Hip-hop + Bluegrass = Gangstagrass at Johnny D’s

Blending bluegrass and hip-hop may not seem like a likely recipe for success. But don’t tell that to Rench, the mastermind behind the Emmy-nominated bluegrass/hip-hop outfit Gangstagrass.

 

Rench first came up with the concept back in grade school when he would breakdance on cardboard to RUN-DMC during recess, then go home and listen to his parents’ favorite country artists Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson on the stereo. Before long, he found common denominators between the two genres that were as obvious to him as grooves on vinyl.

 

Fortunately, that musical mash-up made a lasting impression on Rench, one that he finally put to good use years later after settling in Brooklyn. There he began to record MCs in his studio. Though the rappers may have thought their sessions were finished hip-hop tracks, Rench experimented with them afterwards, combining the vocal tracks with samples of bluegrass, blues, and electronic beats. The result was a genre-demolishing blitz called Rench Presents: Gangstagrass.

 

But it wasn’t until Rench made some of these tracks available as free downloads on the internet that things really began to take off. First came a positive mention from the influential blog BoingBoing.net—acclaim that earned Gangstagrass hundreds of thousands of downloads and an intense underground following. The country-urban buzz that was created eventually caught the ears of executives at FX Network, who liked what they heard and licensed a Gangstagrass track for a TV commercial introducing their new western crime series, Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant.

 

Eventually, they asked Rench to also create an original theme song for the show. Rench brought in top bluegrass session players to lay down an original bluegrass track for rapper T.O.N.E-z, the younger brother of early hip-hop legends Special K and T-LaRoc.

 

The rest is history. Justified became an instant hit and “Long Hard Times To Come” earned Gangstagrass an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music. It has opened every episode of the series since it premiered in March 2010. The same cast of musicians was later used to record the first official Gangstagrass album, Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic.

 

Gangstagrass performs at Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant & Music Club on Dec. 12. Showtime is 10 PM. Tickets are $15

@colormagazineusa