Gangstagrass returns with new CD

Brance has posted a couple of times about Gangstagrass, the brainchild of New York artist Rench. His concept involves mixing the acoustic sound of bluegrass instruments and rhythms with hip hop beats and rhymes. It may not please purists in either genre, but anyone open to clever musical cross-pollination – and especially those who follow both styles – should be interested in what he is doing.

The caliber of Rench’s efforts brought him to the attention of the producers of the FX television series Justified, and he now provides the theme music for the program.

Gangstagrass has a new CD out this month, Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic, which features Rench on vocals, beats and guitar, Matt Check on vocals and banjo, Todd Livingston on reso guitar, Jason Cade on fiddle, Roy Shimmyo on bass, Jen Larson on vocals and PREPMODE on turntable. It also features rapper T.O.N.E-Z, who appears in the pieces used on Justified (Long Hard Times To Come and On The Run).

Rench shared a few words with us last week about the new CD, and agreed to let us post several complete tracks here on Bluegrass Today. We also discussed how he hooked up with the folks from FX. I started by asking whether he was seeing a large impact from the TV exposure.

“Definitely. Every week there is a new rush of people finding Gangstagrass online after seeing the theme song on the show. It is fantastic.

Initially, the people producing promos (commercials) for the show found Gangstagrass, and wanted to use some for the promos. They chose On The Run from the original Gangstagrass album. That had an unlicensed sample (from an old Lonnie Johnson recording) so we had to record some new vocals and guitar to replace it.

The producers of the show saw the promos and decided that was the sound they wanted for the theme music, so we recorded Long Hard Times To Come with all original musicians for that.”

One track from Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic that is getting a lot of attention already is In My Aching Heart Shadows Linger, which features bluegrass singer Jen Larson, who performs with New Jersey based Straight Drive. It’s probably the grassiest track on the CD, and the contrast between Jen’s and T.O.N.E-Z’s voices really is intriguing.

I asked Rench if he was getting thumbs up from both the bluegrass and hip hop camps.

“Yes, positive reactions from both sides, and there is a ton of excitement about Jen Larson’s singing on the track. The hip-hop heads all think it is butter on the street. I was excited to get Jen on the album. She is one of my favorite bluegrass singers.”

In My Aching Heart Shadows Linger: []

Here are two more tracks from the new CD. First up is an instrumental called Click Ol’ Gun, a reworking of Cluck Ol’ Hen.

Click Ol’ Gun: []

Big Branch is another that Rench is proud for us to feature…

“This track features Tomasia rapping about the Upper Big Branch mine and life in mining towns, which I think takes the whole integration of hip-hop and country elements to another level.”

Big Branch: []

Rench says that he is currently working on turning Gangstagrass into a live act, which will include rapping and live bluegrass (fiddle, banjo, dobro, bass) playing to pre-recorded beats.

You can find further details and hear more audio on the Gangstagrass web site. If you are offended by salty language, be forewarned.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.