Interview: Rapper and Producer Brainorchestra Unveils His Studio & Live Rig

While New Jersey State is home to many iconic hip hop artists, the city of Elizabeth is a lesser known destination, with neighboring Newark, Jersey City and Patterson completing New Jersey’s most populous cities. Unrelated to music, Elizabeth, NJ is home to celebrity chef Tom Colicchio (Top Chef) and children’s author Judy Blume.As far as famous hip hop acts, DJ Cool V, producer and DJ for the late great Biz Markie, is a native, but nobody else from the “mainstream” has come from Elizabeth. However, there is such rich history and close proximity to a diverse mix of artists in area code 908, so that could change very soon. It’s bubbling with talented musicians just below the radar.

Brainorchestra, born Andrew Melo, is one of Elizabeth’s best kept secrets, but with his onslaught of quality hip hop projects and masterful approach, he will soon be a household name. He’s a native of the place affectionately known as E-Town, and has been cooking up his own brand of unfuckwithable hip hop for years. For him, growing up in Elizabeth had its advantages.


Elizabeth is geographically snuggled within the East Coast’s vast and influential beat scene. Home to a culturally diverse melting pot and ubiquitous New Jersey club music, there was no shortage of styles and genres for Brain to explore. Elizabeth also has an incredible live music scene, with legendary hip hop performances being a normal occurrence.

A devout student of hip hop, the 28-year-old maestro grew up listening to everything from Jersey club to classic rock and was noodling around with bass, guitar, trumpet, snare drum and the violin as a small child. Brain credits his early years as a literal sponge to his uncle and cousin, who were “always playing music.” His uncle was a drummer, and his cousin had a drum set they could always mess around with. Brain would also accompany his family to parties at a local spot called The Portuguese Club, where hundreds of people would dance to his uncle’s Portuguese song covers, Rock music, Spanish music and Top 40. These parties were a “zoo” as he explained, and either his uncle or cousin would be right at the center of it all. Brain began to admire the power of music at a very young age, and was always surrounded by active musicians and live instruments.

In middle school, Brain was curious and playful, taking up instruments as an extension of his surroundings, but by the time he attended Elizabeth High School, he was making beats to get out of class. By his own admission, “it was more fun than writing papers, and they had a studio in a classroom computer lab.” This kind of extra credit would prove to be foundational, as he found himself in the computer lab all the time. Brain was flirting with rapping during this period too, but his love of crafting flows paled in comparison to his hunger for beat making.


Instrumentation is at the forefront of Brain’s production origin story, and his fledgling rapping made him want to be able to create the music for the raps. As he began experimenting more and more with the beats, he began finding the pockets for his rhymes. He was skipping class, playing music constantly, finding out ways to get into musical extracurricular activities and laying the groundwork for a promising career.

Being able to improvise basic tunes with live instruments was pivotal for Brain, but his curious mind would open even more with his introduction to workstations and drum machines. Enter FL studio, the DAW with a graphical user interface and a pattern-based music sequencer. Brain had a buddy, Frankie, who let him play around with FL studio for fun. Brain would program instruments with an already rudimentary understanding of how they worked, making self-proclaimed “weird shit” for a few years.

Around age 15, Brain had a teeny-bopper job and, with the help of his parents, was able to save up the money for his very own Maschine. Once he started really digging in and learning about drums and sampling, he was able to fully immerse himself in the surrounding beat culture. Comparatively, if his high school peers were making beats, they were making the abrasive, keyboard leaning stuff of the early 2000s: Li’l Wayne-type, Diplomats-style beats. However, a few friends like fellow Elizabeth native and artist Subjxct5 and a friend named Vibes, introduced him to the MPC 2000 XL, a crowning jewel of hip hop production. Vibes was already adept at making beats on the MPC and Brain was fascinated by this. The rest, as they say, is history. As Brain’s worlds continued to collide, he began a true education in hip hop production.

Fast forward to 2023 and Brain has already released two projects with more on the way. His latest, “E Town General 2,” comes right off the heels of the acclaimed Fat Beats release, “It Means A Lot.” He’s got dozens of projects and contributions to other musicians’ projects in his discography, with no signs of slowing down. I recently got the opportunity to chat with the prolific touring artist, rapper and producer from his Elizabeth, NJ home studio. In addition to discussing his childhood and love of sample-based hip hop production, we chatted about his current studio tools, his latest releases and his future music plans.

As a young teen you were exposed to live instrumentation and beat machines. How did that early education lead you to loving a particular piece of gear and inform your love of vinyl sampling?

