Gangstagrass is the brainchild of Brooklyn based producer and musician Rench, who has been pioneering the combination of country and hip-hop for over a decade.
Rench Audio production studio was home to Rench’s honky-tonk hip-hop recordings, but also served as a spot where Rench would produce albums for local NYC rappers. In 2007 Rench decided he needed to scratch a musical itch that had been on his mind since listening heavily to 1970s recordings of Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. The result was a genre-demolishing blitz called Rench Presents: Gangstagrass. It appeared on the Internet as a free download and people took notice. When the album garnered a positive mention on the influential blog BoingBoing.net, hundreds of thousands of downloads followed creating an intense underground buzz.
When FX Network asked Rench to write a theme song for their new series Justified, he had bluegrass players lay down an original track with rapper T.O.N.E-z, the younger brother of early hip-hop legends Special K and T-LaRoc. The result was Long Hard Times To Come, the song that opens every episode of the series.
Long Hard Times To Come was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2010 after Justified became an instant hit, garnering millions of viewers, and praise for the theme song from fans and critics.
Rench quickly released Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic, a full length album of original Gangstagrass material with live bluegrass players and T.O.N.E-z, the emcee featured in the Justified theme song.
Two years later the Gangstagrass sound was expanded with the release of Rappalachia, a 15 song album featuring a variety of rappers, including Kool Keith, Dead Prez, Nitty Scott MC, David E Beats, T.O.N.E-z, BROOKLYN35, R-SON, and Dolio The Sleuth. Country singers Brandi Hart and Jen Larson add gritty harmonies for several songs, while Rench takes vocal duties on most choruses.
Rappalachia fortifies both the hip-hop and bluegrass sides of the Gangstagrass equation, taking the music to a whole new level of intense Urban Twang. The sound scrambles sample heavy rhythm tracks, and the verbal legerdemain of T.O.N.E-z, the legendary Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs) and newcomers like Dolio the Sleuth and R-SON, with the fancy fretwork of Rench on guitar, along with fiddler Jason Cade, Dobro champion Todd Livingston and banjo picker Ellery Marshall. Vocalist Brandi Hart from The Dixie Bee-Liners supplies her impressive vocal grit to the outing, and Jen Larson from Straight Drive offers up her pure bluegrass vocal chops as well.
Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs) shows off the style that made him legendary on Western, ripping cowboy rhymes to a bouncing beat, augmented by banjo and dobro pyrotechnics. Shoot Dem, featuring T.O.N.E-z, suggests a hoedown at a Jamaican dance hall, with T.O.N.E-z laying down his usual tougher than tough flow over a big stomping beat. If Jimmy Rodgers could have rapped as well as he yodeled, he might have cut something like Gunslinging Rambler which features rapping by R-SON. Rench fills in for Rodgers as R-SON spits fire on the mic. Bandi Hart sings lead on reinventions of Doc Boggs’ Country Blues and Libba Cotton’s Honey Babe, while Nitty Scott MC and Dolio The Sleuth add rhymes to those traditionals as if they were served up tomorrow at a Brooklyn block party.
“If you pay attention to the charts, you get an idea that there is black music and white music, but a lot of people have Hank Williams and Jay-Z on their MP3 players,” Rench says.
Gangstagrass is now performing live, ripping up stages and blowing minds wherever they appear. Back in Brooklyn at Rench Audio, there are beats and banjos wailing through the night as new tracks come together. So keep your eyes peeled and your stomping socks on – Gangstagrass keeps coming.
"Rench’s vision has a toehold on a racy, improbable hybrid."
“Gangstagrass adeptly layers rap lyrics over strong emotional accents from the instruments, something most DJs can't take advantage of when sampling electronica music. You can hear it in "Nobody Gonna Miss Me;" the skillful slide on the guitar and winsome lines from the fiddle fill in the background of the rap with a bluesy, remorseful tone.”
- Mother Jones Magazine
“Cheers to Justified for tracking down the perfect theme song. FX's modern-day shoot-'em-up opens with "Long Hard Times to Come," by the aptly named Gangstagrass . . . hits the bull’s-eye.”
- TV Guide
“A mixture of bluegrass and hip-hop that might repel some purists on either side of the country-and-rap divide, but will knock the socks off just about everybody else.”
- Wall Street Journal
“Rench and his friends have done nothing short of creating a new form of music. Gangstagrass takes two types of music that are opposites and mixes them together brilliantly in a way that is natural and enjoyable.”
- Elmore Leonard