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If you watched all the videos included in my recent B Side story on bopping—the playful, infectious, and increasingly popular dance movement heating up on the west side—you'll notice a few faces that pop up in more than one. There's Lil Kemo, aka Travon Biggs, the self-proclaimed "Bop King of Chicago" and the breakout star in the dance movement; there's Dlow, aka Daryon Simmons, Biggs's frequent dance collaborator and a bop star in his own right; and there's Breezy Montana, aka 24-year-old Travaris Brown, who's one of a small group of rappers providing a soundtrack for bopping. The last, a west-side MC, introduces Biggs and Simmons in the first video they made together, "Dlow and Kemo (Episode 1)," which also employs one of Brown's earliest songs ("Ballout"), and he's in the video for "Bop Like Me," a tune he cut with M.I.C's Lil Chris that's on Chris's recent Money Talks mixtape. Both "Bop Like Me" and "Ballout" are on Brown's debut mixtape, Rise 2 Fame, which he dropped Saturday.
Rise 2 Fame offers a good introduction to the ebullient party rap inspired by and made for bopping, a style of music Brown has played a prominent role in creating. DJ Nate may have provided the sound with its building blocks—Auto-Tuned vocals and sunny, melodic synths—but Brown's been a catalyst in turning it into, in his words, "a movement." Brown began recording tunes back in December, but says he actually began pushing his rap career in March, which is when he began uploading tunes such as "Sway" and "Havin Shit" to YouTube. He also used his YouTube channel to highlight the bop moves of his younger half brother, the aforementioned Simmons.
One of the earliest videos Brown uploaded shows Dlow dancing with a couple other boppers in a gas-station lot, their moves synching up with Brown's "Havin Shit." According to Brown, the video documents the beginning stages of Team Fiesta, the loose bopping collective that peaked at 500 members and dissolved a couple months ago. You can see Team Fiesta at its peak in the video for "Ballout," which features Brown (and his collaborator on the song, Keyani) rapping among scores of kids who turned out to bop while wearing Team Fiesta's red-white-and-blue bandannas. (Biggs and Simmons are in the clip as well.) While Simmons takes credit for starting Team Fiesta, Brown played an important role in building the collective into what it became, partially through providing the group with a fiesta-ready soundtrack.
Simmons isn't the only family member involved in the scene—producer Cicero on da Beat is Brown's cousin, and he made most of the beats for Rise 2 Fame. Brown says his cousin used to make beats that resemble the dark, aggressive drill sound, but Brown helped guide Cicero on da Beat to make the kind of sprightly, uplifting tunes that would go on to appear on Rise 2 Fame. Brown says he drew inspiration from a handful of rappers—Soulja Boy, Waka Flocka Flame, Future, Roscoe Dash—to come up with his vocal style, which largely sounds collected and cool throughout the mixtape. Occasionally Brown's delivery comes out stern and blunt, but he treats his voice with just enough Auto-Tune to make his most aggressive moments sound ever so slightly euphoric.
That says a lot about Brown; even when he goes hard on a track it tends to have the same upbeat, positive swing to it that he eagerly wants to convey in every aspect of his persona. When I speak with him over the phone he mentions that he regularly visits west-side schools to "be like a motivational speaker" to his younger fans, and he's quick to point out that he's uninterested in making narcissistically violent rap songs. Like many of the folks I interviewed for my story on the bop scene, Brown seeks to make tunes to lift people up, and it's easy to hear on the best tracks on Rise 2 Fame. It's also visible in the album artwork, which features Brown wearing a stars-and-stripes hat while standing in front of the American flag, an obvious nod to Team Fiesta (which, Brown says, he's trying to restart through, among other things, his music). Hell, it's even branded in Brown's stage name, which is partially inspired by Tony Montana, the main character in one of his favorite movies, Scarface. Tony Montana is an unusual choice for a positive role model, but in Brown's eyes it makes sense: "He came into America with nothing, but when he got here he got everything he wanted."