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SNBRN

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Artist Spotlight

Gray Area Spotlight: SNBRN

Alexander Dias

SNBRN—aka Kevin Chapman—emerged during the SoundCloud era with a sound that effortlessly blended the weight of main stage house with the musicality of something much more profound. As he settled into his sound, what surfaced was an artistic inclination towards moving melodies, infectious grooves, and an understanding of how underground music can at once be compelling on the dance floor, emotionally reverent, and fun as hell.

He grew up on a diet of the Eagles, The Beatles, ABBA, and Queen. He concedes that his parent's musical taste had a considerable influence on his musicality. And by the time he started to form his own musical opinions, he continued to pull the rock and roll thread. Interestingly, although hip hop plays a heavy hand in his production influences, he didn't begin to appreciate it until he was in college.

"I was never too big into hip hop, it was a lot of rock music. I remember The Carter 3 coming out and that was a big transition. So, I got really heavily hip hop at that time. And, no one was playing the music that I was listening to really."

He was attending Cal State Northridge as a film major. And around the same time, he made friends with a hip-hop producer. He discovered that all the tools needed to produce a dope beat lay within a laptop, and any ambitions he had with film faded into the rearview. Instead, he wanted to be a musician.

"I bought a NuMark controller for Traktor. [It was] plastic and 10 inches by 10 inches. And then me and my homie would like DJ on rooftops. And then I met like, all the blog guys from Gotta Dance Dirty, and Dancism."

At the time Beatport was still emerging, iTunes reigned supreme, and the only way for DJs to find this new raw, home-cooked house was through direct downloads from blogs. It was also the early days of YouTube tutorials. Chapman absorbed everything and eventually started to build his brand.

Remixes drove the SoundCloud era. One well-received bootleg could turn a bedroom producer into a touring DJ in a matter of months. So Chapman's approach to exposing the masses to his budding trademark style through remixes was just as strategic as it was necessary.

"I had wanted to create originals and then sitting down with like, my manager at the time, it was like, we don't have strong enough vocals to like be at the level that they need to be and weren't sure exactly how to go about getting those or even didn't know how to write record them. And then I started, like thinking to myself, I'm like, okay, like, what can I do that no one else is doing. And it's like, we're set out to remix songs that didn't have remixes."

SoundCloud was full of remixes of Billboard Top 100 tunes. They popped up in droves every time a new song broke through. So instead of following the trend, Chapman trodded off the beaten path and remixed 90's hits, songs that struck a nostalgic tone with millennials.

That's how he landed on one of his most popular covers, of Ace of Bass' 1993 "All That She Wants." While he reveals that although he had permission from the publisher to release the song, he says he eventually did end up in some legal hot water because of it. However, it connected him with the right people to take his career to the next level.

"The publisher—who I'll leave anonymous—reached out and was like, 'Dude, we love this remix. We'll let you keep it up if you come have lunch.' And then he's like, let me put you in the room with this new vocalist. She's from Estonia. And let's see what happens.' And that's kind of how 'Raindrops' was born. And the whole start of my career."

"Raindrops" features the vocals of Estonian singer Kerli. It was the first of many songs he signed to Ultra. What followed was an avalanche of hit records, including "California" with Kaleena Zanders, an official remix of "Sexual Healing" by Marvin Gaye, and "Gangsta Walk" with the late Nate Dogg. Chapman is one of the only people to produce a posthumous song featuring vocals released by the estate of the late great hip hop legend, Nate Dogg.

While all this success was brewing and bubbling, Chapman found himself in a state of darkness that came to a head as the pandemic hit its peak.

"I Tried to take my own life in March [of 2020] and I pretty much like cleaned up my act and got sober. It was some pretty bad drugs. It was a wake-up call for me and kind of really was an inspiration."

While conversations around mental health are increasing, they are far from being normalized. Chapman hopes to help erase some of that stigma and promote healthier choices and more open conversations.

"There's gonna be a lot of stuff that I want to do via mental health, and drug addiction," he explains. "I'm lucky to be here, and I'm grateful to be here. And I don't know how but I am. And that has given me this, like second opportunity to really make sure that whatever I do, I can help however I can and just, you know, be there and share my story. And hopefully, it rubs somebody to serve, you know, making their life better."

He says that the experience set him on the path to writing his most personal work to date. His upcoming album is half breakup record, half proclamation that SNBRN is back, he's healthy, and his music is better than ever. The initial single "Home" pulls on a thread he wove when he first began to produce—weaving an iconic sample of "Your Woman" by White Town through a rousing breakbeat and shuffling house drop.

"There's a lot of voicemail stuff recordings from friends who passed away and other stuff through that year. And that kind of sparks the whole intro and then it kind of takes you on this huge journey." Chapman and two friends wrote the album over several months of the pandemic. His penchant for finding a union between nostalgia and modern-day sounds has never been more effective.

Chapman's musical DNA is steeped in soul, rock, and disco. His earliest influences ended up being the stuff that created a pathway for his career. As a result, his recent work is full of nods to the past in the most mysterious ways. He's crafted a world of easter eggs, tiny bits of nostalgia-inducing sonic candy.

"Yeah, it is fun for me putting in Easter eggs and stuff that you would never even know that are there. [There's] all this stuff that you would never really know where it came from, because it's out of context."

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