Bailed out

Photo courtesy of Joseph Crowley

Wyandotte rappers Joseph Crowley Jr. (left) and Justin Natzke (right) pose in front of a marquee advertising rapper Bizzy Bone’s show at Harpo’s Concert Theatre in Detroit. Crowley and Natske, who perform together as the Sticky Bandits, opened the show.

Former auto worker revs up rap career

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE — When the auto industry began to crumble, Joseph Crowley Jr. found himself trading his spot on the Ford Motor Co. production line for one on the unemployment line.

“I worked for Ford for a year and made it through the 2007 UAW contract negotiations,” Crowley said. “We got the signing bonus and we all thought we were gonna be grandfathered in.”

Instead, Crowley and many of his co-workers at Ford’s stamping plant in Woodhaven saw their positions cut just before New Year’s 2008.

Crowley used the setback as inspiration to return to his first love: rap music.

“The whole time I was at Ford, I didn’t write or record any music at all,” Crowley said. “When I got laid off, I realized I needed to take it more seriously.”

Crowley, who performs under the name “Dagda,” channeled his frustration into the song “Laid Off,” featured on his record “Bail Outs N Bridge Cards,” which was released in 2010 by independent label Layin-LowRecords.

The CD is his second, following his 2005 limited-edition debut, “Listen Up.”

Crowley began rapping when he was 9 and would write his own lyrics in an attempt to imitate streetwise rappers like Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.

“I was rapping about gangster stuff back then,” Crowley said, “stuff I had no business rapping about at 9 years old.”

Since then, Crowley said his lyrics have matured to include real-life issues. “Laid Off” explores his most serious subject matter to date, he said.

Basing lyrics on personal experiences has helped him stand out from the crowd of competing artists, he said.

“Most rappers talk about money, cars and clothes,” he said. “I’m rapping about more serious to life things, or I just try to come with consistent heat with my lyrics.”

At clubs throughout Downriver and Detroit, Crowley performs alone and with his roommate, Justin Natzke, who performs under the moniker “J Shine.” The two call their duo the “Sticky Bandits,” after the harebrained thieves in the movie “Home Alone” and often are featured at Charlie’s Bar in Wyandotte and the Detroit Pub in Greektown.

Crowley, who also works as a security guard at a Southgate bar, said the crowds at his shows are always receptive, despite the perception of hip-hop as an art form traditionally dominated by black artists.

“You get comments here and there,” Crowley said. “But once I start spitting and people hear what I’m saying and how I flow, the color thing isn’t an issue.”

As support has grown, Crowley has gained respect and exposure. Earlier this month, he was featured on local radio station WKQI-FM, and last September he was asked to open for rapper Bizzy Bone, of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, who long had been one of his idols. Crowley’s music is also expected to appear in future projects by Wyandotte director Scott Galeski.

Though his popularity is growing, Crowley said he still loves the one-on-one interaction with the audience more than anything else.

“When people are singing your words, they’re moving their hands and the crowd’s going nuts in front of you, it’s that rush I really love,” Crowley said. “That’s better than anything.”