From Homeless to Headliner: Brillz on Sobriety and ‘Twonk’ Stardom
Before he was Brillz, Sami Diament was just another broke producer hustling to make it in L.A.
“I was living in a studio homeless,” he says. “I had to go to my girlfriend’s house to shower when her mom was at work. I remember literally having to eat Subway every day for months. Now, if I walk into a Subway, I immediately gag.”
Ten years later, he’s invented his own runaway slang, released two hugely successful EPs, and manning his first ever headlining bus tour across the United States.
“It’s been humbling,” he says. “I feel very blessed. It’s kind of surreal. Every day I’m like, ‘holy shit, I’m on a twonk bus right now.”
At the center of his success is a dark, abrasive fusion of elements from hip-hop, electro, techno, Jersey, grime, bass, and anything that can set a dance floor on fire. The way Brillz sees it, he’s the entertainer, and it’s his job to bring the beats that unleash the wild beast within.
It would be easy to call him a trap artist, but that’s being kind of basic. He uses the word “twonk” to describe his sound, and fans have been trying to decipher the strange term ever since. That was the name of his first EP. He slaps “twonk” on hats and t-shirts. His fans call themselves “the twonk team.” It’s kind of a head scratcher, but therein lies the fun.
“I’m really into cryptic, weird, esoteric stuff, very mysterious, very bizarre symbols, and I’m into psychology,” he says. “When I put out that concept, the whole point was ‘hey, lets put out something that nobody knows what it is.’ People ask what is it, and I’ll just be like, ‘it is what it is. What do you think it is? What is it to you?’”
The twonk sound continues to evolve on his latest EP Geekin, out on Mad Decent. The produce pushed himself to try new things, new approaches, and he accomplished that most notably on tracks “Get Buck” and “Hawt.” Thematically, the four-track collection is all party, 100 percent turn-up. The opening title track is full of raps from featured vocalist Que about taking pills and drinking into oblivion, which might seem strange given Brillz recent commitment to full-on sobriety, but Brillz has found his way around it.
“Everyone has their own way of turning up,” he says. “For me, ‘turn up’ means when you just got energy through the roof, you’re killing it, you’re on your game, in the zone. It doesn’t really mean ‘oh I drank a bottle of tequila.’”
Since deciding to give up weed, drugs, and drink entirely, Brillz has made his art the outlet of his wild ways. He gets buck in the music. He rages behind the decks. He doesn’t care if Que comes into the studio talkin’ about getting twisted. He doesn’t blame anyone for indulging. He just knows that, for him, there’s more to life.
“I’m older now. I got shit to do. I have dreams. I have goals,” says the former pothead of 13 years. “I had to look in the mirror like ‘alright man, you have two options; one, you can just wile out and see what happens, or two, focus on what you’re really here to do which is create music and contribute something positive.”
Today, he’s feeling clear and conscious, ready and willing to take on the entire world, one twonk tour bus stop at a time. It only became easier when he learned that people like Kendrick Lamar, Sage the Gemini, and David Bowie committed to the same lifestyle. Taking this tour head on and keeping that promise to himself has sealed the deal, and it’s a journey that’s taken him to new heights both artistically and personally.
He’s been hard at work on the road cooking up the next twonk tunes to blow more minds. He’s taken his tour video game “next level,” incorporating real scripted skits like “the exorcism of Ghastly” into his live footage recaps. He’s stackin’ paper selling his own vape flavor called “twonk juice,” and most special of all, he’s bringing all this success back to the place it started, celebrating a job well done and a journey well earned at The Fonda Theater in LA Friday, Feb. 19.
“This tour is just a culmination of where my journey has started and where its gotten to,” he says. “I’ve been on the grind in those same streets (for 10 years). I got inspired for this music on those streets and worked my ass off. Now, in that same zone, I get to come home and do a show in front of all my friends, all my peers, and we’re bringing out a bunch of special guests. I don’t want to say I’ve come full circle, because the circle is always continuing, but its definitely a moment to reflect, and be proud and excited and inspired that I’ve been able to come this far.”