By Zach Colten
Walking through the narrow hallways of Graybeard Studios, on Tripp Street in Framingham, the appearance is barebones: whitewashed walls and a pale green carpeted floor. However, as I get closer to the door of studio 4, the sound of a pulsing bass grows louder and louder.
FSU senior Brandon Johnson opens the door with a wide smile, already bumping his head to the music. He is in a recording session with other members of the rap collective he co-founded, Privacy Records.
Fellow rapper Spacey stands in the soundproofed booth, and can be seen recording a take over a self-produced beat, while the group’s other founder and admin, Ronaldo DeSouza Jr. sits to the side, overseeing the whole scene.
One half of the modest, yet fully-equipped studio is taken up by various mixing equipment, synthesizers and a pair of massive monitors. The aesthetic is mission control in a dark, cozy spaceship.
I have come to record with Privacy, but also to interview Ronaldo and Brandon about the origins of the group, and to see what they have cooking for the coming months. And based on the tunes I heard the group working on over the course of the night, the future sounds good.
Brandon, Ronaldo and I moved out of the studio to an adjacent hallway to get the interview underway. My first question was aimed at the group’s origins, and why they decided to become a record label.
Brandon was first to respond, saying with a laugh, Privacy had an “interesting start.”
Ronaldo then dived into his story of how Privacy went from just an idea he had when he was 15, to a working collective of artists, musicians, photographers and other creators.
“I didn’t have a guide in my life. I didn’t have a direction. ... I wanted to be involved in music – so I started making music.”
He added, “In 2012, I dropped my first mixtape, ‘Pharaoh,’” to which Brandon replied, “It was funny because in 2012, we were working at Market Basket together, and Ronaldo would always say, ‘Privacy the label is pushing ‘Pharaoh’ back, Privacy’s pushing it back.’”
Clearly, even in the preliminary steps of his musical pursuit, Ronaldo had a clear vision of the label he wanted to establish, and knew what he had to do to make it happen.
Then, in 2015, Ronaldo and Brandon decided if they were going to spend their time making music, they should at least try and get paid doing it. They planned to begin releasing their music on Spotify and Privacy Records was officially born.
Today the label consists of more than its two founders. Brandon, who raps as Brandon J, is one of four main artists associated with the budding label. Artists Spacey, Wags and JG are all Framingham natives rapping and developing their sounds with Privacy.
Next, I asked the two founders what kinds of responsibilities different members of the group took on, and what kinds of content the group puts out.
Brandon explained that Ronaldo and himself, as admins, usually handle “marketing, studio session booking, getting in contact with other engineers, reaching out to other artists for features, photography” and more.
He said, “Other artists can reach out themselves, but it’s just easier that way.”
As far as content, Privacy is in no short supply.
One strategy they have adopted to ensure people hear their music is diversifying their releases. They don’t just upload every track to Soundcloud – they utilize various streaming and radio services such as Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal.
They also use artist-specific searches to give their catalogue more depth. So, if you are trying to find their music, it is more effective to type in the artist’s name instead of “Privacy Records.”
Next, we moved on to some of the group’s inspirations. I asked if they tried to model the label after any other successful group.
Ronaldo’s face lit up as he talked about his favorite rap collective – A$AP Mob. The Harlem New York rap group formed under the guidance of front man A$AP Rocky, who has propelled the now 12-year-old squad to rap stardom, by pursuing a similar strategy of attacking multiple mediums.
“When they came out as a group,” Ronaldo said, “I felt like, ‘Oh no, it’s just another group.’ But then, I saw that these guys were making music while also dealing with the fashion side. I want to create something like that.”
I asked them what makes Privacy Records unique.
Brandon told me Privacy tries to work with as many artists as they can, building an ever-growing network of possible connections and artistic opportunities.
“If I’m not the biggest [rapper] in the world,” Brandon said, “I’m OK with that. But if my label is working with that person, that’s all I ever want.”
Looking to the future, Privacy Records has big plans.
“We want to build a community. Not just music-wise, all kinds of projects,” Ronaldo said.
Check out our video interview with Privacy Records.