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High Five! from Gangstagrass

Blending bluegrass and hip-hop may seem like an unlikely recipe for success, but don’t tell that to Rench, the mastermind behind the highly successful rap’n’grass project Gangstagrass. As Rench explains, “I like when people ignore genre boundaries and create new sounds by mixing different styles together, but having the ability to move from one genre to the next doesn’t automatically make something good. Although I have come across plenty of genre-crossing artists that frankly suck, there are also a number of musicians who have perfected the art of [genre dabbling].”

In this week’s High Five!, Gangstagrass showcases five of the artists that have contributed to the understanding that, “Good music can come from leaving genre boundaries behind.”


1. Gram Parsons

Gram Parsons had a vision of Cosmic American Music that integrated country, rock, and soul. Before Parsons started defining this genre with the International Submarine Band, he was hired by The Byrds to bring a little twang to their album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Parsons eventually ditched The Byrds and introduced The Rolling Stones to honky-tonk influences. He also put out a couple of groundbreaking albums with his band, The Flying Burrito Brothers and later introduced the world to Emmylou Harris as his duet partner. After Gram’s death at the age of 26, the genres of country and rock have regularly intermingled. In fact, the alt-country genre can be traced back to artists that were heavily influenced by Gram Parsons. In my opinion, originality is often best, and Gram Parsons blended the genres of country and rock better than anyone.


2. Massive Attack / Portishead / Tricky

Immediately after hip-hop hit the UK in the early 80s, an underground scene in Bristol developed where local rappers and producers integrated the influences of British mod culture, the sounds of the Caribbean immigrant population, and hip-hop break beats. By taking rap tracks down to mellow whispers, adding haunting female lead vocals, and utilizing dub reggae effects, the trip-hop sound was born. During this time, we were introduced to Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky, as well as the great producer Nellee Hooper, who has influenced everyone from Madonna to Dido.


3. Solomon Burke

Starting out as a gospel singer who would combine traditional gospel numbers with rock beats, Solomon Burke did not want to be associated with the sinful ways of rhythm and blues, so he was marketed as a country-tinged pop singer. By the early 60s when Burke’s music caught on with wider audiences, he began touring through the South. On several occasions, he would show up at a venue to meet a panicked concert promoter who was concerned about presenting a black artist to an audience of white country music fans.  Before one show, a concert promoter wrapped Burke’s head and hands in bandages before the musician took the stage and he told the audience that Burke had been in an accident. Through the 60s and 70s, many soul singers covered country songs, most famously Ray Charles (who should have his own slot on this list, but I had to limit my choices to five). The combination of country twang mixed with soulful singing is definitely a favorite of mine. I can’t help but to mention James Brown’s explosive cover of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” which is incredible. Although Solomon Burke mostly created soul records, he would return regularly to countrified influences; the best example of this is his 2006 album Nashville, which is one of my favorite albums of the last decade.


4. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

Legendary blues guitarist Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown hails from Louisiana, where he learned how to play fiddle and grew up with the Cajun-country music of the region. In 1974, as an established blues guitarist, Brown unexpectedly put out the first of two Cajun-country albums that mixed in elements of funk and highlighted his singing and fiddle playing. I love the perfect mix of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s country, Cajun, blues, and soul. 


5. Dan the Automator

In 1996, former Ultramagnetic MC’s rapper Kool Keith garnered attention for releasing Dr. Octagonecologyst, a weird album that featured the demented, quirky, bizarre rhymes and strange beats of Dr. Octagon. The man who created the sound of Dr. Octagon was Dan the Automator, a producer who pushed the boundaries of hip-hop. The following year, Dan the Automator produced an influential album with the British indie band Cornershop before collaborating with DJ Shadow. In 1999, Dan the Automator released So…How’s Your Girl? under the moniker Handsome Boy Modeling School, which featured various artists such as Miho Hatori of Cibo Matto, Sean Lennon, and Alec Empire. Later, Dan the Automator put together an alternative hip-hop supergroup called Deltron 3030 with Del the Funky Homosapien and Kid Koala and produced Gorillaz’s self-titled record in 2001. Dan the Automator is always up to something unexpected and his sounds are unparalleled, whether they fuse rap vocals with indie rock, or anything else.


Listen to Gangstagrass' Radio.

This week's High Five! is brought to you by: Gangstagrass with Lauren Mercury Roberts


To celebrate the end of the nine to five, a Green Light Go staff member or artist will leave you with their short list of favorite things, better known as the High Five!

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Janelle is the owner of Green Light Go. When she's not spreading the word on her favorite bands she can usually be found riding her road bike through Michigan, designing super hip clothes or analyzing people much to their dismay.
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