Interview With Burns One and Burns Two

By: Nate Whitsell


Burns One and Burns Two, Dominic and Jessie, are two of the most unassuming cats at first glance. But don’t let that fool you, the two brothers, The Brothers Burns, are beasts on the mic, especially live. Those in attendance at Dre Day for the February edition of Battle Bot at San Diego’s world-famous Casbah caught a glimpse of the magic made on the mic by the duo–they absolutely rocked it. The unassuming nature of The Brothers Burns belies the fact that they have been paying dues for years here in San Diego, and their attraction to and affinity for eclectic musical input and output has created a niche for them, hidden in plain sight on the fringe of SD’s hip hop scene. The Burns Brothers were the life of the party for Dre Day, and hopefully, their words bring a little life to your day. Enjoy.

NW: Who are The Brothers Burns?

TheBrothersBurns: That’s a tough question. It depends on the day of the week. On the one hand, we’re lyricists, masters of ceremonies, beatboxers, producers, event coordinators, promoters, community organizers and fund-raisers. On the other hand, we’re business professionals, leaders, motivational speakers, childcare providers, amateur chefs, classic gentlemen, one a writer, and one an illustrator, but each an artist of many hats.

NW: Can you tell SDLHH a story about how hip hop has changed your life?

TheBrothersBurns: Oh man, in so many ways. Some of the people who are closest to us, we’ve met through of music. One of the biggest ways it’s changed our lives is by allowing us to foster such a great creative community – for example meeting Mimi Zulu. To this day she and her husband Elkin, who plays bass in her band, are two of our best friends. We’ve played many shows together and had many gatherings outside of “work.” The connection we developed with them is only second to that of our blood kin!

NW: Thank you for that. Can you tell two individual stories now? I’d love to hear each of your stories of that singular moment when you decided you just had to rap.

Burns One: I knew I was gonna start making music when I was about 15 I think. A lot of people don’t know this, but Young M.C. is the dude that inspired me to start making music. I would sit, almost everyday, and listen to his album Stone Cold Rhymin’ over and over until I could recite the whole thing. So much so that Burns Two would get annoyed with me. I’m so glad I stuck with it.

Burns Two: I was at our first HUGE show about a decade ago with the original collective we formed, The Illestrated Visionary Crew. At this particular event we had DJ’s, two MC’s, live artists and dancers as part of our “crew.” At said show, I was doing nothing more than pantomiming and pop-locking behind my brother and his fellow MC. Now, mind you, I was doing this all behind a fancy business attire get-up, complete silk tie, parade gloves, a Jabbawockee-esque mask and a jester hat – all of this to mask my own stage fright and insecurity in front of the crowd – but, to simultaneously add an element of enigmatic mystique to the show. Come time for my brother to perform with his duo, we cut into an “organic hip-hop” segment of which I beatbox and Burns One rhymes. When I pulled that mask up and the crowd lost their SH*T at the sight of it being me, and the feeling I felt rockin’ that stage with the most important people in my life — that’s unforgettable!

NW: Have you two always made music together? If so, how did it all start? If not, what were each of you doing before you started working together?

Burns One: I actually started making music with our cousin, A.J. aka J Phatts, when I was 18. We wrote and recorded a couple songs in one of the back rooms in his parents’ house. A.J. stuck more with the beat production and I ended up meeting this dude named Fabian who was a lyricist and producer. We hit it off well and I ended up forming a group with him and we released our first album under the group name The Higherarchs. I still remember my first show ever at Kava Lounge. I was cool as a cucumber. Which is funny cuz now I always get a lil’ nervous before a show.

Burns Two: We hadn’t always, and I didn’t really heavily start getting into the equation until about 2008 or so. Beforehand I was always lightly dabbling in production/making strange noises/sound fx/voice impersonations and such! Making music was never even my dream, as I’ve always been an illustrator/aspiring cartoonist – but once I realized the positive power in cultivating with my fellow creators – it was pretty undeniable that what was once a hobby, would turn into a lifelong endeavor of creative exploration, integration, and all out collaborative magic!

NW: You two definitely have a west coast feel, almost a E-40’s bay area meets LA’s Freestyle Fellowship influenced underground. Who have been some of your biggest influences as emcees?

Burns One: So many but there’s always a few that stick out in my mind when I’m asked this question. Young M.C was the first for me. His wordplay and energy just got me hyped. I like rhyming fast. Believe it or not, Insane Clown Posse is another big influence as well. Their story telling and ambitious drive as independent artists is quite inspiring for someone who is adamant about being self-sufficient. Tech N9ne and Eminem, the lyrical gymnasts that they are. J5 and The Roots of course. Hip Hop with a live band just hits like no other. And last but not least Slick Rick, Atmosphere, and Brother Ali. Amazing storytellers that will really have you seeing the world around you.

Burns Two: I second a lot of what my brother said, but I’ll add to it Biz Markie, Da Phat Boyz, and believe it or not – Michael Winslow from Police Academy. I watched those flicks as a kid and ALWAYS wanted to be like that guy! Adding on to what my brother said – ICP made me want to be a stage performer, but Brother Ali and Tech N9ne made me want to be a lyricist, that and of course Burns One!

NW: How has (being from) San Diego influenced your music/style/etc?

TheBrothersBurns: We derive inspiration from the scene that we live in as Burns One states in his solo hit “The Anthem.” Whether it be trying to encourage the creative youth in underprivileged neighborhoods through outreach programs and literal uplifting anthems, or addressing hard-to-tackle issues like socio-economic turmoil and oppression as we do in our song “We the People” – we draw from the most micro to macro experiences and everything in between. Don’t be fooled, though; we do just like to let loose sometimes and get a little silly and have fun on the M-I-C. It doesn’t ALWAYS have to be profound and preachy.

