Derrick “Vitamin D” Brown is a music producer and DJ whose career spans hip-hop’s late-1990s golden era to its current ubiquity, plus forays into funk, soul and R&B. He’s a musical encyclopedia born into a musical family—his father Herman Brown played in soul bands throughout LA and Seattle in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, alongside his aunts and uncles; his mom’s dad played vibraphone during Seattle’s 1950s jazz heyday. A denizen of the Central District all of his adult life, he was one-half of landmark duo Ghetto Chilldren, made beats for Seattle icons Source of Labor and Boom Bap Project and has worked with major-label stars like De La Soul, A$AP Ferg and E-40. After working out of a South End studio he called the Pharmacy for many years, today he operates out of his home in the CD.
D’Vonne Lewis has been playing drums since he was a toddler and started gigging before he was legally allowed inside the nightclubs where he performed. He’s a founding member of genre-busting quartet Industrial Revelation, the most thrilling live act in Seattle, and plays in a host of other bands, including Digable Planets and McTuff. Born in South Seattle, Lewis, too, comes from a family of working musicians: His grandfather Dave Lewis is enshrined in the Northwest Area Music Association’s Hall of Fame as a groundbreaking, Hammond-playing, early rock ’n’ roller who helped desegregate the local music scene and was an early jam buddy to Jimi Hendrix; his great-uncle owned and booked the Paramount Theatre in the ’80s.
Between Brown and Lewis is a treasury of knowledge, insight and humor about music in Seattle. They sat down over cocktails at Standard Brewing on Jackson Street and right away Brown raved about all the all new stuff he’s been listening to.
Vitamin D I’m a fiend, man. I gotta have it. It’s like when I was in my 20s. I still care about the music like that, still care about hearing new stuff, you know what I mean?
D’Vonne Lewis I mean, you always go back to the classics, whatever it may be—R&B, jazz, hip-hop. But for me, I’d be like, “How’s it relate to what they did back in the day?” Sometimes it’s like, “Woah, that’s totally new.” I always try to see how it fits or where they might be coming from, some new artists or new group.
Vita I’m one of those dudes, I look up a group I like, and then I’m running through their catalog. Or if they have a feature on an album I like, I’m going to check them out. See what they’re talking about. I mean, there’s a lot of trash out there. But I’ve been running into good music. I’ve been pleasantly surprised a couple times a week, from MGMT all the way down to… Black Thought, that little thing he just released. I’m a fan of pure rap like that, and that’s about as pure as it gets right there. Just a beat and him rapping and that’s it.
D’Vonne Really? I’m not even hip to that.
Vita No hooks. And this dude is going crazy, man. I keep having to hit the space bar like, “Hold on—you can’t say that, man.”
D’Vonne Is Questlove on it?
Vita No, it’s just [producer] 9th Wonder, and a regular beat, man, and real minimal, not a lot of fancy stuff going on. The opposite of Kanye.
D’Vonne I’m gonna check that out.
Vita I find it everywhere. Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Music. Whatever it is, man. I got all of them. Tidal. Got them on my phone. On a nice day like this, walk my dog, throw my headphones on. I’m going to find something to listen to. I try to make time too. In the morning when I get up, get the kids off to school, put in a nice little hour right quick. Just to warm my ears up and be a fan for a little bit before we get into the daily grind or whatever.
I mean, music is pretty much free at this point. Nobody’s actually copping it, for real. Everybody streams it. I buy physicals when I can, just on sheer fandom. I don’t even open it. I’ll buy the vinyl and won’t open it. I’m a fan, I supported them. I got the T-shirt that came with the vinyl. I never wear the T-shirt. I got a big old cubicle of T-shirts I ain’t never wore [laughs]. Music is free now. But the show ain’t free. You got to pay for that. And real artists that understand how it all works, they’re going to give you a real show nowadays. You can’t bullshit your way through anymore.
D’Vonne We [Industrial Revelation] kind of had to do it ground-level. Because people didn’t know who Aham [Oluo, trumpet player] really was in the scene. They knew Evan [Flory-Barnes, bassist] a little bit. They didn’t know who Josh [Rawlings, keyboardist] was. So it was hard. People would ask me, “You have your own band?” I’d be like, “Yeah, Industrial Revelation.” “Oh, I’ve never heard of them.” They didn’t believe me. So it took years to really get it going, even here in our hometown. It was a struggle at first. And then, for me personally, I was trying to do as much as I could in different scenes, and that’s how I met with you, because I was playing with Choklate.
