I’m a little late to the party to be reviewing the latest Gangstagrass album, Broken Hearts and Stolen Money (BHSM). It dropped almost a month ago, and has already caught the eye (or ear) of the mainstream media, but it’s gotten surprisingly little coverage in the whole indie music blogosphere, so I thought I’d give them a shout-out from FTB and give anyone reading this a heads up on album that’ll challenge your expectations of what both hip-hop or bluegrass is supposed to be.
If you haven’t heard of Gangstagrass, they’re a melee of bluegrass musicians and hip-hop artists who’ve found a way of blending the two styles that’s both charming and hypnotic. In fact, if you’ve ever watched an episode of FX’s show Justified, then you’ve probably heard their track Long Hard Times (feat. T.O.N.E-Z) on the opening credits. That song not only catapulted them into hip-hop relevancy, but earned them an Emmy nomination.
Long Hard Times is a few years old now, and the band dropped an entire other album, Rappalachia, between that Emmy nomination and the release of BHSM. And while Rappalachia was an album that I probably loved too much, BHSM is demonstrating that the guys (and gals) of Gangstagrass are still not done pushing the envelope or fulfilling their potential.
Breaking Hearts & Stealing Money
The neat thing about BHSM is that it really reflects just how much the band is coming into their own both as musicians and as trailblazers of a genre. In fact, there are two things that really stood out for me about BHSM.
The first is just how adept founder, producer and Gangstagrass mastermind Rench has become at mixing bluegrass tracks with hip-hop beats. The bass lines are heavy and warm, and carry a kind of meaning or purpose that you usually get a feel for when you’re listening to music influence by the bodhran (think the bass line to Counting Crow’s Omaha if you need a more mainstream point of reference), and then the banjo and fiddle come in and dance across those beats like a girl-next-door after she’s had enough strawberry wine to consider going up to the hayloft with her beau to make a couple bad decisions.
As for lyrics (and rhymes), BHSM is also a bit of a step-up from the more run-of-the-mill kinda showboating hip-hop lyrics that were more common on Rappalachia. Don’t get me wrong, Dolio the Sleuth’s and R-Son’s rhymes have always hella-smooth; but the band has now come into a storytelling phase of their music that’s both entertaining and thought provoking.
Overall, the tracks on BHSM run the gamut of Gangstagrass collaborators, giving you a little sampler on just how many different ways that hip-hop and bluegrass can sound so good together. But if I had to pick a favorite off of the album, it’d probably be Rainstorm in Kentucky. It’s a track with a bit of a dark and haunting undertone that gets you thinking about what it must be like to be a dirty-south gangbanger who ends up in the unfortunate (but not unexpected) position of having to dig a grave for a loved one yourself because, well, going through the channels of giving them a proper burial is only going the kind of attention from that’ll only make things even worse.