Greg Grease's dad was a hip-hop fanatic, and his fans include a lot of local rap big-wigs.
If generations truly 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 around the same age as a lot of the seminal rap acts who 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, and tell me, 'OK, this time, listen to what the bass is doing. This time, the rhymes.' 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 a full-length album to match his growing reputation in the club scene. He'll host a release party for the record -- curiously titled "Cornbread, Pearl & G" -- Friday in 7th Street Entry next door to the second-biggest local hip-hop party of the year, Doomtree's Blowout.
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.
He personally won me over even before he took the stage when I saw him carrying bags of ice to the bar. How many rappers would be willing to bar-back at their own party?
Onstage, he showed a laid-back demeanor but an intense, hardworking lyrical style, all of which is echoed on the new record.
The title is a play on his favorite movie, 1975's "Cornbread, Earl & Me," in which a 13-year-old Laurence Fishburne recounts the accidental shooting of his friend by police. Greg's previous mixtape, "The Giving Tree," similarly paid homage to his favorite book. In this case, the title reflects some of the 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, talking in his friend Mike Frey's basement studio, where he recorded the bulk of "Cornbread."
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. Thematically, it offers a twisted account of domestic abuse in the slow, salacious gem "True Love?" -- at once anti-misogynistic and shocking. The whirring, warped single "C.R.E.A.M. Dreams" and harder-hitting mid-album highlight "Conflict of Consequence" both lament the endless pursuit of money. "Death Ballad" is bleakest of all, 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, from a brief stay in New York City with a funk band to stints in North Carolina and Atlanta during his childhood, though the bulk of his youth was spent in Minneapolis. His mom, Ann ("the ultimate scholar," he said), has worked as a social worker and teacher and 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. Frey, too, has a non-local background. Greg refuted the oft-heard praise that he doesn't sound like any other MC in town, though.
"I'm trying not to sound like any other rapper anywhere," he clarified.
So far, so good.
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