Image via Brainorchestra/Instagram

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Common’s “Be (Intro)” is still a top 5 intro in Oumar Saleh‘s books.

It’s at the halfway point of our conversation when Brainorchestra recounts what really inspired him to take his sample sourcing to another level. During his maiden European tour last year, he visited Sebb Bash in Switzerland and was immediately transfixed by his friend’s mammoth record collection. It wasn’t the number of vinyl that awed him, though. Despite being an avid crate digger himself with a fondness for video game scores and vintage Italian film soundtracks, he still couldn’t help but marvel at the range of Bash’s vast library. “I didn’t even know most of what he had,” he recalls.

From there, Brainorchestra would broaden his search even wider, becoming more meticulous when hunting for vinyl and through YouTube. His latest instrumental joint, the enchanting RITUALS, is the culmination of his adjusted approach. From blunted boom bap to nimble keys that tinkle from afar, tonal shifts are all over this 11-track trance best experienced in one sitting. “Nowadays, if someone comes to my spot and puts on a random record, they’ll understand why I bought it,” says the ascendant producer/rapper.

Even before he was alchemizing in the lab he’s christened “The Sanctuary,” Andrew Melo was constantly surrounded by music. A native of Elizabeth, New Jersey, his childhood was mostly spent messing around with his cousin’s drum kit, as well as the guitar, bass, trumpet, and violin. Later on, he’d spend family nights out at this lively neighborhood hangout called the Portuguese Club, where his drummer uncle would also croon covers in Portuguese and Spanish. Being from Elizabeth, a culturally diverse city not far from Newark and NYC and whose state introduced George Clinton, Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill, and Redman to the world, meant that there wasn’t a genre Melo wasn’t exposed to. He took notes on Jersey club’s breakneck tempos and chopped samples, the Latin pop reverberating from the Portuguese Club’s speakers, the classic rock his dad would blast everyday, and everything else in between.

As he got older, he sank his teeth deeper into hip-hop, getting hooked on Rakim, Biggie, Big L, Dipset, the Lox, and countless others. Inspired by his early favorites, he formed a rap group with three other friends and called themselves “The Doom.” They shared gig slots with punk bands, while Melo himself would skip classes and tinker with FruityLoops in his school’s computer lab. After signing up for a music production class during his junior year, Melo’s teacher spotted his early potential and set aside some extra homework. He’d challenge his pupil to add some melodies and to harmonize his beats more, pushing his grasp of the MIDI and programs like Logic and Reason to untapped limits. It was in those sessions where Melo — by then a faithful devotee of Donuts and Dilla time — would gain the confidence to keep producing, eventually dropping his first beat tape a couple of years after graduating high school.

A keen gamer as well as a studious hip-hop head, Brainorchestra would regularly weave influences together from Madlib to Metal Gear Solid. Like how Alain Goraguer embraced the weird, Brainorchestra reimagined Fallout 3’s wastelands and The Immortal’s dungeons to compose meditative sonic odysseys. As his more experimental alter-ego “lovetones,” he coped with the stresses of dead-end jobs, empty bank balances, and losing loved ones by making the immersive DOMÍ — a sombre, synth-laden tapestry that sounds as if Vangelis channelled 9th Wonder and Pink Floyd and refixed the Blade Runner soundtrack.

Whether it’s a concept album or a casually collated beat pack, each Brainorchestra instrumental presentation is his way of telling stories without words. His oeuvre shifts between nostalgic Golden Era homages, piano-heavy ruminations, and sepia-toned soul loops, veering towards ambient electronica whenever he’s in his lovetones bag. It’s this aural variety that’s earned him co-signs from one of his chief inspirations, The Alchemist, as well as beloved figures like Evidence, Pink Siifu, and Lord Apex – with the latter two confirmed to be featured guests on a future Brainorchestra album.

When Brainorchestra raps, his casual flow harks back to the whimsical mischief emanating from Del the Funky Homosapien’s earliest work. You can’t help but grin and nod your head whenever he compares his pengame to Hattori Hanzo’s way with swords. It’s fitting that he’ll be supporting Blu & Exile at San Francisco later this month; despite hailing from different coasts, Brainorchestra is a stylistic heir-of-sorts to the duo, but he’s a more mellow cat who’s showcased his burgeoning mastery of aspirational slick talk on his two rap releases (It Means a Lot and E-Town General 2) so far this year.

Less than 24 hours after rocking the Brooklyn Monarch stage for Souls of Mischief’s “93 ‘til Infinity” anniversary show last month, I caught up with the prolific E-Town General on Zoom to discuss his come-up, his musical influences, growing up in the Garden State, ‘70s European film soundtracks, scoring video games, and more.

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