By his own account, rapper Beejus (Brandon Robinson) never quite felt like he fit in while growing up in West Oakland.
Raised in a middle-class household, he attended a magnet program in elementary school in the Oakland hills. For much of his life, Beejus said he was insulated from the economic turmoil of his deFremery Park neighborhood. He remembered sticking out among his peers because he was more interested in video games and comic books than shoes and girls. After repeatedly getting beat up as a teenager, he adopted a tougher look and attitude to blend in.
"I was 16 years old and 98 pounds — a scrawny little kid walking around by myself. ... I was like, 'I can't keep walking around looking like a target,' which I was for a while," he said. "Then I started to adopt more of the hood mentality because it was really just a plea for me to fit in, and I was sick of standing out."
Now thirty years old with a child of his own, Beejus said he no longer feels the need to play a part. When I met him on a recent afternoon, he spoke with an effusive energy. Sporting multicolored socks, patterned sneakers, cut-off shorts, and thick-rimmed glasses, he said he's finally embracing the slightly nerdy, goofball persona he tried to hide — qualities that permeate his latest release, FreeSpirit: The Album.
Produced by Oops (Tyrone Jenkins), who often raps alongside Beejus, the record features feel-good rhymes and intersperses dreamy, laid-back tracks with bubbly summer anthems. Beejus' sandpaper voice and liquid flow complement Oops' super-fast spitting. Oops, who began collaborating with Beejus when they were both adolescents, is a surprising star on the album.
While mostly staying surface level in his lyrics, Beejus occasionally reveals his inner life with bars that touch on his insecurities about his music or guilt over not being a better parent. But throughout the record, he remains optimistic. "I never had anybody give me real, good positive reinforcement," Beejus explained. "That's the message I want to get out: As long as you're moving forward and trying to be something better, then it's okay to make mistakes."
The album sticks to mostly safe topics – repping West Oakland, supporting family, having fun, working hard, getting laid – making it almost instantly relatable but also leaving it without a clear message or focus. Beejus explained that much of his creative process is about going with his gut and not overthinking the content of his music. "I've always been all over the place. I might make a song like 'Take That' that's super raunchy, but I also might do one where I'm rapping about my family and my daughter and stuff," he said. "But that's what it is. I'm free thinking, free living, and I can say 'free spirit' without having to really get deep down and explain it."
When FreeSpirit dropped in March, Beejus celebrated by throwing a hip-hop showcase, FreeSpirit Fest at the Legionnaire Saloon in Oakland, in which he highlighted several other notable, local MCs, including Erk Tha Jerk and Caleborate. Beejus said he was tired of relying on promoters and wanted to create an event that furthered the FreeSpirit brand while spotlighting other rising Oakland artists. The second fest in September featured Oops, Legendvry, Tia Nomore, and Anthony Dragons.
While up-tempo jams define much of Beejus' sound, the rapper said his forthcoming release, set to drop sometime early next year, will take on a more introspective tone. BeeSmoove 2 features more melodic songs with slower rhythms. Beejus said the record will reflect on a recent dark time in his life when he wasn't feeling like the funny, buoyant guy he often portrays.
"It's really touching on the stages when, a couple years ago, I was really depressed," Beejus said. "But it's not really me talking about my depression... it's more about the times I was in my rut and how I got out of it."
Oops will handle most of the album's production once again. But unlike FreeSpirit — which featured J. Lately, Tyrese Johnson, and Champlu — there will be fewer guest verses, a direction Beejus said resulted from his growing self-confidence.
"If I really look at myself now the way that someone else looks at me, I realize that it's actually good. I'm actually doing something and creating a platform. ... That's what I want from my music," he said. "I want people to feel accepted because I never did."