Greg Grease represents a new school of Twin Cities hip-hoppers.
If generations are defined in 25-year segments, then consider Greg Grease the start of the second generation of hip-hop. At the very least he represents something new among Twin Cities rappers.
At 26, the budding Minneapolis musician born Greg Johnson is about the same age as a lot of the seminal rap acts that became eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after 25-year careers (Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, N.W.A.). Even more of a sign of a generational shift, though, is the fact that he isn't the first person in his family to be a hip-hop fanatic.
"My pops is a super-musichead and always made the best tapes," Greg recalled. "He'd make me listen to a song four times in a row. I've always had this sort of deconstructionist view of music."
Working as Greg Grease since 2007, the bearded ex-Southerner and part-time drummer has finally constructed the full-length album to match his growing reputation in the club scene. He'll host a release party for the record, "Cornbread, Pearl & G," Friday in 7th Street Entry (free cornbread, too!).
P.O.S. was one of the hip-hop scenesters on hand for an album preview party last month in a south Minneapolis loft space, along with I Self Devine, Big Zach of Kanser and Big Cats. The dude has a lot of fans among local hip-hop aficionados.
The new record's title is a play on his favorite movie, 1975's "Cornbread, Earl & Me." Greg's previous mixtape, "The Giving Tree," paid homage to his favorite book. In this case, the title reflects tragedy and regret born out of Greg's real life.
"A lot of the songs are translations of the stuff I've gone through or seen for the last 10 years, and always having to choose between doing what's right versus what's easier," he said last week.
Sonically, the album suits the name: It's greasy and thick, with traces of DJ Skrew's sludgy beatmaking on one end and OutKast's psychedelic neo-soul on the other. "Death Ballad," its bleakest track, is an assault on urban violence from a guy who has seen two of his friends murdered in the past couple years.
One of those lost cohorts, Abdulle Elmi -- aka Free One, whose murder in Toronto is still unsolved -- was one of Greg's mates in the Usual Suspects, his entry to the local hip-hop scene. Before that group, Greg frequently bounced around the country, though the bulk of his youth was spent in Minneapolis. His mom ("the ultimate scholar," he said) recently moved with his dad to Abu Dhabi for an education job.
"He left me his CD case to hang onto," Greg said, beaming.
Between his nomadic upbringing and the fact that his pops was a musical mentor, Greg's hip-hop flavoring varies greatly from other rappers weaned on the Twin Cities scene.
"I'm trying not to sound like any other rapper anywhere," he clarified.
So far, so good.