“There are a lot more people out there with Jay-Z and Johnny Cash on their ipod playlists than you think.” says Rench, mastermind behind the genre breaking sensation Gangstagrass. He should know. He’s spent the last couple years travelling the country, performing for them with a groundbreaking band that gives them the best of both.
Rench produced honky-tonk hip-hop recordings on his Rench Audio imprint for the last decade, while making beasts for local NYC rappers and hosting country music nights in popular NYC venues. In 2007 Rench had a musical itch that needed to be scratched – he was listening to 1970s recordings of Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys and couldn’t help imagining what classic bluegrass would sound like with rap vocals and beats. The result was a genre-demolishing blitz called Rench Presents: Gangstagrass. He put it up for free download and people took notice. Hundreds of thousands of downloads followed creating an intense underground buzz.
When FX Network came to Rench looking for the Gangstagrass sound for the theme song to their new series Justified, he had bluegrass players lay down an original track with rapper T.O.N.E-z, the younger brother of early hip-hop legends Special K and T-LaRoc. The result was Long Hard Times To Come, the song that opens every episode of the series, now in its fourth season. Long Hard Times To Come was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2010, contending for best theme song after critical praise and massive fan response.
The same live bluegrass band approach was used to make Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic, a full length album of with T.O.N.E-z, the emcee featured in the Justified theme song.
Two years later the Gangstagrass sound was expanded with the release of Rappalachia, a 15 song album featuring a variety of rappers, including Kool Keith, Dead Prez, Nitty Scott MC, David E Beats, T.O.N.E-z, BROOKLYN35, R-SON, and Dolio The Sleuth. Country singers Brandi Hart and Jen Larson add gritty harmonies for several songs, while Rench takes vocal duties on most choruses.
All told, Rappalachia has fortified both the hip-hop and bluegrass sides of the Gangstagrass equation, taking their music to a whole new level of intense urban twang. One that has spirited Rench and his gang of rappers to venues all over the globe.
Gangstagrass is back with a new album Broken Hearts and Stolen Money. Released on January 28th, 2014, the album’s 12 tracks serve as evidence that the crossroads have been repositioned north, where the dirt roads of Appalachian bluegrass meet the sooty city streets of Brooklyn. Broken Hearts and Stolen Money sees Gangstagrass delivering another innovative, hard-hitting, deeply soulful and always infectiously melodic record. Picking up where Rappalachia left off, the songs tackle the financial system’s breakdown, the take-it-or-leave-it, forward-stomping rambler’s plight, as well as their tried and true general badassery. The album includes Gangstagrass mainstays like R-SON, Dolio The Sleuth, Brandi Hart, T.O.N.E-z, and Tomasia, and also features appearances from Smif N Wessun, Liquid, Alexa Dirks, and more.
Their explosive live performance have garnered a buzz at SXSW, CMJ, NXNE, LA’s The Viper Room, The Birchmere, Harvest Fest, Grey Fox, Sasquatch, and on tours across the country. Back in Brooklyn at Rench Audio, there are beats and banjos wailing through the night as new tracks come together. So keep your eyes peeled and your foot stomping socks on – Gangstagrass keeps coming.
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