Brayton Bowman has always seen himself as an outsider. “I’ve always been obsessed with being the fish out of water,” the singer-songwriter, 23, laughs. “I stick out like a sore thumb.”
But now, recently having started his own label BIG DEB INC and prepping the release of his mixtape, ’22 Minutes Later,’ a follow-up to his EP, ‘The Update,’ standing out in a crowd is finally starting to pay off for Bowman. The mixtape is a document of Bowman’s creative journey as he’s found his voice as an artist and a young man. “My stuff is all autobiographical,” Bowman says. “I want you to know that if you hear me singing, it’s from my journal.” Infusing a modern, glitchy pop soundscape with old-school R&B and soul influences, Bowman creates a mood all his own—and there’s nobody else in his lane. “I want it to feel the way music used to feel, mixed with the cool electronic shit that’s happening,” he explains. “My sound is the solution to my ADD.”
He wasn’t always this secure in his identity. Growing up outside of Philadelphia in what he describes as a “tiny stuck-up rich town,” Bowman says he was an easy target... “I was a sickly gay kid in a picturesque little storybook town,” he remembers. But when he was admitted to a performing arts school in inner-city Philly, he found himself sticking out for a new reason. “I was the little white boy that wanted to sing gospel music,” he says. For the next few years after school, he became something of a nomad, going on to study voice at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, then dropping out after two years and moving to New York. “I didn’t really start making music until I dropped out of Berklee,” he says.
After moving to upper Manhattan, Brayton connected with British producer and pop wunderkind MNEK (Beyoncé, MØ), with whom he started a close relationship; the two split their time between New York and East London, recording music together. During this time, Bowman began to hone his sound, inspired by the progressive sonic palettes of the British pop scene. “In the UK, they haven’t forgotten that pop music means ‘popular’—there’s no identity to it,” he says. “In America, everybody stays in their lane.” As an American in London, he was once again an outsider—but this time it worked in his favor as he started recording what would become '22 Minutes Later.'
“This mixtape is a snapshot of who I was at the time,” Bowman says. Hence the title: “I finished it when I was 22 years old, and it’s 22 minutes long.” And although it’s revealing, he says it’s uncompromisingly honest. After all, he’s learned how to stand up straight and raise his voice. Even when he’s sticking out, he’s not self-conscious about being 100% himself. “This is my music,” he says. “And music should never lie.”