After “floating” for eight years in a nonproductive, antimusic fog, Brandon Van Ekelenburg found his new creative calling three years ago.
The former frontman of a Grossmont High metal band called Hostile Intentions (think: Slayer), Van Ekelenburg found rap. He took the stage name of Van Brando and started rapping with passion about real-life struggles.
“I had a guy I worked with at Petco who made rap beats. He said I had a voice for rap and he said I should try it. I laughed my ass off. I said ‘Fuck, no.’ But he convinced me to make some tracks on his piece-of-shit computer.”
Van Brando, 29, started playing live at a 2010 Halloween house party. He then hooked up with producer/recording-studio owner Greg Garrison, who convinced him to start recording at his El Cajon–based Multi-Player Productions. Garrison plays all the instrumental tracks, which span rock, punk, and metal. The result is 20-plus tracks of Van Brando’s “real-life shit” — lyrics that tap into his struggles and his rage over his dad who “fucked over my whole family.... I went to jail over my anger a couple times when I was 19 and 20. I never stole from anyone. I was charged with assaulting a cop. What he did was unlawful. He kicked me. But I looked at it as karma. I wasn’t doing right things. I was cheating on females. There was other stuff. I was a very angry kid.”
Last Sunday he played a once-a-month competition at the Stage, downtown, hosted by DJ Bille Knight. He says 14 or so artists who agree to buy $100 worth of $10 pay-to-play tickets usually perform at those contests. “I sold 25 tickets for the last one, so I got to keep $150 [above the $100 guarantee].” The artist judged best-of-show gets $500 in cash.
The pay-to-play component doesn’t bug Van Brando; what does is the fact that he has to play alongside other aspiring rappers who want to sound like every hit on Z90.
“Ninety percent of the stuff [performed by the other competitors] sounds like the same kind of stuff you hear on the radio every day.”
For those fellow artists who only want to go with the flow, Van Brando wrote “Little Rappers”: So you call yourself a rapper/ More like a borderline slacker/ Wasting your time, one toke at a time/ Seeing your performance makes me so damn sick/ Even Slick Rick would be calling you a prick.