(From left) Howard Brown '12 (aka Gabriel Stark) with hip-hop heavyweights DJ Jazzy Jeff and M-1, during the latter's on-campus residency last semester.
Photo by Andrew Bennett '14.
Haverford's Own Hip-Hop Star
Haverford’s leafy suburban campus may not seem like a hotbed of hip-hop activity, but it has, nonetheless, birthed the career of rising rapper Gabriel Stark. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps it’s because you haven’t been reading the hip-hop press, like XXL, which profiled Stark back in August, or the music blogs (like college-of-music.com or thissongissick.com) that post his tracks. Or perhaps it’s just because you know him better by his offstage name, Howard Brown ’12.
Brown, a religion major from New York, released his alter ego’s latest, Thank You Starky, on October 20. It is, staggeringly, his fifth release, despite the fact that the ambitious wordsmith only started his recording career a year ago.
“I’ve grown so much in just a year,” he says. “The fact that I have a booking agent now and that people want me to perform in Colorado is ridiculous. My first song came out the Thursday before fall break last year. I’ve been recording so much and there’s so much material that I can put out projects ever couple months. I’m using that to my advantage, I’m outworking everybody.”
Though the prolific songwriter may be outpacing his competition with his release schedule, that doesn’t mean he’s raking in the big bucks. Yet. Brown gives his music away for free on his website, a tactic that is designed to both protect him from copyright issues—most of his songs are built over hooks sampled from famous pop songs, like Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” or Train’s “Meet Virginia”—and to build a fan base while he’s still developing as an artist.
“The way I see it, once you’re on the radio and on the Top 10, you can sell your music,” he says. “But when you’re coming up and growing, I don’t see the point in selling music, and I also think that turns a lot of fans off.”
Brown began his hip-hop career back in middle school as the self-appointed manager of a rapper friend, whose music he also produced. He took meetings with labels and, in effect, undertook a music industry apprenticeship, during which he learned the important lessons of how to get noticed. (“It’s not about talent,” he says, “it’s about buzz.”) Once at Haverford, he petitioned the Student Arts Fund for money to record an album on-campus with some of the talent from the College’s a cappella groups. The resulting collection, Creative Control, was a resounding success that was downloaded more than 3000 times in two weeks.
“The server was having problems because so many people were downloading the project,” says Brown of the album.
Shortly after Creative Control, he started recording his own rap albums under the name Gabriel Stark—a moniker inspired by both Iron Man’s alter ego and the messenger angel—using the studio in the basement of the Dining Center, where he spit verses over beats created by another student-musician from the University of Rhode Island.
Brown has come a long a way in a short time, and though Thank You Starky is only just now getting its release (it was recorded back in July), he is already almost finished with its follow-up. He’s also planning on heading out on his first tour over winter break.
“I feel like with the progress I’ve made so far, I don’t plan on slowing down,” he says.