bandcamp. Showing promise and refining his sound over the years, he’s dropped various singles and released a six-track EP in June dedicated to his newborn son, Diem (Latin for Day). This month, he released his eight-track album, Dayday.
On the track “Project Baby” from Dayday, Brown flexes his higher pitched singing voice, contrasting his more hoarse low-pitched rap voice, telling the tales of an inner city hustler. “Visions of the green but just how far can we take it / headed to the re-up, pray to god that I make,” he sings. His raps counter these contemplating thoughts not only in pitch, but in perspective: “I got that burner on me I’m a hitta / She bout to tell her friends how I did it, came up from the basement like I’m Tigga.” It’s this duality of singing and rapping that makes Brown standout throughout his growing catalog of music.
While plenty of rappers in our current and past generations have altered their voices to provide depth and perspective in songs, Brown’s natural rap and singing voices are decidedly different.
“When I first started rapping it was only deep and raspy and there was no tone or inflection. It was nothing cool about it. I didn’t sound hard, it just sounded rough. So then I started using my singing voice to counteract how deep the voice was. And I was like, holy shit. Yeah, this works,” Brown said.
The distinct singing and rapping parts represent two different personas, a modern take on some early influences. Brown references the soulful streetwise R&B/rap collaborations of the mid-’90s as a heavy impact on his sound.
“Jay-Z had a formula for hit records. He said that the hook needs to have a melody, because people want to sing along whether they believe it or not. So give them something to sing with,” Brown said. “And that’s where I started to find my pocket and swag. Okay, sing the hook and rap the verse.”
Now Brown, who is independent as a solo act, works out of Insynction Studios in Charlotte with his close friend Chris Jefferys Jr, a producer, engineer, and owner of the studio. Under the tutelage of Jefferys, Brown has become an in-house producer and engineer, honing his craft as an artist and writing songs for others.
Toward the end of our conversation, Brown asked me if I knew what the No. 1 album of all time was. I paused for a few seconds, before he replied, Thriller. As a young aspiring dancer, Brown memorized and recited all of the dance moves in the groundbreaking 1983 Michael Jackson music video.
“I think albums still matter, and I want to be like in every person’s home. I want to be at people’s weddings. You know what I mean? I want to be a part of people’s lives that way,” he said.
Brown has grand expectations of where his artistry will take him as a songwriter, producer, and engineer and, while it’s nearly impossible to ever come close to an iconic album such as Thriller, he certainly exhibits the versatility to create the next great one– including the dance moves.
Listen to Dayday, the latest album by Day Brown.