As Grieves took the stage with his trademark lip ring and wiry physique, I’m disappointed to say that what I most remember about his bare-knuckle, DIY, CD release performance with Budo…is the smell. A concoction of sickly sweet perfume, flavored cigarettes, sweat, adrenaline, and new vinyl permeated Fifth Element–packed 30 deep and 70 up toward a bed sized stage where one man conducted hundreds of enthusiastic, dedicated fans just waiting to bum rush the stage with copies of his Rhymesayers debut, Together/Apart. And to think it all started back in Seattle, in a solitary apartment, with a solitary occupant.
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“I don’t draw it [imagery] from literature,” said Benjamin Laub (aka Grieves), “where I draw that stuff from is the massive up’s and down’s I’ve experienced.” Laub’s self-released debut LP, Irreversible (2007), was riddled with dark, existential themes and poetic imagery (though Laub himself eschews his classification as poet). On his breakthrough sleeper hit “Unedible”, Laub invites the listener to aid in his introspection, an entreatment furthered by the minimalist production and the now ubiquitous classical guitar motif.
“I think I draw from the 11’s, Jon Brion, and Dave Fridmann,” said Josh Karp (aka Budo), “I synthesize a lot of the different influences I have.” First a trumpeter, then a guitarist, now a pads and keys man, Budo is arguably the most interesting thing to happen in hip-hop production since MPCs came out. His quirky, creative, danceable, eclectic style meshes perfectly with Grieves’ distinctive timbre, flow, and lyrical imagery. That’s what made their debut collaborative LP, 88 Keys and Counting (2008), such a resounding success.
Check the track “Cloud Man” off of 88 Keys for some Mayer Hawthorne-esque neo-soul wurlitzers, echoing claps, and feel-good vocals. All the tracks off the album are that good, but there were some problems… “Pushing 88 Keys independently wasn’t really working for us, so I looked for guidance from [Rhymesayers Co-Founder] Siddiq,” said Grieves, “and that ended with us getting a record deal.”
Back to present day. I can feel the pellets of hot sweat shooting at me from a monolithic subwoofer rigged on the ceiling. People are into this show like it’s a metal concert, and the 8-bit turned bass is making me feel like I’m at some kind of futuristic neo-feel-good-punk-hip-hop gig. Grieves tears through new tracks like “Bloody Poetry”, “Sunny Side of Hell”, and “On the Rocks”, as well as some others that now escape me because of the sheer explosiveness of the gig. So I sat back, pondered Irreversible, 88 Keys, and wondered how a man can continue to re-invent himself so well.
From Grieves’ sample based debut, to his instrumental, analogue collaboration with Budo, and now this post-funk-punk-hop-chillwave amalgam of genres, they have both grown exponentially as artists. They hate to be pigeonholed, but there is a certain thread of hip-hop that ties all their distinctive bits together. “We’re trying to do our own thing, but not pushing too far outside the comfort zone,” said Budo. Grieves similarly echoed, “[Together/Apart] is inspired by the amount of time we spent on the road touring…that’s where all the variation comes from.”
You might wonder how two radically creative minds get along for long enough to produce awe-inspiring, creative art. “We have a creative tension…we both approach music from two different places, but there’s a symbiosis there,” said Budo. Grieves nodded and simplified the concept, “Some of the best music we make is when we’re frustrated with one another.” And it doesn’t look like they’re stopping anytime soon.
Grieves and Budo are joining Warped Tour June 24, so check here for dates, and be sure to follow Grieves and Rhymesayers via Twitter @Grievesmusic and @Rhymesayers respectively for info regarding upcoming shows and releases. I highly recommend ordering Together/Apart via Rhymesayers’ record store Fifth Element, and be sure to check back in for the full album review of Together/Apart and its companion DVD Present/Tense.
A special thanks to Jake Schaefer, Grieves, Budo and everyone at Fifth Element and Rhymesayers for making this story (and more importantly Together/Apart) possible.