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Grieves runs wild on new album
With his humble, introspective lyrics and collaborations with Minneapolis label mates Atmosphere and Brother Ali, one might think Grieves was a Twin Cities-based rapper.
It’s a mistake that trailed Grieves, the stage name of Chicago native Ben Laub, to Seattle, his home of 15 years.
“We just played here, and people will still come up to me saying ‘You’re never here,’” he said.
On his fifth record, the 33-year-old emcee meddles with the music that has earned him a following here in Minneapolis, where his label, Rhymesayers Entertainment, is based. “Running Wild” meanders in and out of the self-reflexive style that has made Grieves a well-known name in underground hip-hop.
While there’s plenty to love on the 15-song record for core fans, Laub says “Running Wild” has “opened doors” for hip-hop heads because it draws from new inspirations, new sounds and new styles.
“I think people … immediately assume an artist is being disingenuous whenever they try something new,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to just not be one thing.”
The record starts out with a classic-style Grieves tune, “Postcards,” which lyrically sets the tone. Laub flew 14 hours from Seattle to work with a Swedish music producer, Stockholm’s Chords, who supplied the album’s unfamiliar beats and lush production (“I said I woke up in a city I ain’t never even been to / Called the homie Chords to see what s— we could get into”).
From there, “Running Wild” takes a turn. “What it Dew” and, to a lesser extent, “Boop Bop Da Willy Willy” have the rapper channeling a tongue-in-cheek, soulful party rapper calling out liquor companies and parts of the human anatomy. The first’s music video features a bizarre cast of characters, from a miniature Grieves puppet to human coat racks and a lethal devil woman.
Other songs are clearer combinations of Laub’s style. On first listen, “Gutz” is a trippy — Laub describes it as “wonky” — jazz-laden talk-rap, but further listens show that it’s another song about love gone wrong, one of the rapper’s staples.
“The plate that it has been served on is different and uncomfortable for people. I want it to feel like a cold, unfamiliar house,” he said.
Laub has gotten flak from fans for what some call disingenuous songs, but that’s not how he sees them. It would be dishonest to ignore these trap, jazz and party pop influences, he said.
“I’m not going to force you to like all these new songs,” he said. “… But I’m also not going to take lessons on hip-hop from a 16-year-old on the Internet. If you’re sticking to one thing, that means you’re sticking to one thing because you know that it works, and you’re denying yourself the truth that you can and want to do other things.”
This is not to say there isn’t a ton to love if you enjoy classic Grieves. “Roses” features Grieves hallmarks — a minimal, piano-backed beat and inward-facing lyrics — with beautiful hooks from Davey Jones and strong verses from Fearce Vill, both Seattle-based collaborators. Nearly all Grieves albums feature a largely instrumental track and “Levees” manages to get its point across in just a few lyrics. The self-aware, J. Cole-inspired “No Sleep” has Laub reflecting on producing a different kind of album, mortality and his career (“You see the world’s much realer on this side of the camera lens / You see depth, but only get six feet”).
The result is a layered album with a message, if there is one, that’s not quite clear. What listeners get is a portrait of Grieves with all his quirks — both old and new — that at times feels intentionally uncomfortable, adventurously produced and deeply honest.
Grieves will perform songs from “Running Wild” at First Avenue’s mainroom on Friday, Nov. 24. Openers of the 18-plus show include Minneapolis-based Sean Anonymous and ProbCause of Chicago.
For readers, Laub recommends checking out “blkswn,” the latest release from St. Louis-based rapper Smino.
“His swag and his whole being reminds me of the first time I heard André 3000,” Laub said. “He’s so weird. He must be an alien.”
“Running Wild” was released Aug. 25 via Rhymesayers Entertainment.
Cheers to the night owls
One of the classiest places to hang out just got cooler — and cheaper. The recently opened 510 Lounge from The Kenwood chef Don Saunders has started a late-night happy hour every night at 10 p.m. Each night diners can get $12 lamb burgers and $1 off oysters (now $3) served with champagne mignonette. For drinks, this means cocktails will generally go for $10, or $2 cheaper. As noted in a previous column, the bar serves a mean martini and perfected versions of classic cocktails. Beer drinkers will save a buck on each brew. Night owls can check out the lounge after dark at 510 Groveland Ave. in the former La Belle Vie space.
The shopping season is here
Believe it or not, but the holidays are fast approaching (I know, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet). But that Target Christmas display has already been up for weeks now. Maybe you’ve already started checking names off your gift list or maybe you don’t know where to start. Luckily, there’s one massive craft sale that will help you kick off — or continue — the shopping season with locally made style. The American Craft Council will have more than 60 Minneapolis makers and their wares at the Grain Belt Brewery complex just over the Plymouth Avenue Bridge from downtown Minneapolis. Shoppers can peruse jewelry, pottery and much more from vendors curated by the Minnesota Jewelry Arts Guild and A Conspiracy of Strange Girls. The best part is that because it’s all local, the people you’ll be buying for likely won’t have seen any of these goods before. The sale goes down on Saturday, Dec. 2 from noon–5 p.m. at 1224 Marshall St. NE.