Dubbed the “father of ukulele hip hop” by the Washington City Paper in 2006, Jon Braman is a rapper-songwriter with a story to tell. Jon’s music gives people something they don’t quite expect, but are surprised to immediately dig. Folkies and indie rockers vibe with the living-room aesthetic, hip hop heads and poets get hooked on the flow, and no one expects a ukulele to provide such driving, even danceable accompaniment. Jon isn’t trying to be weird, just doing what he can’t stop doing: writing and performing songs. It just happens that his sound of choice is an organic funk centered around a baritone ukulele he found in the garbage, and his delivery of choice is a flow of of rhymes about growing up, love, injustice, and eco-cataclysm. As a recent review on NBC4.com put it, “Imagine Outkast had a baby, and it was Jimmy Buffet.”
‘Sprouting Daisies out of My Hair,’ Braman’s first album, was recorded in a few hours in a friend’s living room while Jon was still working as a grassroots student organizer. It’s a spare sound, just ukulele and vocals, with a flood of lyrics and catchy hooks over the top. The last two years have seen Jon performing at clubs, bars, rallies, living rooms, bookstores and colleges in DC, New York, Virginia, Maryland, Boston, Hawaii, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, North Carolina, Connecticut, Philadelphia and Minnesota. In the summer of 2006 Jon and his wife, Lisette, shot a music video for the song ‘Guru’, an archetypical romantic journey through real world DC, until Jon and his ukulele slide through a magic picture frame.
On the just-released ‘Climatastrophunk’ album, Jon begins to put some meat on the bones of the style, the ukulele joining forces with beatbox, bass, layered harmonies, funk-flamenco guitar, trumpet, mbira, mandolin, even sousaphone, The songs are propelled always by Jon’s catchy melodic drive, and rhymes that give up new gems with every listen. And the eco-political stance remain unflinching – nowhere more so than in ‘The Weather,’ a rainforest meets southern-rap meets sunny rock-and-roll ditty about climate change, produced by Tim Bright (Lisa Loeb, Toshi Reagan).
From the "Washington City Paper":
Standout Track: No. 2, “The Weather,” which grafts hip-hop production to Jon Braman’s ukulele-plucking and rapping. His spitfire verses indict FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina (“Keep saying, ‘We’ll adapt,’ but it’s crap because you can’t evac”), American youth in Iraq (“Got little kids coming of age…got hand grenades), and the viability of political rallies (“We had the power/But it only lasted for about an hour”). Though Braman’s outlook seems bleak, all is redeemed by the chorus: “I think if we stand together, maybe/We might just be able to get by.”
Musical Motivation: “We were exploring the different things hip-hop ukulele can be,” says Braman, who worked with producer Tim Bright to construct “The Weather” using the uke, hand claps, assorted percussion, and an Optigan, an obscure ’70s keyboard. The lush sonic palette echoes the 27-year-old Mount Pleasant resident’s variety of concerns. “Climatastrophunk,” he says, is “the funk that you feel in the face of ongoing climatic catastrophe.…[I’m] trying to make some music that reflects all those feelings.”
HellBent for Shoe Leather: Braman cites Common and Ani DiFranco as influences, but his music was also shaped by pounding the pavement for an environmental nonprofit. “Canvassing is a strange mix of beating your head against the wall and actually getting to see firsthand that we are all in this together,” he says. Today he maintains a day job researching green architecture and celebrates the portability of his chosen instrument. “I like to play in whatever little moment I have,” Braman says. “If you’re shopping, standing around bored, you can play the ukulele.…Sometimes I embarrass my wife, but it’s fun.” "
From ONTAP Magazine:
"Ukuleles and hip-hop? Stranger combinations have been made to work, and Braman’s strength as a lyricist and songwriter does indeed force one to overcome any preconceptions that may have existed before listening to his music. The record is well-executed, slipping from sun drenched ‘80s hiphop compositions to near-Sublime deliveries, though this aspect is double edged. Braman in undeniably talented and unique, and I hope these facets overcome people’s presumptions. CD release show at DC 9 on Aug. 8. — LGLP"