The idea of blending hip-hop with bluegrass might seem to make as much intuitive sense as deep frying ice cream, but there are enough brothas and banjos in The South, that it was just a matter of time before someone did it. That’s what Gangstagrass is about, and they seem to be proving that as counter-intuitive as bluegrass hip-hop seems, it makes as much perfect sense as deep-fried ice cream.
If you’ve ever watched the FX show Justified, then you’ve probably already heard them. They perform the opening theme song, Long Hard Times (feat. T.O.N.E-Z on lyrics), which was nominated for an Emmy. More recently, though, the band’s been on tour to promote it’s new album Rappalachia, and they passed through Montreal last week.
The crowd that turned out for Gangstagrass at Crobar last week was a motley mélange of hipsters, anarcho-punk types, hip-hoppers and assorted varieties of white trash. And from the moment Gangstagrass took the stage, the packed room was a non-stop melee of toe tapping and hand waving that you can only get from a devout following of drunk-on-the-kool-aid acolytes (such as myself).
“We don’t do shows. We have celebrations,” explains vocalist, Dolio the Sleuth. “It’s the feeling of it, the energy. These are not audiences. They’re participants in the celebration. They’re all feelin’ off the energy in the room and enjoying themselves thoroughly. We’re making people sweat.”
And I’m inclined to give Dolio the benefit of the doubt on that claim. Throughout the set, he and fellow lyricist R-Son spent as much time in the crowd as on stage.
Southern Roots and Pioneer Appeal
Even though the band came together in Brooklyn, they have their roots in the South, and their collective influences span everyone from Gram Parson and Ralph Stanley to Gil Scott-Heron and Kurtis Blow.
They also only first formed in 2006, with their current line-up having only come together in 2009. A year later, though, Long Hard Times was chosen for the opening credits of Justified, and that exposure hasn’t hurt either.
“Every week, the show comes on and 5 million people […] get 30 seconds of Gangstagrass in their face. It’s the perfect exposure for us,” explains producer, guitarist and vocalist, Rench. “This is a new thing that we’re pioneering. There are other people doing it hear and there, but we’re kinda at the forefront of it.”
The banjos and beats aren’t the only thing unique about Gangstagrass. Their lyrics are laid down with a swagger that’s more gunslinger than gangsta, and tend to have a lot more gravitas than the usual money, cash, hoes line of thinking. “I’m trying to slide in a message through a traditionally ignorant delivery method,” chuckles Doolio.
It’s also nice to come across a band that takes their music more seriously than they take themselves. When asked how he’d describe the new album Rappalachia, Rench jokes “a five ton golden unicorn shooting death rays across the universe. Rainbow death rays across the universe.”
Even though Rench passes up an opportunity to plug the album, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out. If they can maintain the creative chemistry of Rappalachia through their next few releases, with a bit of luck, they might just end up going from pioneers to legends.