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Mr. CAP returns to his musical roots

Two years ago, Cornelius A. Pratt - a rapper who records and performs as Mr. CAP - was far from the South Park neighborhood on Houston's south side where he was born.

Pratt was doing computer programming in California and Nevada while also trying to get a business off the ground that would assist aspiring musicians with recording, distributing and promoting their work.

Onstage at night, he played ambassador, performing as a member of the South Park Coalition, the storied Houston hip-hop collective founded nearly 30 years ago by his friend Eric Kaiser, a pioneering Southern rap legend known as K-Rino.

Mr. CAP, 40, now hopes to establish himself as a recording artist in his hometown with the release of "All Ism," which draws from his deep musical roots here.

"It took me awhile to realize how tied into Houston music I was," Mr. CAP says. "My mother was a musician, my dad and his brothers were musicians."

His memories of blues great Johnny "Guitar" Watson, an uncle, are vague, though the famed funky guitarist was apparently quick to keep the young Pratt entertained. Pratt keeps in touch with other family members who were part of the Greer Brothers, a Houston funk ensemble best known for the protest anthem "We Don't Dig No Busing," which was released on the Duke label in 1973 when the five brothers' ages ranged from 9 to 15.

"What I remember most is how much they rehearsed," Pratt says. "They'd have to play their instruments while performing, so it had to be flawless. That was ingrained in me."

K-Rino says Pratt's family history comes out in his music.

"He was always very lyrical in the way he'd deliver his rhymes," he says. "He always manages to translate the content of the song in an interesting musical way."

Mr. CAP's voice is deep, befitting his tall, broad frame. But when he puts that voice to music, it has a nimble quality that allows it to slide around flurries of words with a jazzy deftness.

Mr. CAP and K-Rino met more than 20 years ago at McGregor Park. Like many of the other kids that gravitated toward McGregor Park's basketball court, he was entranced by the sounds of hip-hop. He formed a group with his friend Darryl Fontenot (aka Texas Tech), and they caught K-Rino's attention, earning them a place in his coalition of area rappers.

The South Park Coalition started to come together around 1987 as hip-hop was finally drawing recognition from a music industry that had largely ignored it. Music executives predictably focused on New York and Los Angeles, dismissing the distinctive sounds of the South. The cold shoulder prompted Houston's hip-hop community to double down on its independence, creating an infrastructure that didn't rely on outsiders.

Since then, the coalition's members - more than 70 rappers are affiliated with the group - have released more than 100 recordings. SPC groups are in England, Germany, Belgium and Australia.

Mr. CAP has been performing and recording for decades, but he never built a discography under his name. He also took a detour, earning a degree in computer science: He's long been interested in digital music distribution, believing the CD was doomed years before the format began to plummet.

After Mr. CAP came home, though, work was harder to find in the insular community he had left.

"It can be tough; people's memories are short," he says. "But, hey, I look at myself as a nobody. I don't see myself as something special. I look at this work as a regular job. And I think that makes me relatable. There's no national brand. It's just me. I've seen people on the way up, I've seen people on the way down. I prefer a smoother ride."

Slowly Mr. CAP found his way back to stages around town. He also continues to play elsewhere; this week he will perform in several Central American countries.

He released the album "2 Tha Grave" in 2011, but he's making a more committed push behind "All Ism," rolling out singles all spring - including a strong collaboration with K-Rino on "Unsolved Mysteries" - leading to the album's April 26 release.

"He seems to be mashing the gas now," K-Rino says. "Pushing toward something bigger, maybe building a catalog. But to his credit, he's a pretty independent guy who doesn't want to be pushed along by somebody else. He's paid his dues, and he knows what he wants to do."

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