Lead singer from '90s group TBTBT returns to music

“The struggle, the spirit and the soul is contained in the drum and when it’s put in someone who has the ability to vocalize it, not spit it like an emcee, but vocalize it, then this is where you get hip-hop soul.”

On the introduction to his new project, The Hip-Hop Soul EP, Brotha J Vellore, former lead singer of the Juno award-winning ’90s group Too Bad To Be True (TBTBT), defines his lane – one which he confidently claims king status in.

“I want someone to say, ‘I don’t agree with that. You’re not the king of hip-hop soul. I’m better than you,’” Vellore says. “I will give you one song to win over my audience. And if it doesn’t work, I keep the crown, and if it does work, I work with you. That’s it.”

Brotha J //  Photo By. Chantal “Rose” Gregory © Urbanology Magazine

Brotha J // Photo By. Chantal “Rose” Gregory © Urbanology Magazine

Keeping with his definition of hip-hop soul, Vellore addresses social injustices like police brutality on his project as displayed on the track “Officer Down”, which is accompanied by a video that shows various clips of police officers beating up people.

“There’s a lot of us in Toronto that are feeling outraged about that, as we should, but a lot of the names that are being lifted are U.S. victims,” Vellore says. “We have our own victims here and those names are not being lifted.”

He also explores personal struggle on the project with tracks like “Cruise Control”.

“It was hell,” shares Vellore. “I was in a period of my life where there was a lot of upheaval. It was a tumultuous period. I was going through a divorce. I was going through a lot of different things in my family life, in my personal life, in my music life.”

He adds, “I think that’s why it still has such a good feel when I perform it, because it’s coming from a very real place, as with all of my music.”

Vellore says the challenges he was experiencing personally are a major part of why he’s been absent from the scene for so long.

“The music that I do is also real life,” Vellore says. “It’s a reflection of my real life, but artistically it was draining. The recording process was very therapeutic. Just being in the space, creating and stuff … It just took that long because at the time I was going through a lot of changes in my personal life.”

Now that he’s back however, Vellore is entering a different time in music than the one he left behind as an artist coming up in the ’90s. Due to his long hiatus, the new generation is likely less familiar with his music.

That’s why he is adopting an approach many artists starting out take to re-introduce his name: street-level marketing in his hometown, Toronto.

“To just the general public walking around Yonge and Dundas, you don’t necessarily know [me],” Vellore says. “And, so I’m hoping that what I’m doing is cultivating a fan base, just on a grassroots level.”

“Auto-tune has done a great job at causing people not to care about tone. I’m not an auto-tuned singer; I’m not for it.”

Though he is interested in connecting with new listeners, he isn’t interested in using modern day auto-tune assisted singing in his music. He makes this message clear on his track “Autocoon”.

“Auto-tune has done a great job at causing people not to care about tone. I’m not an auto-tuned singer; I’m not for it,” Vellore says. “I came up in the ’90s when Warner Brothers or a major label stuck you in a booth [and] you were expected to know what you were doing. You actually had to have real talent. And that’s something that I have.”

Khan Soulo, who produced Vellore’s new EP, agrees.

“Vocals, he doesn’t really need much effects, auto-tune, stuff like that, he doesn’t need any of that at all – just pure natural talent. He definitely has a love for it,” Soulo says.

Next up for Vellore is a full-length album titled, NevRland.

“I’ll be going back to a little bit more traditional R&B [on] that album, but this project right here is to solidify myself and carve out that niche as the king of hip-hop soul so the project itself is a themed project,” Vellore says. “[While] I can do many other things, but with this project it’s 100 per cent hip hop soul.”

Photos By. Chantal “Rose” Gregory © Urbanology Magazine