COURTESY OF JIMMIE THOMAS FROM CURATORS OF HIP HOP Alpha designs and sells his own clothing under the brand Melted Butter.
Even before I met Alpha Johnson I sort of knew who he was, sort of. I knew Alpha as the rapper Joey Bricks, who I was introduced to when a friend showed me the video for his song “No Love.” The general wavy quality of that song, as well as the fact that I see Alpha almost everyday — on-campus, at work, everywhere — made an interview with him a must.
Alpha works at the Daily Grind, so that’s where we sat down to talk, kept company by the tragic few unlucky enough to spend Thanksgiving break on campus. “I feel like I’m in an interrogation room,” he jokingly told me, the sound of an espresso machine whirring in the background.
Alpha first started playing around with writing rhymes when he was in elementary school, where he’d write poetry for girls in his class. Originally from Silver Spring, Md., Alpha moved to Baltimore to attend Morgan State University.
“I came to school very confused but knowing I didn’t want to stay home,” he said.
At school, Alpha’s interests developed. Fashion had been a part of his life for some time; his dad was a tailor, and Alpha worked throughout high school to pay for the sneakers and clothes he coveted. At Morgan, he created his first streetwear brand: Lohan & Co.
“I’m strictly streetwear,” Alpha said. “I respect high fashion, but I don’t think it thinks about the masses.”
For Alpha, streetwear is a more authentic expression of what fashion is. As a style that emphasizes relative accessibility and focuses on what people wear everyday, Alpha feels like the aesthetic is less exploitative of trends than high fashion.
The debut of Lohan & Co. coincided with the release of his first mixtape, Lohan Tuesday. “Music and clothes went hand in hand. I got started at the same time,” he said.
He was 20 when Lohan Tuesday came out, still in school at Morgan and just starting to commit himself to his developing ambitions.
From there, he released two more tapes as Alpha Johnson: Obliviate and Gustavoville, which both came out on Bandcamp in 2013. Obliviate was his self-described “introspective” album, inspired in part by Kid Cudi’s emotionally frank and expository style of rap.
Gustavoville was named for Gus Fring, the villain in the former AMC series Breaking Bad. It was at Morgan that he met the rapper-producer Dan Mansion, who would later invite him to join Peer Group, the collective that Dan co-founded with Jupe Fury.
Alpha’s decision to move to Baltimore had a significant influence on him musically. “Baltimore showed me a lot more love than where I’m from,” he said.
The differences between the two cities were drastic — customs, accents, aesthetics — but Alpha is happy to be here. He sees Baltimore as a city with potential, overlooked and waiting to be found. Alpha described his hopes for Baltimore’s future in relation to music.
“I want to make Baltimore a hub for good music and cultivate that environment,” he said.
Last year, Alpha decided to get a fresh start. He took on the rap name Joey Bricks and started a new streetwear brand, Melted Butter. From there he started to expand, getting in touch with other local artists and creatives. Alpha spoke on the connections between the various art scenes in the city, whether they be focused on music, film or fine arts.
“There’s a lot more diversity in the art scene,” he said. “Rappers [in Baltimore] are connected to other people that have nothing to do with music.”
With that 2016 reconstitution came a certain degree of separation. Alpha is trying to make his own way, both as Joey Bricks and with his brand. He still works with his friends in Peer Group and looks to them for support, but he wants his future to be a product of his personal growth. Ultimately he wants to be a pioneer, to help Baltimore and its diverse scenes get the recognition they deserve.
Alpha is optimistic about his future as Joey Bricks and is looking forward to seeing his plans coalesce into products during the coming year.
“I spent 2016 basically just planting seeds; 2017’s where I saw stuff starting to grow,” he said. “2018 is where I’m gonna see leaves.”
Alpha has major festivals like SXSW and Trillectro in his sights and is currently building up his catalogue to get him there. The first step in that direction was “No Love,” which came out in April of this year. Alpha said that at the moment, he has a stockpile of around 30 songs he hasn’t released, some of which will probably be on his forthcoming project.
That album, which will likely be releasing sometime next year, will be Alpha’s first as Joey Bricks and will feature local artists like Dan Mansion, Apollo and Self. Check out the article about Dan on The News-Letter’s website. You can find Self on YouTube or Instagram. Alpha is also working with Diamond Hook Media, who are assisting him with marketing and promotion of the album.
Alpha has also been considering collaborating with local group Slum Paradise, which is made up of Waxo, Manny Pokitz (who lives with Alpha) and Nick Perkins. Alpha/Joey has a feature on Waxo’s most recent mixtape Breath of Fire.
As Alpha himself said, 2018 will likely be a big year for him and stage name, Joey Bricks. You can start preparing for that by finding him and his brand Melted Butter on Instagram, checking out the mixtapes he released as Alpha Johnson on Bandcamp, or just saying what’s up to him at the Daily Grind.
Editor's Note: The photo credit has since been updated.