Music News & Reviews

Hip-hop is ‘Child’s Play’ for Sacramento’s Brian “Mahtie“ Bush

Editing, remixing, and scrapping songs are part of making music.

But for local hip-hop artist Brian “Mahtie” Bush, that process “seemed like a million changes” when making his new record, “Child’s Play.”

The revisions weren’t so much part of a perfectionist’s endeavor but rather a reflection of the artist’s personal evolution.

“I got married, I bought a house, I had a kid, I learned about escrow,” said Bush, 32. “Five or six years ago, I wouldn’t have known what escrow was. I was still trying to pay rent.”

The product of a four-year effort, “Child’s Play,” is a bildungsroman of the rapper and break dancer in musical form.

“Music is like child’s play,” he said. “People, at the time I was making the album, made it seem like music is just so tough. Like dude, music isn’t that easy but life is hard. Music is supposed to be a way of getting everything out.”

When Bush takes the stage Saturday at the “Child’s Play” release party at Harlow’s, those familiar with Bush’s debut album “Backpackramento” will hear a hard-won maturity in his latest release, starting with the record’s first track.

“Birth” was recorded when the album was nearing its long-awaited finish but still didn’t feel complete. Bush said the ode to new-found fatherhood was just what the record needed.

“Once my kid was born, that was it,” he said. “That one song set the tone. That’s the final piece of the puzzle I was missing.”

After that, it was just a matter of piecing together the rest of the songs around “Birth,” he said.

Nevertheless, creating “Child’s Play” was not the journey that Bush expected.

Hoping to ride the celebratory high following his first album – released in 2010 to local notice for its powerful beats and anthemic content – Bush immediately took to the studio, writing songs at record speed.

Friends and fellow hip-hop artists said “‘Don’t rush this next one,’” he said. “‘Write about everything.”

So he did. It just took more time than initially expected.

The 10 songs that follow “Birth” touch on other salient events in Bush’s life, from racial profiling (“Dead Zone”) to his three years in foster care (“Something”) to a Raiders game (“Pile of Bones”).

“I plan out everything when it comes to my music, every project, everything, even my mix tapes,” he said. “I have a theme to everything I do. So that way you feel like part of a project and it’s not just a bunch of music on a CD and calling it whatever you want to call it.”

However, his affinity for order also created complications. As the record neared release, some of its earlier-recorded tracks began to feel dated. Up until May, Bush was throwing out songs and incorporating new beats, delays he did not anticipate.

But as Bush knows, success demands sacrifice, and the musician is willing to put in the time and hard work. For that, the suburban air of his Natomas neighborhood suits him well.

These days, after working his day job as a car porter for a BMW dealership, he spends most evenings at home with his wife and son. If he’s craving excitement, he’s minutes away from the “little nightlife” of downtown, and that’s “just enough for me,” he said.

“Maybe I’m old and I just don’t realize it,” he added.

He’s certainly inhabiting an adult’s reality, one that’s the flip-side to his album’s title.

While it doesn’t compare to raising a 6-month-old and paying the bills, getting his music out in the world has been a struggle. But he said that process is getting easier with experience.

He’s starting to master the necessary “hustle” of putting out self-promotional materials on the streets and on Facebook.

“Who’s going to promote you better than you?” he asked. “No one else is going to do it. You do it. No need to wait on nobody.”

What Bush sees as Sacramento’s changing attitude toward hip-hop also is helping his cause. The city has grown in the seven years since he launched his “Sac Hates Hip Hop” project, a series of invective songs recorded with other artists.

In them, Bush lashed out against the police breaking up hip-hop shows and the public for “only focusing on the bad stuff.”

“It’s so weird because I feel like we’re a transient city for hip-hop,” he said. “We have stars here who we look up to, but we’re kind of like, ‘Why aren’t they on that level of Eminem, 50 Cent?’ ”

Unlike hip-hop hubs such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston and New York, Sacramento lacks the big-time infrastructure of labels and entertainment publicity machinery to generate national attention, he said.

“We don’t have none of that here,” he explained. “At the same time, that’s what makes our music so strong. You got to be that much better than everyone else.”

Bush said he has faith in Sacramento’s talent, and believes it’s just a matter of time before he and the others get the recognition they deserve.

“Hip-hop has a long way to go,” he said. “Hip-hop is still really young.”