Behind the Wheel With Deezie Brown

After five years of fine-tuning, the perfectionist producer and rapper rolls out 5th Wheel Fairytale

Photo by John Anderson

Beyoncé couldn't quite manage it, but Deezie Brown has inspired me to quit my job.

Obviously, the job I refer to is not this job (Hi there, Austin Chronicle payroll department!), but a more soul-numbing occupation that I realized, after absorbing the Bastrop artist's total commitment to his own humongous dreams, had to be ditched for the pursuit of art and the quest for truth – even at the risk of poverty-death. How's it going so far? My refrigerator malfunctioned yesterday, liquidating $15 of dairy items, and I collapsed in a puddle of tears. But this article isn't about me.

It's the beginning of August and Deezie Brown's music does not immediately render me in awe. This is a problem for Julian Towers, certainly, who has signed up to spin thousands of words out of the rapper/producer's latest and apparently greatest album. It's potentially an even bigger problem for rapper/producer/soon-to-be-innocent-victim-of-thousands-of-dumb-shit-words Deezie Brown. I suppose I got cocky. Fluke alt-weekly success convinced me it's possible to write passionately about local music even when you're not actually a local or passionate. Humble is the journalist who can quench personal skepticism in order to better channel a city's hopes and dreams. Me? Humble? I guess if y'all insist.

But today the topic turns to hip-hop, a genre in perpetual forward motion where the real world come-up narratives of its superstars has never been an extra-musical concern. And look, I'm sorry, we're retrieving the diamond-encrusted cowboy hat from the center of the ring. It doesn't matter that rap regionalism died 11 years ago the moment A$AP Rocky copped a Houston flow on "Peso." No amount of journalistic projection is gonna will Austin frickin' Texas into a national MC export.

Listening to our ostensible grandest hope spit throwback references to Nas and Tupac over a Muppet Babies version of the "Black Skinhead" drum pattern, the only thing I could hear was an old-head identity crisis. Sure, the three dudes from Griselda were able to shift the culture back toward snarling, street-corner boom-bap at a combined age of 120, but their brand of street realness isn't a currency Deezie's bargaining with. Instead, he boasts about the excitement of oncoming nuptials, his hopes to rekindle communications with his brother, and the way in which his swag on the AstroTurf occasionally makes him feel like "Denis Rodman in cleats."

"It's grown folk music for normal people," KUTX DJ Confucius Jones tells me of Deezie's deeply domestic subject matter. "He's basically someone I could have been friends with in high school, reflecting on everyday Black struggle and reminiscing on music and sports that we enjoyed growing up."

Completely missing the point, I wondered: If Deezie wasn't gonna play Rap God pretend, how could I?

Deezie Brown is sitting in his home studio wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with the title of the album he released the day before, 5th Wheel Fairytale.

"I'm joyful, but I'm also anxious," he tells me. "I don't get my album to myself anymore. There were days where I would just listen to it, knowing I was the only one who had it."

Deezie's rattlesnake drawl is the rare sort that slithers across words with purpose, each sentence lovingly considered. The comment he makes is one that will reverberate with me later when other interview subjects tell me about his extreme, near pathological perfectionism. For now, stupid, I just nod.

Throughout the first 20 minutes, our conversation dances around the fact of his music, though I don't realize this in the moment. Delving into his rural Bastrop upbringing, passion for hip-hop past and present, and his hopes for the future, Deezie repeatedly uses the phrase "my art." I, of course, take this to mean rap records, but then Deezie starts squeezing "my art" into the same sentences as "my music."

First my brow furrows. Then, my jaw drops.

"Ultimately, I'm talking traveling gallery shows, being the face to movie soundtracks, scores to fashion shows, my own clothing line." As Deezie starts to list his "arts," that little rattlesnake image I have for him in my head speeds up to roadrunner velocity.

I'm in awe, but also starting to panic. If nobody interrupts this dude, "rapper/producer" isn't going to merit mention for half an hour. But when I attempt to get all Moses and redirect the conversational waters toward the words on his hat, Deezie floods the whole studio. Oh no, he clarifies, 5th Wheel Fairytale isn't a stand-alone album. It's chapter one (of five) in the soundtrack to a book (which Deezie plans to simultaneously adapt into a CGI animated movie once he figures out the technology). That little helmet-headed kid you see surrounded by Rolls-Royces on the cover is the main character.

