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"When we first came out, I had 200-pound bullets hanging from my neck and an Army helmet," Cornbreadd remembers. "I'm a hood rapper, and I'm coming into this Houston live-music scene. I brought my hustle, and it met Ben's pure talent. We made that work, and ended up playing every venue in Houston."
At last spring's Westheimer Block Party, Cornbreadd prowled Avant Garden's outdoor stage like a sweaty panther as Wesley and the other Transmissions laid down a deep funk-metal groove and hundreds of audience members of all ages, colors and backgrounds bounced along in unison. If Cornbreadd's magnetism while he performs were a disease, Houston would have a pandemic of pure energy on its hands.
"I think [he] is put on the Earth to entertain people, and he knows that very well, and that's all he can think about," offers Wesley. "He can stand up to any renowned rapper and be able to confidently play along with their game — you know, jive the guy. He's got a magic about making things rhyme. He can talk about fucking your mama and probably recite something from Hamlet in the same sentence."
America got its first taste of Cornbreadd, captioned onscreen as "Aspiring Music Mogul," from 50 Cent's voice-over intro on the premiere of The Money and the Power: "Cornbreadd, straight outta Texas. He sells real estate and dreams of making it big in music. But are his dreams too big?"
"My name is Cornbreadd with a double D," he told the camera. "I'm a musical artist, a mover, a shaker — a hustler, might I add."
Cornbreadd found out about auditions for the show when he was driving around and heard an ad on the radio 15 minutes before the call time. He made it, and even though one of the audition criteria was "no rappers," was so passionate about why he should be chosen that, he says, the other hopefuls burst into applause on the spot. The producers said if anyone from the Houston audition got a callback, it would probably be the next day.
"My phone rang in 15 minutes," he says.
Cornbreadd came into his own on the show in episode five, appropriately titled "The Hustler's Eye," when his teammates on Team Power elected him boss for the first time. Not only did he help his team break its four-episode losing streak to Team Money, they more than doubled Team Money's profits in that week's challenge, selling bottles of Vitamin Water. His reward was recording a track in 50 Cent's personal studio, and he remained boss until the teams were dissolved in the next-to-last episode.
During the show's run, Cornbreadd was forging a relationship with 50 that, like all true hustlers would, he kept secret from his fellow contestants. "He realized, 'This dude ain't up under me like a little puppy like some of these others, this dude's standing here looking at the skyline,'" he says. "So I took that and I always felt like he respected me, because they say real recognize real. He never made any jokes about me like he did some of the cast, he never went hard on me, it was just respect.
"Why? Because I busted my ass every time I was doing something."
Cornbreadd quickly became a favorite among commenters on The Money and the Power's message board. But he proved to be as shrewd a competitor as some of the other, more obviously scheming, contestants like Precious — with whom he had a memorable verbal blowup that wound up on Fox Reality Channel's Talk Soup-like Reality Binge — and Brooklynite rival Musso, whose elimination he helped engineer.
Even though he didn't win, Cornbreadd accomplished what he wanted to on the show. He says he would have used the $100,000 to open a combination venue and recording studio, but his real objective was to generate as much exposure for himself and Houston — hence the Texas flag he hung in his bunk at Camp Curtis.
"I gave my all," he says. "I was just me. That's the biggest thing, just be yourself."
So in hindsight, does Cornbreadd think being on the show has changed him in any way?
The view from 59 and Commerce is about as Houston as it gets for a Clear Lake kid who eventually used to come to raging art-show/parties mere steps away. A gargantuan elevated highway, railroad tracks and brick after brick of warehouses in all manner of gritty repair, some vacant, some gentrified, some artists' spaces.
Across from a two-story structure once known as Club Hell, some sort of former garage or loading bay now belongs to local progressive-punk band Peekaboo Theory, who use it as home, office, practice space and party spot. The guest of honor isn't here yet, but Team Cornbreadd is about to have its picture made.
Here's plus-sized, goateed Houston R&B artist/producer (You)Genius, who swears Cornbreadd just called and "was five minutes away three minutes ago." Reko Trill, who met him while co-hosting the Proletariat's (and now Mink's) Thursday night hip-hop/dance blastoff Speakerboxx, thinks, "This better be funny to pull me away from my Tiger Woods Online."