Gangstagrass makes music that’s decidedly different, and otherwise hard to envision, at least in theory. An unlikely blend of bluegrass and — of all things — an ample amount of rap and hip-hop. It makes for an unexpected — and we daresay — an unorthodox combination, one that will likely find fans of both genres scratching their heads out of concern, confusion, or both. Yet, somehow, despite that disparity, in actual practice it seems to somehow make sense. The band, consisting of a vocalist, guitarist, and beat master named Rench, rappers R-Son The Voice of Reason and Dollo The Sleuth, banjo player, guitarist, and singer Dan Whitener, and singer and bassist Brian Farrow, seems unconcerned with parceling out parameters, and instead pursue the possibilities that their varied contributions have to offer.
“I wasn’t even thinking about it being a bold crossover,” Rench once told Bluegrass Today. “It was just the sound that I wanted to hear, and my only thought was just having fun with it.”
To be sure, rap is a predominant element in Gangstagrass’ musical arsenal, and it’s used to convey an ongoing message that champions racial equality, outrage over oppression, and the need to speak up for those that have been subjected to indignity and marginalization within the American malaise. In track after track, they address these issues, giving them extra emphasis on songs such as Freedom, What I Am, and Do Better in particular. There’s no attempt to temper the outrage or insistence, and there’s a decided defiance that’s leveled throughout. While banjo, guitar, and fiddle dutifully provide the accompaniment, bluegrass mostly gives way to bravado and a concerted determination to tangle with tradition.
That said, at least two of these entries take a cue from familiar sources. A somewhat subdued take on the vintage chestnut Hard Times Come No More (featuring special guest Kaia Kater on vocals and fiddle), and the classic folk anthem This Land Is Your Land (retitled here simply as Your Land) maintain their original melodies to a large degree, but enhance the messaging with raps that emphasize stronger sentiments. Indeed, any band that titles an album No Time for Enemies is clearly intent on instilling passion in their purpose.
Ultimately, there’s no denying the fact that these wildly diverse elements make for the most bizarre bedfellows imaginable. That they actually manage to cozy up comfortably is nothing short of extraordinary.