A band that crosses genres like bluegrass and hip-hop with true authenticity, Gangstagrass is a multi-racial group of string pickers and MCs. That gives them a very unique opportunity to create shared cultural space for dialogue and connection between folks that usually never intersect.
With their new track “Freedom” the band plans to take the story of black struggle across cultural lines where it rarely gets focus.
Gangstagrass has always been about breaking through the social and racial divisions between us. The album “No Time For Enemies” was primarily recorded when the United States went into Covid-19 lockdown. The death of George Floyd and the race-related protests added to the immediacy of their message and their desire to finish despite the challenges of recording during a pandemic.
Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th, is a tradition marking the anniversary of the day news of Emancipation reached slaves after the end of the Civil War.
“A powerful holiday that recognizes such a milestone in America’s growth and the momentous occasion of liberation should be more widely recognized.” says Gangstagrass founder Rench, “we had recorded this track in February and planned on other single releases first, but once the national protests took hold we knew this was the time to release an anthem of the struggle for racial equality, and Juneteenth was near, which was so appropriate to tie in with this song, which starts off with slave revolt.”
“Freedom” marks a deep dive into politics and race. “America has to look at what’s been going on for centuries and understand why the fight continues and the resolution can’t wait. We’re putting that in your ear to get comfortable with if you want to be down with us.” Brian Farrow’s bluegrass fiddle and Dan Whitener’s banjo float above a funky backbeat, as Dolio and R-SON layout America’s racial conflict, from plantation slavery to the civil rights movement, and the frustration engendered by today’s seeming indifference to the struggle. “Our verses are so very different tonally, espousing very different methods to meet the same goal. While Black thinking isn’t monolithic, the goals are very often the same,” remarks R-SON The Voice Of Reason.
In fact, Rench maintains, music is a perfect reflection of our segregation and Gangstagrass is providing an antidote to our racialized conception of the genre.
“Many people don’t know that the banjo was originally an African instrument that traveled here with slavery. Early America found slaves and poor whites combining African and European instruments and styles across the south. The dawn of the recorded music industry happened during Jim Crow segregation, so music was marketed with completely artificial racial categories of ‘race music’ and ‘hillbilly music’ – which have been imprinted on our minds decades later as black soul music and white Country music. This is a fabrication of the industry and its time for it to die.”
FX Network asked Gangstagrass to write a song for their new Western crime series, Justified. The result was the Emmy nominated “Long Hard Times To Come,” the song that opens every episode of the series. Since then, the band has made four studio albums and a live album. “At this point, there can be no sense that this is superficial, or a novelty,” Rench says. “This is real, we are authentic and we are producing a new formulation of American music that returns us to real connection. We are here to show that illusion of white and black music is a relic of the 20th century, and the 21st century starts with partying together. From there, learn to take care of each other and repair the damage our prejudice has done.”