A fusion of bluegrass and hip-hop

Gangstagrass combines two seemingly disparate styles

slinn@thetribunenews.comJuly 10, 2013 

Randy Green — better known as R-Son the Voice of Reason — has never let stereotypes define him.

He’s a Philadelphia emcee who’s also a fervent comic-book fan, a radio personality who dreams of becoming a police officer like his dad. And, most intriguingly, he’s a member of Gangstagrass, a band that blends bluegrass and hip-hop.

Although that might sound like an odd combination, Green insists it works better than you might think.

“For the most part, I haven’t had a single person tell me, ‘That sounds ridiculous,’ ” Green said, especially after they’ve had a chance to see Gangstagrass perform live. “When they hear (the band), they say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. I can’t believe nobody did this before.’ ”

On Friday, Gangstagrass will perform with Americana combo Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line at the Seven Sisters Fest in San Luis Obispo.

Created by Brooklyn producer Rench in 2006, Gangstagrass found a wider audience after its song “Long Hard Times to Come” — featuring rapper T.O.N.E-z — was selected as the Emmy Award-nominated theme song of FX’s “Justified” in 2010. The Emmy-winning television show stars Timothy Olyphant as a tough Kentucky lawman.

Gangstagrass is currently touring in support of its 2012 album “Rappalachia,” the follow-up to 2010’s “Lightning on the Strings, Thunder on the Mic.” Another as-yet-unnamed album is in the works.

Green first performed with Gangstagrass in April 2011, when fellow emcee Dolio the Sleuth invited him to fill in for a few concert dates.

He’s now part of the band’s regular lineup, along with Dolio, Rench, resonator guitarist Landry McMeans, banjo player Dan “Danjo” Whitener and fiddler Jon Westover.

“It’s been one of the best things that ever happened to me,” said Green, who splits his time with the band with his job as assistant manager of Comics and More in Plymouth Meeting, Penn. He’s also one of the five hosts of “Black Tribbles,” a Philadelphia-based radio show and podcast that covers everything from cartoons and comic books to science-fiction movies and video games.

Although Green didn’t know much about bluegrass before joining Gangstagrass, he said his time with the group has made the genre “more meaningful.”

“All it takes is really some experience being exposed to the music and the mechanics,” Green explained. “Watching a (great) banjo player is as exciting for me now as watching a great DJ.”

He’s equally enthusiastic about blending bluegrass and hip-hop.

“Any hip-hop producer will tell you when they’re creating something (that) it’s beats and rhymes and the melodies,” he said. “This is the same thing. … It’s melodies over beats, and I’m lucky enough to be the guy rhyming over it.”

Besides, he said, the two genres share the same sociopolitical roots.

“In both instances … it’s the people’s music,” he said, noting that both bluegrass and hip-hop provide a means of self- expression for oppressed, impoverished people. “Whether you’re from the hood or the holler, it’s music that someone you knew made.”

“For a hip-hop cat,” he added, “if the beats are dope and the rhymes are dope, it’s dope.”

IF YOU GO

Gangstagrass
6:30 p.m. Friday
El Chorro Regional Park and Campground, Highway 1, San Luis Obispo
$25, $30 at the gate
855-966-7767 or http://sevensistersfest.com

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.

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