Jan. 18 2012 03:05 PM

On new EP, prolific hip-hop producer offers an ode to his hometown

Brandon Crowel, aka Mr. Brady, sounds uncharacteristically tranquil on Welcome to the City.
Photo illustration by Adam Vieyra

When most 9-to-5ers are brushing their teeth before resting for the next workday, Brandon Crowel is just punching in. A rapper and producer better known as Mr. Brady, he sits in his makeshift bedroom laboratory late into the night, poring over stacks of records, chopping up samples, tapping out drum parts on his samplers and writing rhymes on a notepad.

“I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t make music,” Crowel says in an email interview. “It’s a lot of days I don’t even leave my spot and just make music all day and night. That’s pretty normal for me, honestly.”

A member of the popular local hip-hop group Deep Rooted, Crowel calls himself a “labaholic.” Deep Rooted has been on recent hiatus, but he’s kept busy. From July 2010 to May 2011, he released two full-length albums and two EPs. Now, he’s working on six more releases, including a second full length collaboration with LMNO, a member of L.A. hip-hop crew The Visionaries. He’s also working on the next Deep Rooted album, which he says will be completed this year.

This month, Crowel will drop Welcome to the City, a self-released digital EP that finds him collaborating with a young, untested local producer named AbJo. They see the EP as an ode to their hometown.

“This is like a soundtrack to the city, a homegrown Diego sound [that] the city can be proud of,” Crowel explains. “I’m trying to paint a picture of the city with my words, and AbJo provides the pulse of the city with his beats.”

Crowel currently lives in Long Beach, but he still has a soft spot for San Diego, where he’s respected as a veteran in the rap game. He came across AbJo, whose real name is Aaron Nash, while judging a beat battle at The Ruby Room. AbJo won the battle, and they quickly began working together.

“I tried to give him a palette to work with similar to how [Deep] Rooted sounded, or rather, how Brady sounded,” AbJo says. “His beats were always dope to me.”

Crowel, in his 30s with long dreads and small, sleepy eyes, has spent much of his career striving for an ever-dirtier aesthetic. With squelching bass and thumping drums, he makes the sort of funk that could cause welcome body spasms and satisfying facial contortions. He’s even coined a term to describe his songs: “slumpers.”

On Welcome to the City, AbJo uses the same sample-based approach, but he trades in Crowel’s usual necksnapping aggression for head-nodding tranquility. A flurry of finely sliced samples and high-tone percussion hit you like a rain shower, with tiny individual drops coalescing into one serene, cleansing experience.

For his part, Crowel paints less with his words than with his voice, showing Zen-like calmness as he raps in a low monotone, as if Guru from Gang Starr took it down an octave. Indeed, this is San Diego rap at its most peaceful and reverent.

Crowel has paid enough dues locally to be able to represent the city well. He was raised in Mid-City, and hip-hop has been ingrained in his life since elementary school. His relatives, occasional dancers on Soul Train, introduced him to the funk and soul he’d later sample in his own music. But his mom formally ushered hip-hop into his life by buying him his first record: the classic “Planet Rock” single by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force.

Crowel started as a break-dancer, but he soon began to create the music himself. He cut his teeth at open-mic nights such as The Improv, which was founded by local rapper Orko the Sycotik Alien.

“I used to walk, ride a bike, or whatever, to get there,” Crowel recalls. “I would put my beats on tape. Orko had a tape deck set up on stage, and we would just rock.”

After his first group, Pimpin Comprehension, fizzled, Crowel gained notoriety when he appeared on the 1996 underground hit “Storm Brewing” with fellow San Diego rapper Tony Da Skitzo. The song featured a minimalist beat wrapped in a cloud of abstract lyricism. The positive response to the song allowed Crowel to tour the U.S. and Canada for the first time. He ended up inking a deal with Vancouver-based Battle Axe Records, and his career took off from there.

These days, he might work like a machine, but he’s careful not to sound mechanical. modern technology allows for perfection in rhythm, letting you program drums to hit the beat exactly like a metronome. But Crowel prefers to tap out the drum parts himself.

“I don’t like my stuff to sound robotic and stiff. The looser, the better for me,” he says. “Everything is in human time.”

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