Taking it way way back to the nitty gritty of it? It was when I first started using the 2000 XL…I really started getting my head sort of wrapped around how powerful the gear is. Like, what you could do with it [and] the way you could chop and layer. I wasn’t even really doing that yet, but I understood it, because I was using [the gear] too. Then I would listen to shit like Dilla and Madlib and I’d be like, oh, okay, I see and I kind of hear what they’re doing. They’re layering…but there’s other shit in here that’s not in the sample. This part is not that part. [I’d be thinking] there’s either a new part, or some other shit [they’re putting in the beat]. I would be going crazy, like, oh they’re doing some wild shit!

When you think about it, [in the studio] bands are just recording instruments; then they’re EQ’ing all the shit that comes in over here and over there. It’s the lows and the highs and the delays. So [these hip hop producers basically] treat the MPC like a mixer. Just a mixer that plays stuff in a loop form.

Once I started thinking like that, I was like, okay I think I got the hang of it. Over time, I was running my Maschine, then the 2000 XL for a while, but then I bought an MPC Live about four years ago. THAT’s when shit really started going crazy, because by the time I got the MPC Live I was already using Ableton.

I was doing all those layering ideas right in Ableton instead of the drum machine. I had a Maschine, but I was really using it more like a VST in Ableton, so I was using it as a tool up to that point. But when I got the MPC Live it led me to think about layering in a different way, and I went to another level [artistically]. Now I’ll just sit here and do crazy shit! You just kind of never stop learning on the MPC like that. You’ll always find new ways to do stuff.

Let’s talk about your live sets. What gear are you using these days?

I have the SP-555 and I use it live with Serato, and I use the SP for extra sound effects, like making the song do even more weird shit.

On the track “How You Gettin Yours?” you say “All I need is MPCs, blunts, records and one mic.” Now what’s your dream piece of gear, or something you could really use in the studio that you haven’t gotten around to getting yet?

A Moog synthesizer. I’ve used one but never owned one. If I ever get one of those? I’ll do some wild shit!

How do you feel about the great sample debates of the day? People argue every minute on social media about how much is too much, or about who was sampling what back in the day.

Hip hop producers have been sampling forever, from salsa to Motown Hits. Now, we’re just giving our ID on it. I’m not on some purist shit. Like, yes, I’ll go and drop a bunch of money on vinyl. I’ll do that because it’s just a part of the process and I feel like people should do that. Like, if you wanna make beats and this is a lane you wanna be in…there’s a process that sometimes you gotta do. You don’t have to always do it, but it’s a part of it. If I hear some shit that I can put into a beat, I’m gonna do it. I don’t care if it came out 3 minutes ago.

There’s jazz shit coming out currently that sounds crazy! Artists love having a crazy opinion on shit that consumers don’t care about. I’m just gonna keep doing what I do—I don’t care if it’s some Italian shit from ’72 or some shit that just came out. Like, for example, Drill music? They’re just having fun with it. They sample whatever they want and it kinda reminds me of Jersey Club music! Because that’s all Jersey Club was — people sampling anything, like the most absurd shit and making songs out of it. I’m used to that shit. People were flipping the Elmo theme for Jersey Club songs.

Y’all haven’t even broken the tip of the iceberg of what sampling can be. If we’re gonna make hip hop, you know, this type of hip hop, you gotta keep that torch alive. Like Hit Boy and Alchemist. Their new shit is fire to me. No one was expecting that shit. It’s fire to me because this style of music will never die. All this shit is jazz to me.

Walk me through your current studio setup.

Right now, my setup is this: I’m running a Pioneer PLX500 turntable with the MPC Live. I usually run it into the MPC Live. Then I run the MPC Live either out into this Yamaha MT50 tape deck, basically like a multi track recorder that has 4 tracks and EQ. I’m either running it through that right into an SP. I have a [SP]303 and I have a 202.

Brainorchestra's records

I use the 202 for pitch blending, like when I find cool loops that are either too slow or too fast. I’ll just loop them at whatever speed, then slow them down or speed them up through the Maschine, basically like what Abelton does with the warp mode, but just finessing it. Like if I have to go slower or faster, I can just record it in. That’s really it right now. It’s a pretty chill set up right now. I have the SP-505 but I don’t really use it to make beats right now. And of course, the [MPC] 2000 XL, but it’s in the box because I need space (laughs)!

And I guess [I have to talk about] the records, right? I have like 150, 200 records in here right now. One box is all the stuff I got from Europe and another box is just everything else. Then I have a box back there with the shit I don’t like. And then my mic is in the faux booth in the closet. Well, this is the mic that I’m actually using to talk to you, but I use it to record. It’s a Neumann TLM 102. Good old reliable. I’ve been using it forever. And then the speaker system: we have Adam Audio monitors that are 7 inches and then a KRK subwoofer that’s 10 inches. Real chill setup, and then Ableton with my MacBook. That’s the final piece in the chain of all this stuff.

