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Brown takes harmonic approach to hip-hop innovation

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Montreal-based harmonica player Bad News Brown brings a hip-hop attitude and sound to the instrument.

It’s not an instrument you usually picture in a hip-hop entourage. There are the rappers, the DJ, the extra guys who grab the mic for an occasional “yea,” the back-up dancers, and the still other guys who stand onstage gripping a bottle of high-priced liquor, but nowhere, nowhere is there a harmonica.

Except when there is. When Bad News Brown holds the cold metal box to his lips, hip-hop and harmonica suddenly don’t sound incongruous at all.

Audio Clip

Bad News Brown - The Boss

Audio Clip

Bad News Brown on harmonica

Bad News Brown

Born Paul Frappier in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Brown was adopted by a family in Montreal, Canada, where he found a connection to hip-hop and a talent on the harmonica. Pairing his musical skills with a straight-from-the-streets look and attitude, Brown has made the harmonica relevant again; cool, even. On his MySpace page a series of photos depicts the 31-year old artist -- a black and white fedora cocked over braids, his face alternately set in a wide grin or a cocky sneer. All the usual hip-hop bravado is there, only instead of clutching a microphone, the harmonica juts from his hand or mouth. It’s his weapon of choice.

Tonight Brown will showcase his music at Blush Boutique Nightclub at the Wynn. His live set goes something like this: A popular hip-hop, reggae or house song plays in the background, and Brown lays down a harmonica track into the microphone. The novelty factor wears off quickly, and all that’s left is the twang of the small reed instrument melding seamlessly with the melody and bass line underneath. Playing over Rick Ross’ “The Boss,” Brown’s notes add an element of country swagger and melancholy. Rather than sounding out of place, his track is uncannily suited to the recent radio anthem, and the record industry is taking notice. Brown has lent his sound to artists like Nas, Snoop Dogg and De La Soul, performing with them onstage or opening before them on tour. After three years of recording, touring and developing a name and persona, Brown’s debut album is expected this coming fall. When he moves into heavy rotation on MTV’s TRL, you can say you heard him when.

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