As far as Seattle goes, the first thing you think of when picking through the city’s music scene is the great rock history the town possesses. In fact, I covered the area with The Washington State Playlist a couple weeks ago, which featured names like Hendrix, Vedder and Cobain.
Along with some friends, rapper Grieves is trying to create a new era of west coast hip-hop and bring a new musical understanding to Seattle. The “rain rappers”, as I like to call them, are slowly creeping into the Rhymesayers picture in Minneapolis. Grieves and his producer Budo are signed to the label, Sadistik is tied at the hip to local star—and label candidate—Kristoff Krane, and Seattle rapper Macklemore was a show-stopper at Soundset 2011. My best guess is that these guys realized Sir Mix-a-Lot is the biggest rap name from the northwest, and decided to do something to change that.
Grieves has been somewhat transplanted to the Twin Cities, evidenced by the fact that he is doing his album release show at Fifth Element tonight. Together/Apart plays like a parade of his influences packed into a 16-song record. Some wonder if Grieves is the replacement for the late Eyedea on Rhymesayers, and the idea carries weight on “Sunny Side of Hell”, which sounds like Mikey Larsen is in the booth. Along with a lot of Eyedea moments, there is definitely a shade of Macklemore in Grieves’ flow, sans the heavy breathing. Of course, every midwest-tinged rap style these days sounds like a slight reconstruction of an Atmosphere or Brother Ali recording, so after a while it becomes pointless to point at the similarities in styles.
The album touches upon the highlights quickly, with the über-contemplative “Light Speed” kicking the disc off. The opener touches upon Grieves’ childhood, social life, addiction and his disdain for Father Time. The rapper talks about the bad things in his childhood (“Getting whupped in the playground”) and the good (“Mom was a religion and happiness was a fact”), and seems to wish with all his heart that he could “hit the corner store for the new Fleer packs” just one more time.
“On the Rocks” is the other big-time song on Together/Apart, and it gets even deeper on the hopeless protagonist scale, depicting a man with only one wish: to be left alone at the bar for a final drink. This song is commendable for the catchy chorus and the sly grin you know Grieves had on his face when he sang it. The song, as well as the whole album, also features slick production from Budo, Grieves’ multi-instrumentalist right-hand man. One minute the dude is playing the trumpet, and the next he’s shaking a tambourine while shredding a guitar solo.
Where the album falls flat is in its shuffle-style track ordering. There are no distinct elements to make a lot of the songs stand out, and Grieves’ constantly chill style is almost a burden on the product as a whole. His singing voice isn’t bad, but the choruses start to blend together by the second half of the album. 16 songs is too many for only a few repeat-worthy tracks, two bland features (Brother Ali and Krukid) and no segues or themes. Together/Apart is a great collection of tracks to show off Grieves’ abilities, but it plays like a glorified mixtape. Don’t get me wrong, that’s fine, but this is no epic debut.
That being said, Grieves has obvious star potential, from his hyper stage ego to his signature lip ring, and he could be the first big-time mainstream breakthrough off of the Rhymesayers label. You may want to see him develop into a superstar, or you may want to keep him to yourself. Soon, you probably won’t have a choice, and Seattle could be on the map for more than coffee and Nirvana.