Inside a white-walled room in Interscope Records' co-founder Ted Field's film production company, a relaxed Brody Brown leans back into his chair. "You know, I feel like it's coming true, the dream I have been fighting for my entire life," he says. "It's unfolding in front of my eyes."
That will never be more true than on Sunday, when he's up for a song of the year Grammy, for co-writing Bruno Mars' single "Grenade" -- which the pair will perform onstage. Mars' album Doo-Wops and Hooligans has been a monster hit, and it also features Brown's contributions on "Runaway Baby," "The Other Side" and "Our First Time."
The 22-year-old Compton native Brown originally taught himself how to read and play music, mastering the drums and then the bass, guitar and piano, as well. At 14, he was introduced by a friend to the manager of Bobby Valentino, the former member of R&B group Mista. The pair began writing and performing together, to the detriment of Brown's studies. "I didn't graduate high school," he says. "I would just play music in church or at clubs. I would sneak in the backdoor with my homies. I realized then that I loved doing beats."
"Though it may have sabotaged his schooling, the Compton Crips member believes music nonetheless helped saved his life. "I've been shot at," he says, adding that he's also been incarcerated more than once. "My music is a blessing, and it has kept me safe from a lot of crazy shit. My crew wants to help our generation, not ruin it."
In any case, he's been vaunted into the top realm of hip-hop and R&B, having worked with -- either solo or with his production/composition team 1500 or Nothin -- Lionel Richie, Timbaland, Lil' Wayne, Snoop Dogg and Cee Lo Green.
In fact, it turns out he's played a big role in Bruno Mars' success. The pair met in 2008 through Steve Lindsey, their shared music publisher, and though Mars originally wrote "Grenade," he wasn't satisfied with it. "I started playing the piano, and Bruno was playing the melody and he said, 'That's it!' ... We added some big drums and strings, and now we're performing it onstage at the Grammys."
Mars mentioned Brown as a potential collaborator for Cee Lo Green, who was then recording his album The Lady Killer. Brown showed up an hour late for his session, but still was able to contribute both piano and bass to "Fuck You!" Mars and Brown also worked on Travie McCoy's single "Billionaire," as well as B.o.B's "Nothin' on You."
Brown has also written and produced tracks for Game's The R.E.D. Album, and says he's currently in talks with Dr. Dre and Kanye West. He's also got plans for an album of songs with other performers written and produced himself. "I just have to keep working," he says. "I believe my music is building bridges that have been torn down for many years.