When listing similarities and differences of hip-hop and bluegrass, listeners might actually find more commonalities than differences. Gangstagrass takes advantage of those commonalities to create a unique sound that draws in fans from all genres.
"I started producing and making beats for MCs in New York. And I would always have an urge to be like, 'we can put a fiddle on this.' And they would be like, 'no.' So I had to start doing it myself," said Rench, producer and mastermind of the band.
The Gangstagrass Holiday Party will take place on Monday, Dec. 12 at the Tower Theatre. This is a rescheduled show from April, and the Tower is honoring those tickets. This historic venue will house the strings of the banjo and fiddle, and blasting hip-hop beats.
"Musically, [bluegrass and hip-hop] are so easily blendable. Because at its core, bluegrass is very melodic. While it's very rhythmical, it's not percussion-based. And at its core, hip-hop is about the beats, right? So essentially, what we're doing is just sort of marrying the two musically," said R-SON The Voice of Reason, Gangstagrass band member and MC extraordinaire.
The melodic harmonies of bluegrass and the rhythmic beats of hip-hop come together in Gangstagrass' music, providing a rich sound that's hard to find in other genre crossovers. Each music track is a team effort — Rench on vocals/guitar/beats, Dan Whitener on banjo/vocals, Brian Farrow on fiddle/vocals, R-SON the Voice of Reason on vocals and Dolio the Sleuth on vocals.
Depending on the creative process and inspiration for songs, Gangstagrass takes the time to co-write music to fit lyrics, or vice versa. Instead of looping a banjo or fiddle sample on a hip-hop beat like other artists attempting to mesh the genres, Gangstagrass has full tracks of Whitener and Farrow shredding it and trading solos. This is what sets this band apart, according to Rench. The band finds a flow and knows when it has hit the sweet spot.
"Lyrically, [bluegrass and hip-hop] are way more alike than they are different," R-SON said. "There is a lot of outlaw narrative, a lot of storytelling and a lot of the sort of braggadocio that existed in both cultures. Meshing them together is far less difficult than people would think."
The track, "Santa's Favorite," just came out on streaming platforms, and a holiday EP is to follow. This single humorously touches on the reality that rich kids get bigger and better presents and are "Santa's favorites." Another pre-EP single release the band is excited about is "Christma-Chanu-Kwanza-Ramadanamas-Mukkarborday." This song celebrates a myriad of winter holidays with a catchy beat and twangy strings. At the holiday concert, Gangstagrass will perform more hits from the unreleased EP.
On the band's latest studio album, the band collaborated over the pandemic from different cities to put together this cohesive collection of tunes. Layering ideas and riffing off one another's recordings, Rench received, developed and arranged the musical pieces to the puzzle that was "No Time for Enemies."
The strong crossover the two genres have is the improvisational component of performance. The band can be spontaneous — spitting verses back and forth, freestyling lyrics and firing off banjo and fiddle solos. The members of Gangstagrass take full advantage of interacting with each other on stage, setting its live shows apart from the studio albums.
On tour, you can find Ganstagrass seeking out the perfect post-show milkshake to end the night. Whitener on banjo/vocals has a "milkshake sense" the band relies on to find the right spot, but the band is also open to suggestions. Concert goers and milkshake fanatics are encouraged to DM the band on Instagram (@gangstagrass) with Bend's best milkshake suggestions.
"We're out here to change the world, rock mics and blow minds all in one fell swoop," R-SON said. "Not the easiest thing to do, but someone has got to do it."