"It's the story of this young, talented [Formula One] driver. He doesn't have a childhood because he's pushed to go to racing practice and generally do the sorts of things precluding him from actually being a child," Deezie summarizes. "It's not directly about my experience like the albums sometimes are, but y'know, I'm translating."

“If you give him time, he will never stop working till you pry it out of his hands, and that’s great but also problematic. People are constantly moving on to the next thing, so artists break big today through constant content, but Deezie’s not cheap like that.” – Malik

The most staggering revelation is still to come. I learn that in August 2019, two years into the half-decade gestation that produced chapter one, Deezie quit his job at the post office to devote his energies to art full time, thereby supporting his long-term partner and their daughter (now 6) entirely through creativity. Just a few days earlier, the deeply dejected singer of an indie band with 650,000 monthly Spotify listens told me he barely scrapes by painting houses. Deezie Brown has, at this moment, 1,854, and he emerged from a pandemic that his manager told me "decimated his revenue" more devoted to art than ever. By the time we say goodbye, I'm holding back tears, and my refrigerator is working fine.

Ironically, it takes Deezie building a galaxy outside his rap music for me to feel at home within it. Returning that evening to the all-enveloping planet that is 5th Wheel Fairytale, I'm completely overwhelmed, totally gobsmacked, and no longer feel any desire to hop a spaceship to its occasional off-world reference points. If, like me, you approach Deezie's music fixating on the mundane, everyday familiarity of his subject matter, it can be easy to miss how much sweat and glory he expends making those subjects fucking matter. There isn't a regional rapper alive aiming this high.

5th Wheel Fairytale

The first word for 5th Wheel's production is "opulent." The album is a lush sonic temple – each soaking-wet organ blast and high-wire guitar solo tilts in absolute devotion to the elements of Black American experience Deezie has gathered within. At a moment in post-internet hip-hop production where rappers have never sounded more isolated, more digitally delocated, Deezie is interweaving rich samples and full bands to build his tracks into communal outpourings of pure gravitas. Nearly every song is undergirded by a cacophony of human voices, be it a cooing choir or a devastating neo-soul(o), playing off the universality of Deezie's themes.

Word No. 2 – and I do think we can agree this name long ago transcended proper noun status – is "Kanye." The progressive grandiosity West pioneered is an audible influence on 5th Wheel's song-altering beat switches, and Deezie won't dispute it. He'll tell you he spent years studying (Deezie uses that word a lot, "studying") Ye's post-production mastery, not simply for empty-headed mimicry, but to apply the same breadth of vision to his Southern backyard. The difference is Deezie doesn't have to blow reality up to epic proportions to make us hear the grand, cosmic beauty in those surroundings. He feels no need to spit anything but humble truth to animate his braggadocious, steamroller flow. He's wearing the helmet, sure, but we're all packed into this race car together. Godspeed.

It's a foundation. You're not supposed to fuck around with it. The year is 2002 and the Neptunes have just unleashed Clipse's "Grindin'." Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams stumbled into a percussive loop so primeval, so raw – it could basically be the first beat ever programmed – they barely bothered to build the thing into an instrumental (not that the Neptunes were ever much for embellishment). This proves to be of great convenience when the track, already indistinguishable from the sound naturally produced by banging on a cafeteria table, becomes the default rhythm for lunchtime freestyle competitions.

So, yeah, you gotta be a real cocky son of a bitch to fuck around with the "Grindin'" beat, but that's just D (short for Devin) Brown. When it's his turn to pound out those iconic drums, he also adds perfectly placed little fills by tapping a pencil on his lunch tray. Reactions are ... mixed.

"We're looking at this guy like, 'OK, calm down, stick to the beat,'" recalls Deezie's cousin Doug Peterson. "'You don't have to show out like that!'" But D can't help it. He's inherited a head full of sound.

"It all came from my father, you know he was in high school in the late Eighties, and he had a huge collection of hip-hop records that passed to me," Deezie recalls. "I started studying the back of CD covers before I could read."

