Greg Grease | Public Functionary | Friday, March 20
The specter of death lingers in Greg Grease's otherwise convivial sophomore full-length, Born to Lurk, Forced to Work. "Originally it was just gonna be a mixtape... but then I started liking some of the songs a lot. It took a life of its own," says Grease. The concept was simple: the dichotomy of lurking and working, celebrating the nightlife of a young, grimy creative while scorning returning to a job the following morning.
"But while I was working on it more, I started learning about these different things like lurk ordinances [and] I was like, man, this is a little bit deeper," he says during an interview with City Pages at Nicollet Diner. "It kind of took a bigger meaning."[jump]
The album's concept conjures up Gwendolyn Brooks's 1959 poem "We Real Cool," a brief snapshot of seven pool players lurking late at the Golden Shovel. It ends starkly with the line "We die soon."
"That's actually one of my favorite poems, [but initially] I didn't even think about that," says Grease.
The album incidentally aligns itself with a history of black art based around resistance and personal freedom outside society's constraints. Grease's lyrics of carefree after-hours revelry are cut with the reality of police harassment, which can turn fatal.
"It's something that has always been happening," says Grease, whose music insistently reflected the realities of police brutality well before recent #BlackLivesMatter protests. "If that problem exists, art is going to reflect that."
With his penchant for slick voicing and busy internal rhymes, Grease is able to slip heavy subject matter into palatable rap patterns that are simultaneously mood-focused and edifying. The bars are consistently multi-tiered, often complicating moments of joy with the lingering reminder of economic need or impending danger. Criticizing the violence and deviance of the inner city over smooth and soulful modernized boom-bap, he zooms out to include history and context: Drug dealers have families to feed, cops have quotas to fulfill.
When necessary, he'll state his thoughts as plainly as possible, as on the downtempo, glitchy, flute-sampling "TWUD," which deftly details the police department's racist profit imperative. "They want us dead, they want us dead," goes the chorus. Guests like Tall Paul, Mike the Martyr, and P.O.S. complement his gruffly fluid South Side snarl.
Pulling any one line from its context reveals both a dexterous complexity and a vivid framing of larger ideas, but the songs' cool vibes also reward laid-back listens.
"A lot of that has to do with me being a drummer. A lot of times I'll write my rhyme around cadences," he says, mimicking his technique of recording scatted rhythms into his phone to later fill in with words. "I think I started rapping because... I can't really articulate my feelings through [instrumental] music. Sometimes you want to dig a little deeper and ask why you're thinking that, go a couple layers into your thoughts."
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Simultaneously exploratory and grounded, the beats reflect a new spin on timeless grooves. Grease describes himself as in the middle between young, technology-driven producers and the analog instrumentation of his father's generation. "My dad has a really good ear," he says. "Growing up, that's where I got my taste from."
Primarily produced by Grease himself, the music features additional production efforts from his Afro-futurist band ZULUZULUU and mixing by Medium Zach.
"Most of the beats I produce have a couple of [ZULUZULUU] members' sprinkling. [They] definitely influenced the way the album came together," says Grease. "We bring some future Sun-Ra hip-hop, reggae, jazz, funk, soul, rock....[laughs] I think that's where the future of music is. You don't really gotta have a genre. You can do whatever you wanna do. If it sounds good, it sounds good."
Since The Giving Tree graced City Pages' Best Minnesota Albums 2011 issue, Grease has three projects to his name that follow this principle, pulling inspiration from his days playing funk and gospel and weaving them into his hip-hop. "I was listening to [my old work] and it sounded like I was having way more fun," he says, laughing. "It's probably with me getting older, probably getting a little more focused on my concerns." Crafting raw raps about liberation, smoking blunts, and Pan-African identity are forever his focus, but the creeping shadow of oppression remains present in his music.
"For me, it's definitely stress relief," he says. "I'll feel a certain way and I'll just go make music."
GREG GREASE plays a Born toLurk, Forced to Work release show on Friday, March 20, at Public Functionary 612-978-5566
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