Interview by Scott Preston
From time to time you run across brand new music that really makes you stop and listen. This happened to be one of those times when I came across the music of Gangstagrass. Immediately I said someone combined hip hop and bluegrass? I need to listen to this. One wouldn’t think a combination of these types of music would work, but Gangstagrass pulls it off flawlessly. I had the pleasure to speak with Rench, the architect of Gangstagrass.
Cincy Groove: What brought about the idea to combine aspects of hip hop and bluegrass music?
Rench: Well I actually started more with honky tonk music in the beginning. My dad is from Oklahoma so he played that type of music around the house when I was growing up. We lived in Southern California and at home my dad was also playing George Jones, Willie Nelson. As I was out playing with other kids, it was all about hip hop. In the 3rd grade I was a break dancer with my parachute pants, taking pieces of cardboard out to the playground at recess. I grew up in the golden age of hip hop, with groups like Run DMC. It wasn’t until college that I rediscovered the old country music that I grew up hearing around the house. I was also producing hip hop and trip hop music and started to try out sampling. I would try out a pedal steel guitar lick and go through old country records to find things like that.
I actually have been singing, writing and performing honky tonk songs along with beats and scratches for probably about a decade. I also discovered old bluegrass music, artists like Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe. I was listening to some of the Ralph Stanley recordings from the 1970’s with the Clinch Mountain Boys. I could really picture how that music could fit in with beats because bluegrass music is so rhythmic. Most bluegrass music has no drums at all, so there was plenty of room to add different beats. So as I was experimenting with the music, a thought passed into my head that the music would be called “Gangstagrass”. It took a few years from when I initially had the idea before I started to get really serious about the project. I went into the studio for a month with all my old bluegrass records and some of the recordings of hip hop MC’s that I had been working with. I just called them up and asked if I could use their vocals on a project I was working on and put the vocals together with bluegrass music. Of course they had no idea what I was talking about, but they said “yeah go ahead”. It was really kind of a mash up thing, where I would play old Ralph Stanley records and synch them up with these hip hop beats and vocals. I then put up a bunch of those recordings up on the internet for free download and they were passed around and downloaded a lot. Gangstagrass started to get a lot more attention than the other things I was working on so I decided to take a more serious approach. It was then that I decided to get some bluegrass musicians in the studio and create some original music. That’s when Gangstagrass became a band instead of a studio project.
Cincy Groove: Who are some of the musicians that have signed on for this project?
Rench: On the dobro is Todd Livingston, the fiddle player is Jason Caid, and the banjo player is Matt Check. That is the core group that I found in the country music scene that is starting to bubble up below the surface here in Brooklyn. A lot of people are surprised when I talk about a country scene in Brooklyn, but I need to point out that although it might be a very small fraction of a percent of the people that are in the scene, there are 8 million people in New York. So that’s more people than you might find in some towns in the south.
Cincy Groove: What other projects are in involved in besides Gangstagrass?
Rench: As Rench, I am more of a honky tonk singer, where I do honky tonk songs with beats and scratching. I have been putting out the music for a while now. Gangstagrass is the side project that has now overshadowed my initial project and I’m just trying to roll with it.
I also was contacted out of the blue by the people working on a commercial for the tv show Justified. They had found some of the original Gangstagrass free download music I had posted and wanted to use one of the tracks. I actually had to bring somebody in to do a re-record to replace the samples I had used on the track. They then put the song into the commercial for the tv show and one of the producers for the show saw the commercial. They decided that’s the song they wanted to be the theme song for the tv show. That’s when I realized I needed to put together an album of Gangstagrass material with the original bluegrass musicians. Because once the show came on there would be millions of people that would see and hear 30 seconds of Gangstagrass material. A small percentage then decided to look us up on the internet. The challenge for me with all the country/hip hop stuff that I do is that when you tell them that is the type of music that you making, they want nothing to do with it. But once they hear it, they usually change their minds. This tv show is the perfect way to promote this new type of music where they just hear it without us having to describe it to them.
Cincy Groove: Is there anything that has happened recently that Gangstagrass fans might not know about?
Rench: We actually just shot some footage of us that will be included in a video of the Justified theme song. It should be included in the season 1 dvd which should be out soon.
Photo 1 – Tracie McMillan
Gangstagrass: Live at The Fire | Saturday, November 20, 2010
Gangstagrass brings the bluegrass-hip-hop sound to Philly, rocking tracks from Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic on stage. Grab your friends and come ready to see it go down in person!
Saturday, November 20th 2010, 9:00pm
at The Fire
412 W Girard Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19123
$8 at the door
21 and over