Vita Is that how we met?
D’Vonne I think so, yeah. Or with Jon [Moore, aka Wordsayer] with Source of Labor.
Vita I was thinking about that, like, “Man, where did I actually meet D?” Like it’s impossible to figure out though, right? It might’ve been Source of Labor though.
D’Vonne Yup. Because I was playing with Darrius [Willrich], doing jazz at Tula’s, and then he was like, “Oh, you gotta meet Jon.” Then I started playing with Jon, and then I met you. He’s like, “Oh yeah, this is Vita. He’s the DJ.” I was like, “I don’t know these guys. They seem heavy.” [laughs]
Vita Damn. The Source of Labor days, man. Are we talking ’90s Source of Labor or post-2000?
D’Vonne 2000. I graduated in ’02.
Vita Really? From high school?
Vita Shit, you was young as fuck back in the day then. Dang, D! I didn’t realize you were that young!
[Old fashioneds arrive from the bar]
Vita [Sipping cocktail] This is new Central District, man! There were no good old fashioneds in the CD. Used to go to that Thompson’s Point of View joint. They’d pour like this much Evan Williams and some Orange Fanta: old fashioned! Shaken not stirred [laughs].
D’Vonne They connected with the new Thompson’s? What’s it called now, Neighbor Lady? Is that connected with them? I know Twilight [Exit] is. I lived right across the street from the old Twilight. Used to go there every day.
Vita Oh really? Above the barbecue place?
D’Vonne Yup, right in those little apartments. I almost got mugged by my own cousin! I was like, “Cuz, what are you doing?” He was like, “Oh, my bad, my bad.” This was back in the ’90s. I was just walking by myself to that little store and then they was right there, like, “Get him!” Because I was coming from the North End.
Vita And then a block down, they had the all-blue apartment, full of Crips. We used to call it Crip Mansion.
D’Vonne See, my cousin stayed in those.
Vita Where’d you go to high school?
D’Vonne I went to Roosevelt. Rough Riders! [laughs]
Vita My cousin was a Rough Rider. I think Mix-a-Lot was a Rough Rider too. I was at Garfield. Bulldogs, man, that’s what I’m talking about. We got Ish Butler, man. We got the best of the old-school rappers.
D’Vonne You know they just had an Unsung on TVOne?
Vita Digable Planets did?
Vita Man, Ish—this dude has 30 fucking lives, man. Some people just got the glow. Ish gets chance after chance after chance and always takes advantage of it [laughs]. Unsung, man. There’s some cold ones. The Spinners is cold-blooded. Tammi Terrell was cold-blooded. They talk about the James Brown days and all that stuff, man. The Big Daddy Kane one is dope. They had the Teddy Pendergrass one and I was like, “Aw, I didn’t know that,” and then I cross-referenced some of the stories from my dad, like, “Yo, did that really happen?” “Oh, yeah. Oh, you ain’t know?” My dad got stories.
D’Vonne He knew them, huh?
Vita Well, I mean, just from Leon Sylvers’ day. So that means he’s connected with Shalimar, the Whispers and all that. And then Teena Marie produced some of his albums, so he’s connected to Motown, DeBarge and all that shit, too. Billy Preston, Sammy Davis, Jr., all kinds of people. My pops, man.
D’Vonne Man, remember we was going to do something, maybe two years ago? I seen you down in Pioneer Square, at the shawarma spot.
Vita Oh yeah.
D’Vonne I think you needed my jazz kit. You was like, “I need a 20-inch bass drum.” [laughs] I was like, “OK.”
Vita Actually I ended up doing that session. I found a kit. But I couldn’t find a drummer and I just faked it on the session.
D’Vonne You played it? I gotta hear that!
Vita Yeah. I faked it though. My high-hat hand is real lazy, so it sounds good on the hip-hop beats, but that wasn’t playing hip-hop beats. So I was like damn, man. My right is just lazy as fuck.