Deezie developed a hip-hop knowledge base almost by happenstance. Spending his days riding through small-town Bastrop in the back of his father's green C10 Chevrolet pickup – the 12-inch subwoofers blasting everything from rough-hewn Mobb music to polished Bad Boy pop rap – Deezie's upbringing allowed him no vantage on distinctions between East, West, and South. Instead, the most significant context that imprinted itself on hip-hop was the pickup itself, and the other go-karts, dirt bikes, and assorted vehicles that came along with the Peterson family car club: the Blue Flame Cruisers.

So, like many a Southern rapper before him, pimped-out rides were what D rapped about. The young man was all of 15 when he hit the streets (and, y'know, Myspace) to peddle his first mixtape of woozy Houston-style slab rap. Though his C10 studies initially manifested in the makeshift loops he and Doug recorded off one another's boomboxes, thanks to his friend and rap partner EC Mayne, he soon found himself recording in real studios with associates of EC's late cousin DJ Screw.

Yet even as he collected the pieces, D Brown wasn't building toward a hip-hop future. His adolescent dream was to shepherd his barber father's unrealized aspirations in professional sports. But when Devin ended up at Houston's Texas Southern University he wasn't on the gridiron. He was pursuing a criminal justice degree that left him drained and apathetic. When Deezie credits a Kanye record with inspiring him to abandon his freshman year for a life of artistry, you wouldn't be blamed for assuming he's talking about, y'know, The College Dropout.

You'd be wrong.

"Graduation made me drop out. I know, I know." Deezie laughs. "But I felt he was speaking to me. I knew I was ready to put my marbles into making music and into being an artist."

Brown returned home, built an in-house studio, and started churning out material as Deezie Fresh. It turned out to be a leap of faith right into a raging inferno. His in-house recording studio was completely wiped out when the 2011 Bastrop County Complex fire rampaged through his neighborhood. Though his jam-packed hard drives were lost forever, Deezie's human drive was only burnished. You can call it his RZA flood moment.

"If anything, the fire gave him fire," recalls Peterson. "He had to go harder than ever cause he learned it can all go up in an instant."

Moving 30 miles west into Texas' capital city just to figure out what was next, Deezie connected with his cousin Kydd Jones, a well-established rapper of Austin's LNS Crew. "Just let me rap with you, I'm not looking for no spotlight," Deezie recalls asking. "Just a place to ride with some cats and build a community."

He got a spotlight anyway. Local luminaries recall Deezie immediately standing out, rocking vintage gear that coalesced with a throwback sound quite unlike the nascent trap mined by his generational peers. The hype for his debut mixtape Hoop Dreams even scored him a headliner release show at Mohawk.

"You had some people who were wearing throwback jerseys, sure," recalls KUTX DJ Aaron "Fresh" Knight, "but nobody else creating an aesthetic around it and catering the music to fit the look."

Fresh built a wave of crucial hype for the rapper by naming him to his mock XXL freshman list in 2012. When the amp blew at the corresponding cipher performance, Deezie got yet another chance to fortify his brewing legend. Rather than wait for a replacement, he spat his whole freestyle a cappella. "Everybody was just enamored," recalls Fresh, still dazed with awe.

Well, almost everybody.

Deezie deconstructed: Brown, pictured at a Bastrop-area salvage yard, has been turning wrenches on 5th Wheel Fairytale for half a decade (Photo by John Anderson)

"Sure, the talent was there, but he didn't have his voice yet," Confucius remembers. "He needed to go away to find himself."

Yet the material Deezie did reemerge with – following five years spent reevaluating his artistic priorities, scribbling lyrics, and tapping out beats in the burning belly of his mail truck – he now considers something of a false start. Though much beloved by hardcore fans, 2018's Judith gets little love from Deezie today. Catch him on a bad day and he'll call it a straight 808s & Heartbreak rip. Indeed, Kanye's 2008 Auto-Tune temper tantrum is a clear precedent for the album's chilly sonics and uncharacteristically bitter raps. Though Deezie has scrubbed the record from most streaming services, claiming its incongruence with his current material, one crucial piece of 5th Wheel imagery does remain from the Judith era: the helmet on the album cover – a nod to Deezie's Bastrop childhood behind the wheel.