NW: Alright, now let’s dip into the music. What’s the one song, the one video, the one album, that readers should listen to, to really get The Brothers Burns’ essence?   

TheBrothersBurns: The one song – “We the People,” the one album: Unspoken Words by Burns One, and the video: the Sofar Sounds Session we did a couple years back on Youtube!

NW: What has been one of your favorite experiences recording music?

TheBrothersBurns: We’d have to say recording Burns One’s solo album at Black Box Recording Studio in Golden Hill. It was like going in and working with family every day. We can’t tell you how many laughs we had in that studio. One of the favorite moments was when we fit about 8 of our friends in one of the tiny recording rooms. We were doing multiple takes for one of the choruses to give it a really full sound. We can still listen to those tracks and pick out people’s voices. Also, every time we hit record and just JAM with Mimi Zulu and her husband, Elkin. We always come up with tons of material that is ripe with organic richness! Ahhhhhh, good times!

NW: Much of the recorded music I have heard of yours is very traditional hip hop, production wise, while much of the live stuff I’ve seen, especially the more recent stuff, includes a live band. How did that change come about? What are some of the pros and cons of each style?

TheBrothersBurns: That change came about by just extending a welcoming hand to our fellow local artists. One of the things we’ve been blessed with is building an amazing musical family from many different backgrounds. We all support each other and invite each other to shows. Collaboration is key. We feel like the live band was a natural progression with all the artists we’ve worked with over the years. One of the biggest toughest things with working with a band is scheduling. When everyone works and plays, it can be tough to synch up, but we make it happen. We’d have to say it’s mostly pros, though. We can strip our set down to literally just two people with microphones as Burns Two is a dope beat boxer as well as a lyricist.

NW: Speaking of live shows, you two have a pretty deep resume playing live shows in San Diego. What is your favorite SD venue to play and why?

TheBrothersBurns: Music Box is definitely up there for us, but House of Blues main stage was a ton of fun as well! We think mutually we’d have to say Kava Lounge and The Merrow as well though for more comfortable dive-bar settings with excellent staff, and sound engineers who are not only concisely on point, but very personable as well! Honorable mention goes to Tin Roof for all of the above as well, even though we’ve only played there once.

NW: How was the Rosie O’Grady’s show last week?

TheBrothersBurns: So much fun. We performed with Chill Clinton and Elkin from Mimi Zulu – new formation that will be a regular for us. Burns One was celebrating his birthday, and we had that place jumping til 1 in the morning. Additionally, this is one of our favorite local spots, because it’s not your typical venue. However everyone is always so receptive when we jam there, and the bartenders are just genuinely cool folks.

NW: Do you have any live shows coming up soon?

TheBrothersBurns: This has been, hands down, our busiest year yet. We’re actually booked up through June. Our next big show is The Bassmint Collective Winter Showcase and official Birthday shindig for myself and our DJ Blackbelt Jonez. It’s March 3rd at The Kava Lounge. Another one we’re really excited for is March 26th at The Belly Up. We’ll be joining Karina Frost and the Banduvloons for a brand new collaboration.

NW: With everything going on in American society in 2017, how/why is hip hop culture important? Does hip hop really have the ability to make a meaningful difference? Can you share an instance where you have seen your music make an impact on another’s life?

Burns Two: It’s important because we feel the TRUE essence of hip-hop has been thrown to the wind for the most part. As representatives of the hip-hop community, we are stewards of an entire CULTURE and creators of all types. We have an inherent responsibility to defy the odds, overcome adversity, smash the barriers between genres and demographics, and continue to pave the way for the trailblazers and individuals coming up in our stead.

Burns One: One of the most memorable moments for me was when my mom flew us to Oklahoma to perform for her 50th birthday. The crowd was all of her friends and some family that had driven from Texas. After our performance, one of her coworkers/friends came up to us and said “Thank you for introducing us to Hip Hop. We had no idea”.

Thank you for that.

NW: What’s something you’d like to share with San Diego’s hip-hop scene?

TheBrothersBurns: Make it a point to step outside of your bounds of creativity and ego, and elevate those around you as opposed to constantly trying to compete. Our culture was based on battling, but that was out of necessity. The streets are still tough, and that’s no lie – but the more we can do to lift each other up and work together with those around us to transcend the limitations we place on OURSELVES – the more of a chance we stand to all benefit and boost the vibrations within ourselves and our cultured communities.

NW: One emphasis of SDLHH is to see a heightened level of unity in the San Diego Hip Hop community. Can you point to some other artists who you see as comrades and who you also see as helping to progress the scene?

TheBrothersBurns: Oh, man – there are SO many, but to name a few that we see constantly building and agrowing – Kendrick Dial, Parker of Parker and the Numberman, DJ Artistic and the San Diego best DJ’s crew, The Six String Society, Real J. Wallace, Generik of the LNC, Odessa Kane, Kaus & Emphasize, Tall Can, man the list goes on… We don’t know all these cats as well or work with them as closely as we’d like or intend to, but they’re definitely some of the ones making the most noise and doing not only the hip-hop scene a service but also the community. Shouts out to our very own Bassmint Collective, The Six String Society, and all affiliates for their all-inclusive less-exclusive approach in supporting and embracing every genre and creative medium they encounter, but particularly the aspects of hip-hop we’ve brought to the table.

NW: Finally, where should readers go to connect with you?

TheBrothersBurns: A few places. Our Facebook (The Brothers Burns), Bandcamp ( or Youtube Channel. Shoot one of us a message. We love genuinely connecting with folks. There’s so much we do in the music community and if you wanna be a part of it, reach out. It all starts with an idea.

Peace, Love & Hip Hop,

– Nate Whitsell