I first caught a glimpse of Grimes Grieves back at the Paramount Theater during City Arts Music Festival back in 2010. Brother Ali and DJ Snuggles took a brief break from putting on one of the best sets I saw that year to bring Grives up on-stage to perform a song. My memory might be deceiving me but I believe Benjamin Laub (Grieves) had just released his Rhymesayers debut (88 Keys and Counting) earlier that year. I’d never heard of the guy (Forgive me, I’m still in “buffering” mode as it relates to Seattle hip-hop. I’m hoping to change that this year, East Coast snobbery be damned.) but the crowd seemed to enjoy him enough. Despite the brevity of his performance, you could tell Mr. Laub had mad skills. He wasn’t doing the “human beatbox” thing like Snuggles, but Grieves was puppeteering syntaxes and syllables in a way that made him seem like a veteran of the game. It was as if while you were hanging out at the mall as a teenager, waiting for your parents to pick you up from the movies, Grieves was ghostwriting for an aspiring hip-hop star on an independent label.
Fast forward to May 3, 2012. Grieves is playing a sold out show at the Croc tomorrow night. He’s continuing to globe-trot and jet-set in support of his latest album Together/Apart, even though it was released approximately a year ago.
When it comes to show previews and album reviews, I like to educate myself about the artist if I am not already familiar with them. As much as I like surprises (and not knowing what the hell I am talking about), sometimes exposing myself to an outside perspective initiates the creative process and allows me to fill cyberspace with more words than I had previously planned.
In familiarizing myself with some of Grieves songs, I came across a lot of insightful commentary internet drivel. People saying that Grieves is only popular because he’s a “white rapper.” His recognition comes from his appeal to “White America.” Other conversations included accusing Rhymesayers as “selling out.” (This indictment never gets old, apparently.) While there were additional voices that applauded Rhymesayers and concluded that the Twin Cities based label could destroy mainstream hip-hop as we know it.
If you’ve ever read internet comments (no matter what they pertain to), then I don’t have to tell you that they have a tendency to make you hate humanity or extremely sad. In this instance, I found myself contemplating what it might mean to be a “white rapper in a mostly black world.” After all, I can relate in an adverse way. I am a black music writer that usually ends up at shows in which I am the only colored face (Like the Bowerbirds show I should’ve reviewed a thousand years ago but will be finishing up today or tomorrow.).
Fans of hip-hop probably write Grieves off as soon as they see his face. They dismiss him once their eyes hit his album cover. I was trying to think of other master linguists hip-hop artists lyricists that I could compare him to. I felt pretty ashamed when Macklemore and Atmosphere kept on invading my thinking space.
Am I comparing him to Macklemore because he’s another white hip-hop artist from Seattle? Or do I find Grieves is reminiscent of Macklemore because of the content of his lyrics and the way he tells the details of a story within his songs? Is it because of the tone of his voice? Do I compare him to Atmosphere because of the Rhymesayers connection? Maybe it’s the instrumentation that Grieves uses? Or do I make that comparison because it’s an excuse to not dig deeper? I’m still struggling with this.
On the flip-side of this, if Two Chainz recited some of Grieves’ verses, does that legitimize Grieves as an artist to the non-believers? This would never happen because Two Chainz isn’t capable of stringing together words over the span of 16 bars like Mr. Laub can.
It always puzzles me when people say race doesn’t matter, because it’s not just a bold-faced lie in all caps, it’s a fucking lie. Here in America, race always matters. Pretending race is passe is the equivalent of saying money doesn’t matter. You may not like the concept of money, it might make you feel uncomfortable, but I’d love to see you survive in America without it. Let’s see what happens to your life when you actively abstain from all forms of credit and currency under the watchful eye of Uncle Sam. You let me know how that goes.
If you say race doesn’t matter then you’re probably someone who surrounds themselves with people who look just like you, phenotypically speaking. You probably go out of your way to not socialize or associate with anyone who doesn’t look like you. An act of “cultural insulation” such as this is not only embarrassing, it’s a travesty. I almost look at it as a crime against humanity, as we are all here to learn from one another in an attempt to become better people. It’s funny how much damage a sociological concept (with no grounding in science, if you “believe” in science that is) can do.
Ask Brother Ali if race matters or not. Ask Jay-Z or Pharell Williams what those inaugural boardroom meetings were like when they tried to make the leap from the hip-hop world to the corporate one. Ask Grieves, who faces a type of discrimination that I am completely familiar and unfamiliar with, how people look at him for the first time when he grips the mic in a foreign environment.
But before you ask him, watch him rock the crowd at the Croc on Friday night. If you got tickets that is, because it’s sold out.