Remember before the tabloid treatment of Michael Jackson, when he was just an Afro-sporting preteen from Gary, Indiana, who made you shake it, shake it, baby? Allow us to introduce you to a brilliant young incarnation who is making infectious grooves that echo early ’70s soul. His name is Austin Brown and he is blood heir to King of Pop royalty (son of Maureen “Rebbie” Jackson and nephew of MJ). To be clear, he’s not looking to ride on any family coattails. He may be writing and recording in addition to producing—a career spawned when he was just 12—but he mentions the term “hard work” more than a few times during a recent conversation from his studio in L.A. “You have to put in 10,000 hours to ever make a difference,” says the 26-year-old. “It’s a grind and I have to love it every single day. Just like everybody else, I have to keep pushing, working harder.”
Although he hit the road with both Janet and Michael, occasionally getting onstage for upward of 50,000 people, Brown’s life has been grounded, free of the pitfalls of child stardom, thanks to his mother. His career to this point has consisted of a lot of ghostwriting, he says, on things for which he’s “not old enough to claim credit.”
But now he’s certainly old enough to front a seven-piece band and tour clubs and festivals with a mix of soul, hip-hop, R&B, house, and folk this summer. Brown is also excited to be working with an array of artists from Pharrell Williams to Ryan Tedder to Q-Tip, whom he cites as a great mentor.
And while his upbringing has instilled a solid work ethic, he’s gotten his ink against his family’s wishes. “I came from a strict religious household of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They frown upon tattoos, but I’ve always been drawn to how people can tell a story of their life struggle through body art,” Brown says. His first piece was a charm bracelet around his wrist, with two charms; one was a music note, the other read “Mom.” “My mom could only get so mad,” he laughs. “No matter what, my parents support me 100 percent.” He went on to collect a goddess of music, the word “Blessed” as a tribute to the “amazing women” in his life, a little angel with an “MJ scroll” for all his family members who have passed, and a rose on the inside of his forearm.
This year, Brown is most excited about his project “Music Mondays,” a plan to release one new song each week on austinbrown.com. “I like to give people a week to listen to it and let the fans tell me what they like. Then I can see what people gravitate to, put together the favorites, and put out an album,” he says. “What we do when we make music is bring a message of soul, build a quality story line, balance a lot of retro harmonies and chord changes, and keep it fun.”