That cover proved decisive in more ways than one. When a young Austin-to-L.A. producer encountered the art through a chance Twitter scroll, he started listening to the album while driving downtown and immediately pulled over to shoot Deezie a DM.

"The Kanye influence was too on the nose, but the guy was so obviously next-level talented," recalls Malik, who later earned a Grammy Certificate for crafting the beat to Ariana Grande's "Better Off." "I messaged him like, 'This is great, but I need to hear where you're from and what you're about.'"

As a matter of fact, Deezie was at that moment in the earliest stages of conceptualizing a project that would finally speak from his soul. Merging a newfound interest in character-based storytelling with foundational Southern melodics in UGK and Outkast, these latest songs reached back while imagining forward – "dances of reality with fantasy," he calls them. When Malik started sending Deezie lush, future-forward beats to mess around with, the producer was shocked by the deluge he received in turn.

"The guy was ready," Malik says. "He had verses for days, months, years."

Literally. Though Brown found time to lend his production and emcee skills to full-length collaborations with EC Mayne and Jake Lloyd, the gap between Deezie's first and second album was almost as long as his initial exodus from the Austin scene. Yet according to Malik, 5th Wheel was actually "finished" as many as six times. Each time the record was mastered, Deezie would come back two weeks later with "a completely new tracklist and five more songs."

"Everything that he does, from playing video games, to sports, to fashion, to recording, to songwriting," agrees Peterson. "He is just too much the perfectionist."

"If you give him time, he will never stop working till you pry it out of his hands, and that's great, but also problematic," Malik says. "People are constantly moving on to the next thing, so artists break big today through constant content, but Deezie's not cheap like that."

This is a concern I share as well, but that's tomorrow. Today, the fruits of Deezie's long-term labor remain freshly self-evident.

"It's a masterpiece," Fresh tells me. "If people say it's not the best Austin album of 2022 then I honestly don't know what they're listening to." I'm inclined to agree, though Confucius is characteristically more reserved in his response.

"Fresh is quicker to the trigger than me," he cautions before hastily conceding. "It's definitely top five."

Weightier than the approval of any media figures, though, is Deezie's reception in Bastrop. According to Peterson, the locals have in the past had a "hard time tapping into" Deezie's grand vision, tending to skew traditional H-Town in their hip-hop appreciation. All the more significant that on August 6, Deezie was granted the honor of becoming only the second Black performer (following his cousins, the talented funk/soul/blues jammers the Peterson Brothers) to headline the town's homecoming rodeo. I have no trouble believing that his 90-minute set lit the fucking field on fire.

"This is your Bun B at the Houston All-Stars moment," Peterson says he told Deezie. "When I think about your journey from a little single wide trailer house to playing these stages, man, I get tears in my eyes."

The star power is there. What's it gonna take to blow this dude up? That's the impasse I reach in all my conversations about Deezie for this article. The consensus seems to be "some kind of internet miracle."

"I just think he needs the right song to go viral," says Fresh. "That one hot track that sets the web ablaze."

"He's just one spark away," agrees Malik. "He's already laid the wiring out, just put some fuel on this and boom!"

I, too, would like to believe Deezie Brown has a TikTok-friendly flute loop lingering in the chaotic detritus of his abandoned back catalog. But the part of me that is now unemployed because I was moved by this man's unwavering self-belief knows different. When that green C10 Chevrolet parks at its ultimate destination, it'll be because Deezie has turned the ignition himself.

"I'll use my skill set to get me where I want to go, but ultimately I've always wanted to be the mind behind the projects and not really the spotlight," he tells me, just before we hang up and he goes off to celebrate his birthday with his daughter. "I'll be the guy producing the soundtrack for movies, it's gonna happen. I'll choose that over being on a stage in front of 50,000 people ... though it'd be neat to do that first."

5th Wheel Fairytale is on streaming services now. Deezie Brown performs with his Jake Lloyd collaboration Geto Gala for Summer Jam, presented by KAZI and KUTX Saturday, Aug. 27, at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside. Get tickets at

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Deezie Brown, 5th Wheel Fairytale, Bastrop, EC Mayne, Jake Lloyd, Malik, Peterson Brothers, Geto Gala, Doug Peterson, Kydd Jones, Aaron "Fresh" Knight, Confucius Jones

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