Gangsta­grass finds com­mon ground be­tween blue­grass and hip-hop. Hear them at Song­birds.


Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - FRONT PAGE - BY BARRY COURTER STAFF WRITER Con­tact Barry Courter at bcourter@times­free or 423-757-6354.

As a kid, Gangsta­grass front­man Rench al­ter­nated be­tween the break- dancing hip- hop world of his friends and class­mates and the honky- tonk coun­try tunes his dad pre­ferred to lis­ten to around the house.

He liked them both, so when he started mak­ing mu­sic, he could hear in his head how parts of one could eas­ily mix with the other. Not ev­ery­one else agreed. At first.

“There wasn’t re­ally a par­tic­u­lar con­cep­tion point,” he says of the hiphop/ blue­grass band that is now Gangsta­grass.

“I ’ ve been mess­ing around with hip-hop and coun­try since the begin­ning. When I started pro­duc­ing mu­sic I was do­ing things like cre­at­ing beats for em­cees. I was al­ways go­ing, ‘ Hey, this would sound good with a pedal stomp right here,’ which they would never go for, so I started do­ing stuff my­self.”

He no­ticed that a lot of blue­grass mu­sic didn’t typ­i­cally have drums, for ex­am­ple, so adding in some beats just seemed to work. He also found that song top­ics, while dif­fer­ent in lan­guage per­haps, were not that dif­fer­ent when it came to sub­ject mat­ter.

“We def­i­nitely have found so much com­mon ground and dis­cov­ered so many things they have in com­mon. The ori­gins, for ex­am­ple, as both are the com­mu­nity’s mu­sic for peo­ple who of­ten didn’t have re­sources. It’s a dif­fer­ent vo­cab­u­lary for the same thing.

“The nar­ra­tive, the sto­ry­telling, the out­law sto­ries and all that are things they have in com­mon, so we found that we can do songs about prison or be­ing on the run or hard times.”

Once the band was formed in 2006, he also quickly found that he wasn’t the only per­son who in­cluded coun­try mu­sic and hiphop on their playlists.

“We are res­onat­ing with peo­ple across the coun­try who have Johnny Cash and Jay- Z on their playlists. It’s the in­dus­try that is giv­ing us sep­a­rate charts and sep­a­rate ra­dio sta­tions and sep­a­rate TV shows as if fans only lis­ten to this or that.”

Among f ans of t he Gangsta­grass sound were the pro­duc­ers of the FX show “Jus­ti­fied.” The band cre­ated the show’s theme song, “Long Hard Times to Come,” which opened the show for all six sea­sons and was nom­i­nated for an Emmy Award.

None other than au­thor El­more Leonard, on whose books “Jus­tif i ed” was based, said of the song, “Rench and his friends have done noth­ing short of cre­at­ing a new form of mu­sic. Gangsta­grass takes two types of mu­sic that are op­po­sites and mixes them to­gether bril­liantly in a way that is nat­u­ral and en­joy­able.”

The cur­rent Spike Lee movie “BlacKkKlans­man” con­tains “We Are Gonna Be Okay,” writ­ten and per­formed by Gangsta­grass’ Dan Whitener and pro­duced by Rench.

“The ori­gins, for ex­am­ple, as both are the com­mu­nity’s mu­sic for peo­ple who of­ten didn’t have re­sources. It’s a dif­fer­ent vo­cab­u­lary for the same thing.” RENCH, GANGSTA­GRASS FRONT­MAN


Gangsta­grass will ap­pear at Song­birds South tonight at 9 p.m.

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