Senior Copy Editor
UC Santa Barbara’s very own Alex Brown, otherwise known as Al-X the Great, conquered Sellassie’s Rap Contest at Velvet Jones by beating out 11 other performers to take home the $1,000 cash prize.
The format of the event pitted two competitors against one another, each performing an original, minute-and-a-half long song in front of the crowd and a panel of three music industry professionals. This went on for five single-elimination rounds until Al-X the Great lived up to his name and snagged the grand prize.
“It wasn’t necessarily a face-to-face diss rap battle, but it was definitely a competition where two artists would be put up to the test,” Brown said in an interview with The Bottom Line. “I went up against a lot of good artists and I’m stoked to win the event and the $1,000 dollar prize. I just hope it keeps the pace it’s been [going].”
Brown delivered his renowned “trip-hop” style of music—a smooth blend of hip hop, funk, and R&B—to the stage, where he performed a few crowd favorites. The first song was “Trip Hop,” the intro to his 2016 EP, “Sunscreen,” which has over 175,000 plays on Soundcloud. Another selection was his hit “Rocketman,” Al-X’s most popular track, which is closing in on one million plays on Spotify.
“I did my song ‘Trip Hop’ for my intro because it’s pretty relaxing and I wanted to open with a strong song that showcased the type of music I wanted to make, rather than music I thought would win the competition,” Brown said. “After that, I did my biggest song ‘Rocketman,’ which turned out pretty well. The last three songs I did for the event were three pretty aggressive rap songs that I felt would finish off the competition.”
If these song titles sound familiar, you likely attended one of the many shows that Al-X the Great has opened for. These shows include a Marc E. Bassy concert at the same site and UCSB AS Program Board’s very own concert featuring Smino in The Hub. Brown has also opened for the likes of Bobby Brackins and Maxo Kream, which helped him feel more comfortable rapping to a crowd.
“I feel like opening for other artists allowed me to gain a bit of knowledge in regards to performing on stage. I had always done school musicals and sang for an audience but to perform at a concert venue is a whole different animal. A lot of the time first opening gigs are tough crowds because people don’t know what to expect. When I opened for Marc [E.] Bassy, I set the mood with a groovy, relaxing song and I felt like that brought the crowd into it a ton,” Brown said.
Brown’s familiarity with the stage helped him win the competition, but the award extends far beyond just the $1,000. He put himself on the Santa Barbara rap scene and even secured his very own headlining show back at the Velvet Jones on September 14, with his friend Nick Vaughan as the opener.
“I’m pretty hype because the new owners of Velvet Jones are individuals who have booked me in the past and they just approved my solo concert where my buddy Nick Vaughn and another artist TBA will open for me. It’s crazy to think that a year and a half ago, I barely got a gig as an opener and now my own concert is coming up. I’m just feeling pretty good about music now and the things to come,” Brown said.
By winning this contest, Al-X the Great has made a name for himself in the Santa Barbara area as a legitimate local rapper.
“In regard to the national scale, Santa Barbara is pretty low-key with the music scene. I hope to see that change, though. All the people at the event thought I was pretty solid. At first, it was kind of up in the air, but I feel like winning the competition helped me establish myself more in the area,” Brown said. “I’m excited to see how it continues to grow.”
With all his recent success, Brown can be seen as the face of “trip hop” and an ambassador of rap in the Santa Barbara area. Seeing all of his hard work pay off has motivated him to continue his momentum and aim for even bigger goals moving forward.
“I’m really grateful for the faith people have in me. I feel like all the effort I put in, all the countless nights I spent in the music studio, all the effort going into branding myself as an artist is starting to turn into something I had been working for throughout my career as a musician,” Brown said. “[I] can’t wait for the show. [I have] lots of unreleased music on the way, hopefully an album and a tour. Once those things happen, I’ll be set.”