I know some folks have epic tales of gear nightmares while traveling internationally from the United States to Europe. Do you have any?

I never had anything bad happen besides my first show in Portugal a couple of years ago. I plugged my gear into that transformer and when I turned it on, it shut the club shit off…like it shut off all the club electricity! Luckily, the club wasn’t open yet, but almost all the lights shut off. I thought I fucked everything up and was scared to plug the rest of my stuff in. But it ended up working out.

The main thing that doesn’t work out for me overseas is using my SP with my setup because of the voltage difference. Sometimes even with the transformer, it’ll make a crazy line-in sound. It really only happened in England for some reason. A lot of times, I’ll just use another artist’s setup. I’ll tell them, “bring your shit because I’m not trying to deal with it!”

What, to you, was a turning point in your career — where you knew you really had something people resonated with?

It was the point where I was starting to play shows locally and people would mention that I needed to do some T-shirts. So when I really started printing and selling small batches of shirts and hoodies.

I actually discovered you through Web3 and NFTs. Do you still dabble on the blockchain?

No, not really. I implemented it into my brand a little bit and it was cool, but I checked out after awhile. A person who buys and sells NFTs will buy my vinyl, but it’s not likely that people who buy my vinyl will buy my NFTs.

When I first put my stuff out in Web3 I wasn’t charging crazy prices. I know for a fact I have the first beat tape on the blockchain! For sure! I don’t know anybody else who can say that. So I put a beat tape out and sold a couple dozen copies at 50 bucks. I was doing shit like $200 animations, nothing too crazy. I’m just gonna say that, to me, the average person isn’t gonna buy it. Obviously the bad overshadowed the good. It left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. I know a couple people who were into some weird crypto shit. Respectfully, it was none of our immediate people, but I saw some things I just didn’t like it. It takes a lot out of you.

Web3 and NFTs will be something eventually but right now, the space is brand new and it’s gonna go through so many different phases. At this point, we know a few people who are really getting to it in Web3 and there’s people that are dabbling, but the other 99.9% of people ain’t with it. And as a consumer it makes you feel some type of way. Especially with the crypto crashes and scams. The common person can’t handle all that. Imagine putting all your money into something and it shoots down real bad. People were wilding.

You go really hard on other people’s beats too. What makes you wanna work with someone else, cook up and rap over someone else’s production?

I still wanna have fun without worrying about doing a ton of shit. I think the main problem that I face as a rapper-producer is actually having people either interested in wanting to work, or having other artists wanna work and then having consumers enjoy it the same. Consumers love a collab, but they don’t always happen because this is hip hop. Sometimes people be corny as hell (laughs)! You know what I’m talkin’ about. But I like to pay homage to the Soundcloud days of collaboration. Yeah, I’m a one man band but I wanna flex my skills on other people’s beats. When I do that, they’re giving me something that I can’t make, so I like to go hard. I love working with other people. One of my favorite things to do is be in the studio with other people, creating.

Any pet peeves that you have being in the studio?

I think people need to understand that we choose what we wanna do at the end of the day. I’m accessible to what I want to be around me. Like, you know as an artist, sometimes people wanna piggyback on what you’ve built, but they’re not really fuckin’ with you like that. I never really had any bad back and forth about that, but if you hit me up and I don’t know you, there’s only so much that can happen. But people don’t always think too far ahead about working. They want what they want right now. I don’t really have any pet peeves, because I’m mad approachable and real ones understand.

Do you have any dream producers or rappers you wanna cook up with?

Yeah, of course. The obvious ones like Madlib, Alchemist, and I wanna work with Quelle Chris. That’s the homie, too. Styles P…I can go on and on forever. There’s so many people, but I just wait for things to happen organically.

Besides your first two projects this year, what do you have coming up? I know you’ve been teasing a whole lot of stuff.

I’m not gonna say too much, but I got a couple people I’m cooking up for. A lot of tapes I’m producing for other rappers. I got some stuff in the tuck. I’ve been working on an instrumental project that will be put on vinyl. And that’s maybe it for this year. I’ve even said this on Twitter: I’ve put out mad work in the last couple of years. I was in a weird head space, kinda positive but maybe not really? I was putting things out to get my foot in the door, but not always for the right reasons. I think I was trying to be busy and look like I’m working. But I slowly realized that I actually enjoy this shit and my shit has some type of impact on people. So I’m taking this year to chill out, write music, write an album or two and just work with what’s out. Because I want people to enjoy what’s already out. I’m not trying to burn people out. There’s a lot of material out there.

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