Greg Grease: I like to change people's minds
Named City Pages' Best Hip-Hop Artist of 2013, Minneapolis rapper Greg Grease has embraced high-concept inspiration throughout his burgeoning solo career -- a Laurence Fishburne movie, the mighty wordsmith Shel Silverstein, and now, one of the first successful black singers, Nat King Cole.
Last December, 26-year-old Grease dropped a surprise entry into the race for 2012's finest local album that has ruled much of this year too. Cornbread, Pearl, and G loads up on intricate lyricism, and basks in soulful production that crackles and warms you like a campfire. With this spring's Black King Cole EP, a few more folks saw him coming, but its off-kilter electronic beats show a guy who isn't ready for a specific niche just yet. Want more proof? He's hopped into performances with Marijuana Deathsquads lately, and heads to New York for a show with them in June.
Greg Grease has energy on the brain. Not only does the astute man say the word a lot in his sit-down conversation with Gimme Noise at Studiiyo 23 in Uptown, but "Black King Cole" and "Spectacular," featuring Mike Mictlan, are expressions of someone who obviously can't slow his creative churn. Read below about how Grease's day job inspires his work, how his father taught him to dissect hip-hop, his punk past, and get a taste of what he's bringing to Soundset this weekend.
At Soundset, you have about 25-30 minutes to work with. How will it compare to your recent opening slots for Cam'ron and the Coup?
It's a similar amount of time, but not a similar outcome. I want every show to be better than the last show, and like it's my last show. I'm always trying to make it elevate and get the crowd interacted. I'ma have a couple tricks, little zingers. Since it's such a massive crowd, I'ma have my man Franz Diego with me. That'll be real live. We get to bring Southside on the stage. It'll be dope.
You seem like you'd be a lot more mellow when you're recording.
My studio vibe is way chill. When I'm actually recording, I try to build up some energy. When I'm performing, it's the opposite. Funny you should say that, because yesterday we were practicing for Soundset, and I was formulating these songs that I've never performed. I was practicing "C.R.E.A.M. Dreams," and I was like, "Man, the vocal tone is so much higher when I perform than the actual song." And I was thinking about it and it's because my energy's like [in a high register] "na na na" instead of [in a lower register] "no no no." It's that contrast.
How hard is it to play to a crowd that doesn't know your stuff well?
When I played out in St. Paul at the Amsterdam Bar [for the Local Current Live show], it was a crowd that had no clue what I'm going to sound like. Never heard me and don't listen to music that I make. I like to change people's minds. People be like, "I don't listen to rap, but Greg Grease? I listen to Greg Grease, though."
When did you start going to shows?
The first shows that I went to were gospel concerts when I was little baby. My parents always went to gospel concerts at church. At my church on Park Avenue. When I went to church down in Atlanta, we went to one of those megachurches. They have all kinds of crazy concerts and stuff. I always went to concerts as a kid, but I would sleep through them. When I started going to my own shows, the first ones were Christian punk rock shows. From there, I started going to punk rock shows.
At that point in time, growing up, my pops always listened to rap. He was like a true-school rap fan. I listened to a lot of that type of stuff, and I just wanted to rebel. Just like any other kid, you don't want to listen to what your dad listens to. Even if it's something that's cool and of your generation. I just wanted to go the opposite way to punk rock, reggae, and ska.
Since he's such a huge hip-hop fan, how does he respond to your music?
The way he raised me doing it was listening to a song like four times in a row. He'd be like, "Now this time, you're going to listen to the strings. Only the strings." And then, we'd listen to it. He'd stop it and be like, "So what'd you think about the strings?" And I'd be like, [affects a kid's voice] "It was tight, they went up a little bit, and and got wider." And then he'd be like, "This time, we're gonna listen to the drums." He'll send me all kinds of messages like "Yo man, I really like the guitar on the breakdown on so and so." He breaks it down like that. That's how I think about it when I produce it. I'm a tough critic on rap, period. If I'm making something that I don't think I would vibe out with, then I'm not gonna share it.
Ok, so which producers are actually making interesting stuff right now?
