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Obituary: Bad News Brown understood the power of music [Article/Tribute]

Montreal, QC – Paul Frappier, aka Bad News Brown, learned that a simple harmonica could be a surprisingly powerful instrument.

Bad News Brown understood the power of music

It could break down barriers, as it did one night when he – a young black man wearing a hoodie – was whiling away a long wait for a suburban bus playing the harmonica and was approached by an older white woman who wanted to reminisce about her grandfather playing the same instrument.

It also earned him regular busking money and an opportunity to stand out, as its high wails and reedy lows became his rhyme and wordplay. It allowed him to find the lyricism and freshness he was looking for as he left the words to others.

In his hands, the harmonica proved itself as a lead instrument for rap, as it played the melody lines in original songs or stood in for the vocal track in reinterpreted hits. It also ventured into genres like techno and house. That simple harmonica carried the musician to bigger gigs and more rarefied circles; it helped him launch an album and star in an upcoming film.

“Without the harmonica, I don’t know what I would have become,” he told La Presse in 2009, just before the launch of his first album, Born 2 Sin.

The harmonica turned a young man who sold marijuana and met up for musical freestyle duels into an artist who performed for international audiences and let the hip-hop community know it was cool to pick up an instrument. At concerts it elicited a collective double take as audiences saw a familiar street bravado on stage but heard the seemingly incongruous sound of a harp, spilling out velvety sounds and redefining urban music.

Frappier, whose stage name was Bad News Brown, died on Feb. 11 at the age of 33, shot in the head by an unknown assailant in Montreal.

Grieving friends, family, colleagues and fans describe him as an inspiration and a big brother to many at-risk youth, a hard-working and thorough studio musician who nailed a tune on the first take and generously laid in extra tracks, and a performer who was living the dream but whose full potential was yet to be realized.

Paul Dumas Frappier was born on May 8, 1977, in Port-au-Prince. A year earlier, his adoptive parents, Jocelyne Dumas and Pierre Frappier, had started running an adoption agency with another couple in Montreal, placing Haitian orphans with Canadian families. On one of several trips to Haiti, Dumas met up with a pregnant woman, known only as Madam Joseph. She was in her forties and told Dumas through a Creole interpreter that she could not take care of her would-be seventh child. Dumas and Frappier decided they would adopt her baby and then supported her for the rest of her pregnancy. At 10 days old, Paul arrived in Montreal.

As a child, one of his favourite activities was dancing with his two brothers and two sisters in the family room in St. Lazare, to the west of Montreal Island. Going to school was a less favourite activity, as he had been diagnosed with dyslexia. He admitted in a 2004 National Film Board documentary on musicians who play Montreal’s Métro stations called Music for a Blue Train that, as a kid, he could be a bully. But he excelled in sports, from swimming to soccer, skiing to skateboarding and tennis to basketball – his favourite, which earned him the offer of a basketball scholarship to a local CEGEP.

He declined the offer, deciding instead to involve himself with performance, taking drama classes in Montreal’s West Island, landing small parts in TV and film and getting more serious about music. Eighties rap pioneers Public Enemy and KRS-One influenced his style, as did fellow musicians in Little Burgundy, a historically black Montreal neighbourhood that had nurtured jazz greats Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones and was, at the time, fostering a burgeoning hip-hop scene.

The harmonica entered his life through his maternal grandfather, André, the son of a musician, who passed one down to his grandson. It had long been sitting idle near a change jar in his house when he decided to pick it up to pass the time.

He learned how to emulate old-school blues. “He idolized Little Walter and loved Muddy Waters,” said his long-time producer Michael Suski, adding that Frappier also learned a few techniques from local blues musicians. He took the harmonica everywhere and began playing it in the Montreal Métro to earn some extra money. One day he decided to bring along his boom box and play over some rap music. “People tripped out on it, and I ran with it,” he told

Despite his lack of formal training (he couldn’t read music), he began to develop a unique style. Henry-François Gelot, Frappier’s manager and president of the label they co-founded, Trilateral Entertainment, said the rapper had a good ear, great rhythm and took a more integral approach to the instrument, rather than using it as a mere accompaniment. “He played mainly in the minor keys. That way it sounded more melodic and smooth.”

Frappier adopted the name Bad News Brown, as both a nod to a favourite wrestler from the 1980s and a tongue-in-cheek boast to other acts on the same bill, saying it would be bad news for anyone who had to appear right after his set.

In 2005, he performed in New York at an infamous bat mitzvah alongside some major acts not normally associated with Jewish coming-of-age parties. It featured 50 Cent, Aerosmith, the Eagles and Tom Petty – and was paid for by U.S. military contractor David Brooks, who was later convicted on several charges, including fraud, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. Among Brooks’s misdeeds cited by his former company, DHB Industries, were spending sprees. It cited the $10-million party for his 13-year-old daughter, Liza, as a misuse of its funds.

While the party generated much criticism, Bad News Brown benefited from the publicity. His career gained momentum and his appearances garnered higher fees. “That was his first major booking. After the bat mitzvah, things started to move,” said Suski, mentioning high-end opening gigs for Kanye West at a Super Bowl party in Detroit in 2006 and Snoop Dogg in front of 5,000 people at the University of New Hampshire in 2008. More recently, he recorded with Cypress Hill and collaborated with other U.S. hip-hop acts, including De La Soul and Nas.

In 2008, Frappier became a father to a boy, Izaiah. He continued to reach out to the community, getting involved with a youth CD project in Little Burgundy, organizing a showcase for young hip-hop musicians, volunteering his time for Haitian earthquake relief, offering motivational talks and giving free concerts. “He could perform in front of 5,000 in a stadium or in front of 150 in a community centre,” Gelot said.

Recent trips included stops in Las Vegas and Brazil and a release of his album in France. His videos had gone viral and other musicians were beginning to use his pieces to play over.

But all that came to a shocking halt on the night of Feb. 11, not long after he told his partner, Natasha Braithwaite, at 10:30 p.m. that he was going to meet a friend. His body was discovered just after midnight by two passersby in a dead end in Little Burgundy, five minutes from where he lived.

Police are investigating the crime and friends are stumped as to who would have a beef with him. From all accounts, he had no involvement in crime.

There are several Bad News Brown songs recorded that are to be released. A film he starred in, called BumRush, by Quebec filmmaker Michel Jetté, will be released April 1.

Frappier leaves Natasha, son Izaiah, father Pierre Frappier, stepmother Marielle Tessier, mother Jocelyne Dumas, sisters Anne and Lynne and brothers Louis and Alex.

Source: The Globe and Mail
By: Philip Fine for Globe and Mail


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