Greg Grease: I like to change people's minds

Named City Pages' Best Hip-Hop Artist of 2013, Minneapolis rapper Greg Grease has embraced high-concept inspiration throughout his burgeoning solo career -- a Laurence Fishburne movie, the mighty wordsmith Shel Silverstein, and now, one of the first successful black singers, Nat King Cole.

Last December, 26-year-old Grease dropped a surprise entry into the race for 2012's finest local album that has ruled much of this year too. Cornbread, Pearl, and G loads up on intricate lyricism, and basks in soulful production that crackles and warms you like a campfire. With this spring's Black King Cole EP, a few more folks saw him coming, but its off-kilter electronic beats show a guy who isn't ready for a specific niche just yet. Want more proof? He's hopped into performances with Marijuana Deathsquads lately, and heads to New York for a show with them in June.

Greg Grease has energy on the brain. Not only does the astute man say the word a lot in his sit-down conversation with Gimme Noise at Studiiyo 23 in Uptown, but "Black King Cole" and "Spectacular," featuring Mike Mictlan, are expressions of someone who obviously can't slow his creative churn. Read below about how Grease's day job inspires his work, how his father taught him to dissect hip-hop, his punk past, and get a taste of what he's bringing to Soundset this weekend.

See Also:
Greg Grease grows up, smooths out: Cornbread, Pearl and G hints at heavier, tongue-twisting lyricism
Greg Grease "Cornbread, Pearl and G" Release Show, 7th St Entry, 12/14/12

At Soundset, you have about 25-30 minutes to work with. How will it compare to your recent opening slots for Cam'ron and the Coup?

It's a similar amount of time, but not a similar outcome. I want every show to be better than the last show, and like it's my last show. I'm always trying to make it elevate and get the crowd interacted. I'ma have a couple tricks, little zingers. Since it's such a massive crowd, I'ma have my man Franz Diego with me. That'll be real live. We get to bring Southside on the stage. It'll be dope.

You seem like you'd be a lot more mellow when you're recording.

My studio vibe is way chill. When I'm actually recording, I try to build up some energy. When I'm performing, it's the opposite. Funny you should say that, because yesterday we were practicing for Soundset, and I was formulating these songs that I've never performed. I was practicing "C.R.E.A.M. Dreams," and I was like, "Man, the vocal tone is so much higher when I perform than the actual song." And I was thinking about it and it's because my energy's like [in a high register] "na na na" instead of [in a lower register] "no no no." It's that contrast.

How hard is it to play to a crowd that doesn't know your stuff well?

When I played out in St. Paul at the Amsterdam Bar [for the Local Current Live show], it was a crowd that had no clue what I'm going to sound like. Never heard me and don't listen to music that I make. I like to change people's minds. People be like, "I don't listen to rap, but Greg Grease? I listen to Greg Grease, though."

When did you start going to shows?

The first shows that I went to were gospel concerts when I was little baby. My parents always went to gospel concerts at church. At my church on Park Avenue. When I went to church down in Atlanta, we went to one of those megachurches. They have all kinds of crazy concerts and stuff. I always went to concerts as a kid, but I would sleep through them. When I started going to my own shows, the first ones were Christian punk rock shows. From there, I started going to punk rock shows.

At that point in time, growing up, my pops always listened to rap. He was like a true-school rap fan. I listened to a lot of that type of stuff, and I just wanted to rebel. Just like any other kid, you don't want to listen to what your dad listens to. Even if it's something that's cool and of your generation. I just wanted to go the opposite way to punk rock, reggae, and ska.

Since he's such a huge hip-hop fan, how does he respond to your music?

The way he raised me doing it was listening to a song like four times in a row. He'd be like, "Now this time, you're going to listen to the strings. Only the strings." And then, we'd listen to it. He'd stop it and be like, "So what'd you think about the strings?" And I'd be like, [affects a kid's voice] "It was tight, they  went up a little bit, and and got wider." And then he'd be like, "This time, we're gonna listen to the drums." He'll send me all kinds of messages like "Yo man, I really like the guitar on the breakdown on so and so." He breaks it down like that. That's how I think about it when I produce it. I'm a tough critic on rap, period. If I'm making something that I don't think I would vibe out with, then I'm not gonna share it.

Ok, so which producers are actually making interesting stuff right now?

Currently, I really like a lot of these instrumental electronic experimental producers. Ta-ku, Flying Lotus, Sango, Shlohmo. On the blogs, it's really important for me to try to pay attention to it to know what what's going on, but not pay too much attention to it so I don't sound like anyone else. I try to pay attention more to other genres more so that I can be more creative.

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