D’Vonne That might be your style! I always wanted to play live with a DJ. My friend, he does it in the East Coast with drums and DJ. And there’s a bunch of albums out with drums and DJ. I was like, man, that’d be cool if me and Vita hooked up! [laughs]
Vita Shit, I always wanted to produce a jazz album. I don’t know how to get the sound I want. I want that shit to sound like Rudy Van Gelder. I need that sound if I’m gonna dive into recording.
D’Vonne He had like one mic though, right?
Vita I read up on it a couple times. I know a lot of that shit was [recorded] in a house.
D’Vonne That’s right.
Vita Same with the Motown shit. Have you ever been to the Motown spot? Oh my goodness—before you die, go see that shit. It’s untouched. They still got the same kit, the same mics, untouched. Because when they moved out they just left it. The original echo chamber that you hear on the albums is still there. It’s just a hole cut in an attic, bro. You’re like, “What the fuck? How the fuck did they figure that out?”
D’Vonne Berry Gordy.
Vita Bro, one of the illest reverbs in the history of reverbs. Janky as fuck, yes, but a dope character. That shit makes a difference.
D’Vonne A sound.
Vita Our Black music [in Seattle] doesn’t have a sound. They say I’m the sound—maybe. And if that’s the case, then damn. [laughs]
D’Vonne Man, that’s weird. I always describe bands that are playing in Seattle, or myself, as kind of eclectic, you know? We got rock, we got gospel influence, our family’s from the South or whatever, and it melds into a Northwest sound. Maybe that’s what it is.
Vita We’re melodic up here. We spend too much time in the house.
D’Vonne We’re all house cats.
Vita Our rock-influenced shit all had a distinct sound, that’s for sure. And we all seen what happened with that.
D’Vonne It would be cool though to try to elaborate more on that or use it more. Kurt [Cobain] might have been leaving us a platform: “Use this sound, you’ll be good. Use my loud guitars and that might be it.” Your dad, my grandfather, he more in the rock ’n’ roll side than blues or gospel. So that might be it.
Vita My dad’s brothers are more of a rock sound than my dad. But that was that Hendrix shit. Shit, he had a distinct sound.
D’Vonne I wonder if your dad played with my grandpa. I bet they played together.
Vita Yeah, well, my dad would play with anybody!
D’Vonne I seen him last week at the Royal Esquire. They sounded tight.
Vita For that G.C. Cameron show?
D’Vonne No, I just went on their jam night.
Vita That’s Tuesday. That’s tonight. Yeah, man, those guys are world-class.
D’Vonne I be going in there, man. I just be hanging.
Vita Yeah, man. Don’t get the old fashioned from there though! Don’t have them mix nothing over there, man.
D’Vonne Exactly! I said, “Let me get a whiskey straight and a beer back.”
Vita Right. Esquire and Rumba Notes are the last remnants of the hood in the whole town at this point.
D’Vonne That’s why I been trying to go. I live right across the street. I sit in a little bit.
Vita The last place where I see people that I used to see when I was little. Those are the only two places at this point. Everywhere else, it’s either “Who are these motherfuckers?” or it’s “I met dude a few years ago, he was from San Francisco,” or “Oh yeah, that’s my boy’s son. He’s finally old enough to drink!” Esquire, man. It’s the last taste of soul you’re going to get around here. There’s going to be a bunch of Steve Harvey suits and shit [laughs]. For real. You might see some cowboy boots in that motherfucker. But the music’s popping, though.
D’Vonne Yeah it is.
Vita You might even catch a cat with the old-school sailor hat joint on there looking like “You Are My Starship.” [laughs]
D’Vonne I think it’s good though to support those guys, because I know they’re getting up there. If something bad happened, I just want to say, “Yup, I was there, I was there.” [laughs]
Vita Everybody seems like they’re alive and kicking, though. I know my dad’s still got a lot left in him. He’s still putting together bands and stuff.
D’Vonne He looked like the youngest one up there! [laughs] He probably the oldest, though?
Vita Sometimes. [laughs] I don’t know how he keeps his youthful energy like that. It’s that guitar, man. I get young when I’m doing music. As soon as the music stops my back starts hurting again. Like, damn, I am in my 40s.
This interview has been edited and condensed.