Currently, I really like a lot of these instrumental electronic experimental producers. Ta-ku, Flying Lotus, Sango, Shlohmo. On the blogs, it's really important for me to try to
pay attention to it to know what what's going on, but not pay too much
attention to it so I don't sound like anyone else. I try to pay attention
more to other genres more so that I can be more creative.
When did you start plotting the Black King Cole EP?
Right after Cornbread came out, there were producers that I always worked with who started giving me more beats. I was starting to feel creative from the energy that I was getting from, like, you guys. That's the energy I feed off of -- from like dope write-ups and stuff that explains what I'm doing well. It makes me want to do more stuff. Or, like when I get booked for shows, like this New York show with Marijuana Deathsquads. After I got booked, I went and recorded some new songs. I get that boost.
The "Black King Cole" track was the first, Myke Shevy, who also did my video, we were just getting up talking about video stuff. He's playing me stuff, being like "Yo, check out this stuff I'm doing." And I was like, [high-pitched] "Wait." So I had to grab that. From there, I just started working on that. I reached out to a couple different people I knew that I really wanted to work with, like Wooley and GMO.
What's the flip side of the creative boost you just mentioned?
I'm always thinking about every angle. I think I'm a little obsessive about it. Whenever I get the boost, that's like the creative musical side. A lot of the time, I'm getting the logistic side, business side, the side I know I don't know about -- trying to look at things from a different angle. I'm blessed to have different passions and loves. If I'm feeling a little bit stumped with music, I'll just go work on stuff and get inspired. I always get inspired from working. Whenever I don't have a job, I do the least amount of creating. It's funny because I have the most amount of time.
What do you do for work?
I clean houses and wash windows. I work for Happy Earth Cleaning. Green earth cleaning company.
So you clean million dollar homes like the ones "A Tribute to the Lakes" talks about?
Oh yeah. Mostly windows. I've cleaned some crazy cribs, man. When I wrote that, I was washing windows and going into these houses. One of my strategies while washing these windows, whenever I'm in these crazy houses, if someone who lives there is in, I always ask them, "If you don't mind me asking, what is it that you do for a living?" Always! I'm researching and figuring out logistics. Most of the time they're lawyers, doctors, or people in the news sector. A lot of TV anchors.
Class disparity comes up a lot in your lyrics.
You just want to sit on this couch. And I don't live in a terrible house. I love my house, and I actually have an amazing couch that my parents gave me when they moved out of town. But going from these amazing, immaculate cribs -- every ounce of it immaculate -- to go home to an apartment that has raggedy windows and raggedy insulation and raggedy plumbing. It's some perspective.
Is the title of your EP a direct reference to Nat King Cole?
I'm partially just giving him props. He was existing when he was the only one doing what he was doing. That's like me saying, "I'm doing the same thing." Obviously my name isn't Nat King Cole, but what I'm trying to do is something that no one else has ever done, and exist equally.
What do you hope comes across with this record?
I just want to show multiple energies. I don't want people to think I'm just serious. I like to party with my friends. I'm multi-dimensional. I'm also not like a lot of things. This might not be a message song. There might be a message in the song, but it doesn't need to be a message song. This might be the party song, but it don't have to be a party song either. There might be a party in the song, though. My music is for people who like to use their minds. It'll trigger your mind when you listen to it. You might listen to it 20 times -- and then all of a sudden on the 21st time you're like [affecting seriousness] "Whoa, what did he just say? This is a smokin' song."
Greg Grease's Black King Cole EP is streaming here, Cornbread, Pearl, and G is streaming here, and The Giving Tree is streaming here. Catch him at Soundset with Atmosphere, Snoop Dogg, Mac Miller, Busta Rhymes, and lots more on Sunday. Tickets.
Greg Grease will also perform at City Pages' 10 Thousand Sounds festival at 8th St. and Hennepin Ave. in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday, June 22. The lineup includes the Walkmen, Free Energy, Prissy Clerks, Strange Names, and the Chalice (hosting). Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and $45 for VIP (not available day of show), and are available via Ticketfly here.
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