Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Heroes in our Dope City of Hip-Hop and Yoga

The author (left) and The Grouch.
So much of life is perspective. Some people are a downer, even to talk to for five minutes; the ones you turn your head from and avoid in the grocery store, those who are convinced that life is a bore, and everything is doomed. Then there are those people who you seek out, who lift you up, who achieve their own potential and radiate positive energy that is incredibly infectious; the lights of the world.

When I moved down to Durango I was in danger of becoming the former of those people I just described. In part, because I achieved a goal: I was a paid writer with a 9-5 that had all the benefits we Americans want with our jobs. This achievement trained me well as a writer, but I was selling my talent, the stories I wrote were scripted, public relations material written in a voice that was not my own. I desperately wanted to achieve my potential in writing, and I was learning its not a one way road, there would be many twists and turns.

The Durango Telegraph was my first writing gig in this fine town, and it has been good to me, starting with my very first story. I was assigned to write about a Paradox Sports event at the Ouray Ice Park dubbed, at the time, “Gimps On Ice”. It was a punchy name to describe an ice climbing festival for disabled and primarily amputee climbers. The inspiration meter was off the hook during this event, and I met many people that weekend who remain dear friends. Ice climbing is crazy enough, but to experience twenty plus people climbing ice who were missing arms and legs, well, there was a certain level of enthusiasm that infected every cell of my being; a sign from the heavens I was on the right path. Yes, this would be a good gig.

Four years later the Telegraph handed me another little nugget: I got to interview The Grouch and Eligh (G&E), two underground kings of hip-hop who played at the Animas City Theatre last week. I’ve always loved The Grouch, his simple, articulate, philosophical style is a refreshing breath of air in an often lack-of-talent saturated genre of music (search YouTube for Young Thug or 2 Chainz, huge stars in the rap world right now, and you’ll see what I mean). When I learned I would get to do a phone interview with him I got nervous. I mean how often do you get to talk to one of your heroes on the phone?

I first heard about The Grouch, through a collaborative album he did with Zion I, called “Heroes in the City of Dope”. He rapped about yoga, world travel, eating well, earning your living as an independent artist, exercise, his wife, and his newborn child. It was uplifting, poetic music, and I played the record, over and over again. Inspiration times a million.

So when I called up The Grouch two weeks ago for the phone interview I was giddy, like I was calling a beautiful woman for the first time. Should I call him by his real name? Or do I say, “Is The Grouch there?” Does that sound weird? Stop having weird thoughts, dude, just be cool. You can do this.

For the first minute of our conversation I fumbled with my words, while I tried to tell him how much of a fan I was. He was humble and appreciative, and I took a couple deep breaths, while I regained my composure. During the interview he explained his history with hip-hop, and how he was a longtime independent artist who used to dub his own tapes, and make CD covers at Kinko’s. The Grouch also explained, while growing up in the early 1990s, the golden age of hip-hop, just before the art was hijacked by gangsters and big business, that it was important for a rapper to be smart, or in the words of the culture: droppin’ science and kickin’ jewels.

The Grouch was patient, friendly, and more than willing to speak to a reporter from a small town independent paper, like yours truly. After the conversation I was charged with energy. They say never meet your heroes, but when you get to talk to a guy like The Grouch you realize, some heroes you should absolutely meet.

Then came the day of the show. When I woke up that morning, I was ready to be disappointed. I’d been listening to The Grouch and Eligh’s new triple album, The Tortoise and The Crow, and was in love with it, my favorite new music of the year, hands down. Their style and abilities have only been growing over the years, and musically and artistically these guys are peaking. To hope that their live show could equal such brilliance would be ludacris (cultural pun intended).

We tried to time our arrival so that we would miss some of the opening acts. The culture of hip-hop has a strange phenomenon that there has to be so many opening acts that the main act doesn’t even go on stage until 12:30 in the morning. At 12:30 I’m usually in my REM cycle, dreaming about kittens and nude beaches. (Separately, of course.)

Talking to my friends I went to show with I was blown away that they all had to work the next day. Work? After staying up until 3:00 in the morning? Shit, I cleared my schedule for the next two days, just so I could recover. At 36, a night on the town is a sure recipe that the next day is spent drinking Emergency’s, watching Netflix, holding my aching head while saying to myself, “Why, momma, why, did I go out last night?!?”

In short, the show was a disappointment, but only in the sense that I wanted G&E to keep playing for another two hours. Their show was just over an hour, almost the same length as the opening act, another phenomenon in hip-hop I’ll never understand. And while the opening act did the usual Colorado, “So who here loves to smoke weed?” thing like 10 times, G&E were classy. They played their down to earth songs, and the vibe ranged from party whompy music to the soulful hip-hop vibe they are known for. To top that off, I got to give The Grouch a handshake and a hug, and he even obliged for a photo.

Three days later and finally recovered, I got to check out The Living Yoga Project. I love yoga as much as hip-hop, and this all-local performance absolutely blew my mind, and left me inspired. The combination of yoga, dance, music, and dare I say a dash of breakdancing, carried me from smiles to tears. I was blown away by the turnout, nearly packing the theatre at the Smiley Building, especially considering they had two additional performances that weekend. Like G&E I could have watched these folks perform for another hour or two.

With such an awesome experience from these two events right here at home, I was reminded of an old truth in art, leave the audience wanting more. Always leave them wanting more. 

This story is published in today's Durango Telegraph. You can follow Mehall on Twitter at:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

G & E, The Nice Guys of Hip-Hop

Sometimes the nice guys do finish first. Such is the case with The Grouch and Eligh, a hip-hop duo twenty years in the making, who will be performing at the Animas City Theatre on Tuesday, December 9th.

The Grouch and Eligh are touring in support of their new triple album, “The Tortoise and The Crow”, which is comprised of a solo album by each rapper, and a collaborative album. All in all there are 51 songs, making it one of the most prolific hip-hop projects in the history of the genre.

The project was inspired by one of the most famous rap albums of all time, Speakerboxx/The Love Below by Outkast, released in 2003. “Both of us are huge Outkast fans, and we thought how cool it would have been if they had done a third album together, as a collaboration,” The Grouch said. 

Thus, The Tortoise and The Crow was born. The tortoise refers to The Grouch’s style, slow and calculated, and the crow refers to Eligh’s style, choppy, fast and abstract. “We compliment each other so well, because we’re opposites,” Eligh said. “It’s better than hearing two (rappers) with the same style. We are water and earth.

While their styles are different, content wise, their paths intersect dramatically. Both are introspective and have the souls of poets. They rap about spirituality, yoga, eating healthy, realizing mistakes they have made in the past, relationships, and trying to live in the moment. In short, The Grouch and Eligh destroy the traditional mold that hip-hop is all about violence, misogyny and drugs and alcohol.

“I rap about what is real,” The Grouch said. “I’m out trying to be the best person I can be, and pushing for a more positive life.”

The Grouch, who is married and has a daughter, often raps about his family, and put together a fitting tribute to his newly born daughter on the 2006 track called, “10 fingers, 10 toes, 10 pounds, 10 ounces”. However, as his name suggests, The Grouch wasn’t always happy.

“I grew up in Oakland, California and didn’t have much.” The Grouch said. “There was a lot of frustration. I would be riding the bus cause I couldn’t afford a car, and people would be stealing from me on the bus. ”

The Grouch went to high school with Hieroglyphics and Souls of Mischief, two hip-hop groups that went on to be relatively well known. “We knew we could do something similar,” he said. “But where they had record deals, we did something else with our limited resources. It did make us say “wow” when they were on TV on programs like Rap City.”

The two met at a mutual friends party in 1995, and began making music together shortly after that. In addition to Outkast, the two share early influences like A Tribe Called Quest, another group known for wise lyrics. “For certain rappers it was always important for them to be smart in their raps,” The Grouch said. “To us it’s called droppin’ science or kickin’ jewels.”

“Back in the nineties we had to hustle so much harder then,” Eligh said.

The Grouch, who actually started out producing music before he was a rapper, said the approach was completely different back then. “Everything was a stepping stone,” he said. “Make it (the music) in your house, sell it on the street and get the reaction. First, it was dubbing your own cassettes and making album covers at Kinko’s. Eventually we got more fine tuned and then the opportunities came.”

Last week the tour, dubbed, “How The Grouch Stole Christmas” kicked off in Santa Cruz, California. They are by accompanied by DJ Abilities and The Cunninlynguists. (If the triple album wasn’t enough, they just released a seven song EP with Cunninlynguists titled “WinterFire”. It is available for free on the Bandcamp website.)

The Grouch and Eligh, both note their favorite element of travelling is being on stage and interacting with the audience, many who are half their age. “The road is hard on me, it’s tiring, and stressful,” Eligh said. “But performing, that is the best part, I wish I could just teleport to each show. Come on teleport inventor, hurry up!”

The Grouch and Eligh also shared that Colorado is home to one of their highest, most energetic and faithful fan bases. “It’s always more challenging with the altitude to perform in Colorado,” Eligh said. “But the adrenaline from all the love we get in Colorado drives us, because the people support us more than most. They love us, and we love them, it’s a love affair.”

The Grouch described the feeling of being onstage as one of pure transcendence, “I love when I’m onstage and I am no longer thinking, I’m living purely in the moment. It’s a flow of energy, like a channeling from a place of God knows where. Sometimes Eligh will start a sentence, and I’ll finish it, with no prior rehearsal. That’s my favorite part.”

For more information on the tour visit: Tickets for the show can be purchased at Animas City Theatre. 

This story is published in today's Durango Telegraph.

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