East Oakland artist and Grand Nationxl collective member, Brookfield Duece. Credit: Kevin Allen for Grand Nationxl

We each move through the world with a unique, unreplicable set of coordinates. We can never again inhabit where we’ve been or predict with certainty where we’re going next. And no two people can ever walk the same path.

This belief inspires East Oakland’s Brookfield Duece to trailblaze his own route, at his own pace, wherever he’s at. It’s also a metaphor for the rapper’s latest album, Coordinates

“I’m inspired by the present,” said Duece. “My coordinates right now are different from my coordinates tomorrow or yesterday. [This album] is like a roadmap explaining the long way I took to reach this space.”

With 13 songs and saucy features from LaRussell, YMTK, Kevin Allen, Passwurdz, and Mani Draper, the well-rounded LP solidifies Duece’s presence as an artist while documenting the sinuous trail that led him to this moment.

Duece isn’t a newcomer to the rap game. Since becoming the A&R of Front Page Music in 2016—a rap label started by his cousin, NBA player and Oakland-native Damian Lillard—Duece has released four of his own studio projects, as well as assisted with the development of Front Page’s platform and outreach. Before that, he was a teenager recording music and writing lyrics for others. But he has rarely been in the spotlight.

In a creative field that has many turns and offers no guarantee of success for an independent artist—especially in a region with a stratospheric cost of living that requires constant hustling and repositioning—the road can be rigorous. The “long way” for Duece included leaving music to start a family, at one point losing focus, and nearly giving up on his artistic vision. And yet, despite not reaching a commercial mainstream audience, Duece knows that he’s right where he needs to be.

At the tail end of a seven-year hiatus doing “something that I shouldn’t be doing,” Duece was almost killed in 2019. It was a detour that redirected his life’s course and inspired a renewed sense of optimism. That theme is central to his newest work, which is narrated by Lillard, who talks about his own tribulations as an emerging NBA player on interludes throughout Coordinates

“I could easily make music that glorifies destruction and ignorance,” said Duece. “Even if it affects my [musical] popularity, I want to resist that heavy programming. We need to influence others to highlight mental independence and be themselves.”

His evolving outlook on resistance, empowerment, and community is unmistakable throughout the project, especially in “Brown Skin,” a song that poetically explores stereotypes regarding dark skin.

“You from the hills, you never knew, I’m from the flat, where they all shoot / they talkin’ freedom, it ain’t for you,” Duece raps. The opening bar succinctly establishes the Oakland native’s views on racial segregation, street violence, and the lack of opportunity separating someone like himself from East Oakland’s Brookfield Village neighborhood, from those who may live just a few miles away in the Oakland Hills. In doing so, Duece sets a tone of sharp intellect and rhythmic wordplay that carries throughout each verse, as topics shift from larger social issues like housing and poverty to more personal subjects about family and friends.

One of the things that make Coordinates such a worthwhile listen is how Duece charts his complex, vulnerable, life journey in the way only a dexterous lyricist could. At times, it feels like a GPS map of memories and experiences pinpointing the highs, lows, and in-betweens, even going as far as sharing actual addresses like “310 Lenox Ave,” a song about his pilgrimage to Harlem.

As the album progresses, tracks like “Scenic Route,” “Rear View Thoughts,” and “The Pinnacles” begin to resemble footprints and vista points along the rapper’s trek towards clarity—dissecting everything from struggling to pay the bills to rejecting the rap industry’s bravado to finding inner peace. Through it all, Duece makes clear that he isn’t doing this work alone.

“This project was about learning and openness,” he said. “I thought I had it all figured out before. I tried to do it all myself. On this album, I listened to everyone around me.”

Coincidentally, the people around him are members of one of the Bay Area’s most interesting and talented art venture groups, Grand Nationxl.

Established in 2020 after artists in the region organically came together for Kevin Allen’s recording sessions, the expanding “wolf pack” of creatives—including photographers, rappers, singers, designers, podcasters, and more—has released 10 music projects, 15 music videos, and a line of apparel. 

Recently, members of their crew visited Amsterdam to collaborate with Dutch artists, The New Originals, adding to Duece’s global coordinates in a way that reinforced how he understands what’s possible for himself and his pack in 2022 and beyond.

“A lot of artists around the world just want to be heard,” he said. “The point is to put on for others. That’s the A&R in me. I always put people before me.”

The love Duece gives others is shown across his album. Whether it means giving an unsigned artist like Cam Archer the longest feature on the entire project or inviting rappers from the internet to submit a verse to be included, he is always tapped into a greater collective beyond himself. And that camaraderie is often returned. 

When I met with Duece inside the Oakland Tribune Tower to discuss his work, he wasn’t alone. Mani Draper, a founding member of Grand Nationxl who has helped to record, facilitate, and support his creative partner, also slid by. It’s a communion that highlights the grassroots spirit and artistic integrity that has long defined Bay Area artists, particularly among this region’s rappers—who have often had to start their own labels, create their own brands, and get it “out the trunk” by independent means.

Brookfield Duece performing in Oakland on June 18 during the Grand Nationxl’s “Fake Ass Festival.” Credit: Jonel Seon for Grand Nationxl

Their kinship was on full display over the recent Juneteenth weekend, when Grand Nationxl hosted the Fake Ass Festival, a summer party and concert on June 18. It included a slew of performances and merchandise from local artists, vendors, and community members, in an effort to bring folks together in a “for us, by us” fashion. The tongue-in-cheek aspect (“Fake Ass”) came from the feeling of exclusion that happens when larger, massively funded festivals in the area have taken place.

“This isn’t Outside Lands,” Duece said. “There isn’t any major financial backing. This is for us, for our own legacy artists. This is for the people we see in our neighborhoods, who we listen to when we’re in traffic. That’s the Bay way, to create a platform and invite others to the table.”

Far from fake, the festival symbolizes the real work that Grand Nationxl—and leading members like Brookfield Duece—have been putting in for themselves and those around them. 

With another album to the group’s credit, this is the start of a new trail for Duece. It’s one that he’ll take with each step, and won’t look back until he’s reached his next major coordinate. Whether it takes one year or one decade to figure it all out, Duece isn’t afraid to take the scenic route.

Alan Chazaro

Alan Chazaro is the author of This Is Not a Frank Ocean Cover Album (Black Lawrence Press, 2019), Piñata Theory (Black Lawrence Press, 2020), and Notes from the Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge (Ghost City Press, 2021). He is a graduate of June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley and a former Lawrence Ferlinghetti Fellow at the University of San Francisco. Find him on Twitter and IG @alan_chazaro.