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Photo: Benjamin Smith
Photo: Benjamin Smith

Bluegrass Meets Hip-Hop in Gangstagrass

Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Phil Collins. Bob Dylan and Michael Bolton. Wale and Lady Gaga. The music industry is filled with unlikely combinations and collaborations – some more successful than others. But few are as unexpected as Gangstagrass, a collective that combines hip-hop and bluegrass.

The group has kicked off their tour and is bringing their unique sound to DC on March 14 at Hill Country BBQ. Producer and mastermind of the whole project, Rench, says the group is doing more than just combining two distinct genres.

“What I am already seeing happen is that we’re really experimenting with new sounds and sort of letting go of trying to keep ourselves within some sort of definition of part bluegrass and part hip-hop,” he says.

Rench grew up listening to both honky tonk and hip-hop music. His desire to combine elements of the two genres wasn’t always well-received when he was a hip-hop producer, but he continued to explore the possibilities.

The combination may confuse some people. After all, name a single radio station that plays both bluegrass and hip-hop. But despite separate radio stations and award shows, Rench says music fans are not actually as segregated as they may seem.

“America is just full of people with Johnny Cash and Jay-Z on their playlist next to each other, and all kinds of other stuff mixed together,” Rench says. “What they’re looking for is not something based on only a particular genre – they’re just into the good stuff. If you’re making something creative and good, they’re going to get down to it.”

Gangstagrass is not just using the tour as a chance to meet fans and perform live. The group is in the middle of recording a live album to capture a different energy than what you can hear on their studio albums.

“Bluegrass and hip-hop both have a strong improvisational element, and we take full advantage of that at our shows,” Rench says. “We might restructure something on the fly, or we can throw an extra solo to somebody and R-son, the emcee, can start freestyling for a verse. We get to be really dynamic in how we shape the songs and bring an energy to it.”

Not only does Gangstagrass serve as a bridge between two genres, but the group believes their music and shows can serve as a bridge between two cultures. While it may be unexpected, a bluegrass hip-hop collective is a very American combination, according to Rench.

“Gangstagrass is here to show people that there’s still totally things that we have common ground on; that we can party together and even talk together about stuff without feeling like we’re unable to coexist. Having a bluegrass hip-hop band is just one way of showing we can play for people in Brooklyn and we can play for people in Kentucky, and they can get down to the same music.”

Catch the show this Wednesday, March 14 at Hill Country BBQ at 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15-$18 and can be purchased online.

Hill Country BBQ: 410 7th St. NW, DC; 202-556-2050; www.hillcountrywdc.com