Episode 3:

Making it in the HMI

Vladimir Mead, who performs under the name Masterbrain, poses with a fan after a show in Brockton, Massachusetts. (Photo by Ian Coss with Prisma filter)

Ian Coss

The first time we met for an interview, Vladimir Mead was just back from an out-of-town gig. He strolled into the hotel lobby in a blue hat and hoodie, trailed by his own personal security guard. The second time we met was in the lobby of an office building in Boston’s Back Bay, where Vlad works as a security guard.

That contrast tells you a lot about life in the HMI — the Haitian Music Industry — it’s glamorous, and it’s also not. Within his community, Vlad is a rising star, but on the streets of Boston, he’s just another young guy trying to scrape together a living for his family.

Vladimir Mead stands outside his mother’s house in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston. He moved here from Haiti when he was 17, and hasn’t been back in the 10 years since. (Photo by Ian Coss)

Vladimir Mead stands outside his mother’s house in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston. He moved here from Haiti when he was 17, and hasn’t been back in the 10 years since. (Photo by Ian Coss)

Vlad immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti when he was 17, and a few years later he started posting freestyle videos on Facebook under the name Masterbrain.

He rapped about cars and money — “nonsense,” he says. “But one day, I did one about something serious.” The freestyle traced his immigrant journey, and his aspirations for the future. He translated the first line for me: “I came from far away, but I’m going farther.”

Vlad noticed people were sharing the song, “and then boom, I couldn’t accept no more friends on my personal page.” He created a fan page, which now has almost 30,000 followers, spread out from Montreal to Miami to Port-au-Prince.

Vladimir Mead first started posting his freestyles on Facebook in 2015. Today he has almost 30,000 followers. (Screenshot)

Vladimir Mead first started posting his freestyles on Facebook in 2015. Today he has almost 30,000 followers. (Screenshot)

While Vlad and I sat together in the office building where he works 40 hours a week checking security badges, he first told me about his dream for this year: to perform in Haiti. This is a big deal for him, because Vlad has never been back to Haiti in the 10 years since he left. But he knows his music has made it there, and he dreams of arriving back home a star.

“Imagine in Haiti where they listen to Rap Kreyòl every single day, where Masterbrain is like an idol to them. When they call my name on stage, I think I’ll have to shed a couple tears, you know what I mean, because I know it will be big. I know that.”

In Episode 3 of our series The New American Songbook on the GroundTruth podcast, we follow Vlad as he prepares to make that first trip home. Hear the full story above, or on iTunes, Stitcher, RadioPublic and other podcasting apps.

Vladimir Mead, who performs under the name Masterbrain, poses with fans after a show in Brockton, Massachusetts. (Photo by Ian Coss)

Vladimir Mead, who performs under the name Masterbrain, poses with fans after a show in Brockton, Massachusetts. (Photo by Ian Coss)

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