The Grouch Who Stole Christmas…
You’d Better Not Pout SacTown--On Saturday, December 13th He’s Comin’ To Town
There are certain rappers in the music game today that make you realize that, despite reports to the contrary, Hip Hop is indeed alive and well. And--let‘s keep it real--we ain’t talkin’ about the Kanyes or Lil’ Waynes of the music world here. No, these emcees do their thing far from the shine of the mainstream promotional machine of the music industry. With no relentless radio play and no constant airing of videos on BET, MTV, et al, these are the artists you have to do a little diggin’ to discover--MySpace, college radio, or maybe even the digital music channels on your cable box…all fertile ground for finding these hidden gems. So if L.A. emcee (by way of Oakland, CA) The Grouch shows up on your radar screen, cherish the day and thank your lucky stars--you’ve found quality Hip Hop…with a pulse, no less.
Most heads would agree, the Grouch is firmly planted in the West Coast’s pissed-off stepchild genre of conscious, so-called backpack rap. Always in the shadow of Cali’s predominant gangsta variations, the West’s vibey underground has yielded some undeniable legends: Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Hieroglyphics, Jurassic 5, and of course, the benchmark quartet The Pharcyde. Born in Oakland, Grouch was an aspiring rapper attending high school in the early 90’s. Surrounded by all of the Bay Area’s influences at the time, such as Too Short, E-40, and Spice-1, it’s a wonder Grouch did not follow a similar path. But as fate would have it, he was classmates with Oakland’s revered arcane collective, Mystic Journeymen. They taught him the ways of Northern Cali’s out-the-trunk indie ideology and inspired him to forge a lyrical style that eschewed homicidal bling-bling yarn spinning for practical rhymes that dealt with mundane everyday life. Grouch emerged Yoda-like with his 1995 debut Don’t Talk To Me, forming a like-minded posse of mostly transplanted emcees from Los Angeles called the Living Legends.
Throughout the rest of the 90’s and into the present decade, they would release a wealth of material, garner a loyal cult following, and relocate the entire camp from Oakland to L.A. Always a loose collective -- with various members pairing off or doing solo joints -- the Grouch returned in April of this year with his highly regarded set Show You The World. Inspired by the wonders of becoming a daddy within the last couple of years, the album is filled with rich and tasty beats, insightful and relevant lyrics, and has spawned a single--“The Bay to L.A.”, which was featured recently in a national TV commercial for Playstation’s PSP.
Humble and reflective, The Grouch took time out to sit down with SoulsandSounds to talk about going out on the road, the new album, and the state of Hip Hop today…
S&S: First off, I want to thank you for taking this time out, man. So…it’s been five years since your last time out; talk to me about the tour a little bit. How’d it come together?
Grouch: Uh, you know, it’s only 13 dates. I did a show last year in Oakland--“The Grouch Who Stole Christmas“, and I wanted to make it an annual thing. I put some feelers out there, the promoters were interested--we put it together. I don’t know; I wanted to come with something different. I had never done a Grouch solo tour. I got the Living Legends with me. We switch off sets--we come together for a few songs, then I do my own stuff…but it’s definitely a Grouch show.
S&S: Go back a little bit for me. I remember your debut; but talk a little bit about how you got started.
Grouch: Well, I grew up in Oakland. I’m seeing all these guys: Too $hort, E-40, Tony!, Toni!, Tone!--I thought they were all just unbelievable, larger than life to me. Then, I kind of ran into the Hieroglyphics; I was like “wow, regular people can do this!” You know, it [the national success of local artists] didn’t seem real to me until I saw people around me doing it. I was into soccer at the time; my friend was already doin’ rhymes. He was like “hey, I need a partner…you should rap.” We started putting stuff together--I picked up an old Ensoniq Mirage sampler. Then, we met the Mystic Journeymen. They were making what we thought were demos, but they were actually selling them as is, independently. They were like “man, this is how you do it.”
S&S: Right…and it’s always been on the independent tip for you. Looking back, how do you feel about going the indie route? Because it seems like it’s always got to be a trade-off: artistic freedom vs. a lack of exposure and financial success…
Grouch: Uh, I don’t know…it’s always been an exposure battle for me. But you know, I look at it…I was able to buy a house with music money, I haven’t had to think about a side job for over 10 years; I think that’s quite an accomplishment. I mean, I think about if I had that kind of success…look at people like Dave Chappelle, or Kanye, or Eminem--they’ve all come out publicly about not being able to take it [the fame]. I wrestle with it; I want to be respected by my peers, but at the same time, it’s a new audience of youngsters and that’s cool.
S&S: So, that’s actually a good segue to my next question; what kind of state do you think Hip Hop is in right now? What do you think of the reshaping the music industry is going through?
Grouch: Man, there was a time when people loved the craft and loved the music. There was a time when not everybody was doing Hip Hop--it wasn’t the most popular thing. You used to be able to know where someone was coming from by the way they dressed; they were making a unique statement. I don’t know…you don’t have that anymore, because it’s mainstream now…everybody is doing it. You’ll never have that again: where people appreciate the music as a craft. A guy stepping into the game today doesn’t realize, or doesn’t care, that the reason you can just buy these perfect drum sounds in a box is because of what somebody before you went through to put time into every kick drum, every little sample. But, I don’t know…you gotta be able to get with the times to stay a part of it. The industry’s not a formula anymore. It’s reshaping every month; MySpace, YouTube…your video is now accessible right next to Jay Z’s. A lot of indie artists are just taking advantage of the fact that you can now rival a major-label artist. Like you can license your songs to commercials just like the major labels.
S&S: Like you did with the Playstation spot…
Grouch: Yeah, I got a big bump on my MySpace player, iTunes…I had videos on MTV; but I think it [the commercial] did better than that. It really helped reach an audience that my CD’s alone don’t reach.
S&S: At the end of the day, do you like creating in the studio, or do you like being on the road doing shows?
Grouch: I’m a studio dude…but I don’t mind doing shows. If I haven’t gone out in a while, I get that itch, but I could be in the studio 365.
S&S: Man, that’s it. Grouch, thanks a lot for talking to Souls&Sounds…I had fun doing this one!
Grouch: Yep…anytime, man. I had fun too!
- J. Quintella
The Grouch Who Stole Christmas--Sat. December 13th Live at the Empire Events Center (916)448-3300
1417 R St, Sacramento, CA
Call venue for more info and ticket prices
Visit The Grouch on his official MySpace page at: http://www.myspace.com/thegrouch
Official site of the Living Legends Crew: