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Seattle based Rhymesayers artist Benjamin Laub – better known as Grieves – has been making waves for over ten years now and has been carefully blending all sorts of musical styles together to come up with his own unique take on the genre of hip hop. Known for having a rigorous touring schedule and really grinding on the road in front of his fans, he’s managed to find the time to release five studio albums throughout his career alongside a host of EP’s – the latest of which dropped this summer. ‘The Collections of Mr Nice Guy’ is an 8-track project which sees Grieves grow musically with some incredibly diverse production but a continuation of the emotional, introspective wordplay and lyricism that is instantly recognisable from Mr Laub. Having just come off the back of a lengthy North American tour, Grieves had some down time before heading across to the UK and Europe for ‘The Secret Handshake Tour’, a co-headline tour with British hip hop group Too Many T’s, so we had a chance to catch up with him and get his views on a lot of things – from mumble rap to touring to Kim Kardashian to his creative process and everything in between!
Check out the interview below and don’t forget to check out the Too Many T’s interview too!
You’ve just come off the back of a pretty long tour across the US and Canada and you’re gearing up to head across to our shores to the UK and EU, so with that in mind, how important is touring for you and getting to play these songs out live in front of an audience?
I think theres two sides to it, well, I don’t think theres two sides to it, there is two sides to it – there’s of course the business side and a friend and a colleague of mine always would joke ‘you’re not in the music business, you’re in the live show and t-shirt business’, which he’s right, now that the way the music industry has gone, I’m not really making my money off of music, I mean, it all pertains to music, but I’m not making it off of record sales these days
Yeah, of course
So touring is a huge part of income and a way for me to pay everyone on my team and keep things moving and a way for me to keep making the records people expect me to make. Since people don’t buy the records, I’m not getting the money from those records to make new records, so now I gotta tour.
Yeah, of course, I mean touring has always kind of been a big thing for any sort of musician but in the common day and age with the way the music industry is going, its becoming a bigger and more important moneymaker for guys, especially guys like yourself who are really trying to put new and interesting music out there
Yeah, its……it’s weird, because, like at the lower level it was kind of a labour of love because I wasn’t really making any money doing it, but at the mid level, especially, y’know when my first big record came out in 2011, I was making money off of records but then we were touring too, so we were having really good years and we were able to take risks and we were going on tours we weren’t getting paid for but we were making money off of records so it was okay. Now I can’t really do that, so its almost like I’m back to square one but I have more people coming to the shows, but thats just one side of it, thats just the business side and that is probably the less interesting side. The human side of it all is….I don’t think I ever really wanted….to….be this person, I don’t think I ever wanted to be on the stage and like a performer was never a goal of mine, I Just wanted to have a life in music, I just wanted to make music, whether it was my music or somebody else’s music or anything like that
Yeah, that kinda leads in to my next question almost, you’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and as you say, 2011 was obviously a big year for you and you’ve put out a lot of music over that time, is this the kinda path you were looking to go down when you started out in 06/07?
Well, it just kinda happened y’know? I was making music, I was around some good people, it fell into some hands, I had, y’know, a support group that pushed me and made me go farther with it, but I wasn’t like cold-calling labels and like running up on people being like, ‘HEY, SIGN ME!’. Making music was the dream but it really just kinda happened, and to go back to your last question, I make this music, I’ll always make this music, even when people stop listening because it’s for me and it always has been but the touring has been a way to connect with people and learn more about the human condition and learn more about myself and the music that I’ve made than I think any other avenue in the world. I’ve watched these songs reinvent themselves over and over and over , everywhere I go, to different people, it keeps it new and it keeps it fresh to me.
That experience is like, whats keeping me on the road
And as you say, you would make this music for yourself anyway, I mean theres a clear introspection in the way you produce your music and the way your lyrics are and in the way you talk about the subjects that you talk about, but over time there has been a real evolution in your sound, back in your early days I would say it was more of a solemn, darker tone but with things like ‘Runnin’ Wild’ and obviously the new project, theres a bit of a jazzy, mellow sound coming through in the music, but the introspection is still there…
Yeah, I’m getting older, the process has stayed the same, I keep this very clear head and hit the studio pretty blank y’know, I get in there and I just make a song and come and then I’m like ‘Woah, I made a song about this…’, I don’t ever really plan it out. So the process stays the same, but I’m getting older and I’m a lot happier than I was in 2007 you know, things are better, life is good, but I can’t change my rap name.
Yeah, thats true, and tying in to that, to call your music simply just hip hop or call yourself just a rapper is doing a bit of a disservice, there is so much musicality to your sound and you obviously draw from a variety of different influences outside the realm of hip hop, I think you’ve spoke about that preciously that you didn’t really listen to hip hop until a bit later in your development, so do you think that kinda comes through in your music and is it a conscious effort or is it something that just happens as you say?
I think its just part of my musical experience was to always just go deeper into the music, if you hand me like a super basic 2-bar looped rap beat, I’m gonna have a really hard time coming up with anything to say to that because to me, thats only gonna be 2 bars long, but some other ‘rapper rappers’ are gonna hear that and be able to go for like 5 hours on it. But when I hear those 2-bars loop again? Thats it for my creative process…I can come up with 2 bars.
Yeah, like, you’ve done that bit, wheres the rest of the song?
Exactly, thats why you’ll hear a lot of changes throughout the verses and into the chorus because it signifies change for me and I’m able to find different…it helps with the style for me, creatively it signifies this change and this momentum forward – I don’t gain that momentum from, just like a 2-bar loop and I used to be able to, sometimes I wish I didn’t lose that but its just the way the process took me and now the more that happens, the bigger I want those changes to be, the stronger I want that momentum to be, the wackier I want, like, a turnaround, like, it’s pretty common that I do like, I call it a turnaround but at the 8-bar, once at this point where you think you’ve got the melody, I’ll throw in a wacky chord that dumps back into that same melody at the end of the 8 and thats become almost a signature for me and now if I don’t hear it, I’m like, ‘nah, that ain’t mine’. These things keep happening and then these new tricks keep getting added in and I keep stacking them on top of each other and eventually my shit is just gonna sound like a jazz fusion song, so we’ll see where it goes, the more I learn about music and the more I learn about the process, the more I want to incorporate those things.
Theres absolutely nothing wrong with that man, the jazz fusion stuff is almost like a tenet of what you’ve kinda got just now, with ‘Runnin’ Wild’ and the new project, it really sort of works and adds a new feather to your cap, it’s development, it’s growth, it would be great to just do things that you thought were great 10 years ago but you’ve got to develop and build on things and I think thats what you’ve done over the years.
Yeah, and I think that that sound too, especially kinda like with ‘Perspective’ and songs like ‘Boom Bop…’ on Runnin’ Wild, its a way for me to take something that is so classic in my heart that, like it feels like a classic hip hop song to me, but then, add all of this new musicality that I need now into it and not only have it be good for me but be palatable for the people that have been rocking with me for the past 13 years
Yeah, thats true…
Because I don’t wanna go and pull a Lupe Fiasco and make a terrible punk rock record or something like that and force it down peoples throats. I understand that the people that support me and everything like that, they support my music, but they’re hip hop fans and they’re Rhymesayers fans and they come for a certain thing and that certain thing is very much part of the music that I make, so its not like I’m selling myself short or throttling myself, just sometimes when I’m in the studio, I have to make decisions to be like, ‘well, that might be a little too weird….why don’t we dial that back a bit’, because I can do the weird shit all day and just never release it, thats mine, I get to keep any of the music that I make is mine, like I don’t have to put it on a record for anyone.
Yeah, its almost like releasing these records and putting them out into the ether is secondary, the creative process is what you’re about and what you’re into and I think when you’ve got that creative process in you, you can make weird music and thats for you, thats personal.
Yeah and honestly, if we’re not progressing in what we do, we’re just treading water and being stagnant and how, well, I guess there are some old faithfuls, people that are able to do the same thing over and over because people don’t want anything else from them and those would be our classics, but I don’t think I’m that, I’m not that, I never have been that, I’m lucky that I get to evolve. It comes with its blowback sometimes, like when I put out ‘Runnin Wild’, the amount of people that just said the most uneducated bullshit about selling out because I decided to be like…y’know, songs like ‘RX’ where it has that very modern soundscape and the modern drums, the big 808’s and the triplet hi-hats, people are like, ‘You’re selling out!’ and its like ain’t nobody gave me a dime for this, what are you talking about? This is exactly the song I wanted to make, this song is about panic attacks, if it makes you uncomfortable then its doing its fucking job!
Yeah, that would be a compelling argument if you were now like a multi billionaire that you sold out, but…
Yeah, but then I wouldn’t even care either, I’d be like, ‘YEP!, Check me out!… I have a corn dog machine in my house, suck my dick!’
(an outbreak of hysterical laughter from both of us)
One thing I do notice in your music now is that you have an uncanny knack for a catchy chorus and a catchy hook, that a lot of your contemporaries don’t always have in their songs, it’s normally just bar after bar after bar, but you always seem to come with a new, fresh chorus or hook that draws you into the song, do you think thats a bit of a hangover from your punk rock or hard rock days?
Maybe, I think the hook was always the way to show that I had more music inside me, especially back in the ‘rap rap’ days, so it would be like ‘rap, rap, rap, rap, rap…catchy hook’ and it would be like, ‘Oh shit, okay, whats happening with this?’ and now its like so much more acceptable to be singing and not be using samples, y’know, hip hop has fused with R’n’B so much to this point and theres like this Trap-Soul-Rap-Shit going on too which is really cool from a production stand-point you know?
Those melodies have found a way back in and you no longer have to tread lightly with that but, back in the day, I kinda felt like I did. When I stopped using samples and started playing instruments, I was like, ‘Shit! We need to make this sound like a sample!’ because it would sound kinda wack if not, it would sound like we were just making wack ass keyboard beats, so we gotta figure out, how do we get that depth or that tone and that grit and all that other shit, but also not get sued. Really, it wasn’t about getting sued, it was about, there was only so much you can do with a sampler right? There’s only so much you can open it up melodically, but when you start playing the stuff and making it sound like a sample, people start going, ‘where the fuck did you find this sample? and how did you find so much of it?’
And I was like….ummm, I don’t know what you’re talking about, and then also I can craft it around the melody I might have in my head for the catchy hook, or if I have a catchy hook and it doesn’t match the melody I can change the melody in the hook and leave it in the verse
Yeah, theres a lot more you can do with it in that regard, you’re not sort of tied into a 15 second snippet of a 70’s soul song, you can kinda craft that little moment for yourself, but to go back to the ‘Trap Rap’ stuff you were talking about, on ‘Man Down’ from the new project, you spit the lyric, “I’m on some other shit/ go on, pick it up, try to run with it/stupid motherfuckers getting rich up on some mumble shit”, which kinda speaks to this phenomenon in recent years of hip hop becoming so less lyrical than it used to be, is that something you worry about for the future of the genre?
I mean, theres always been dumb rap shit, like always has been…the backpack era, like a little less, but look at the early 2000’s with all that club rap and that weird southern shit, that got so bad for a while
Yeah, like the D4L’s and stuff…
But people loved it and it did really well, people like dumb rap shit because they don’t wanna think about it, they just want banging ass beats and like the mumble rap is kinda crazy because I guess people don’t even wanna memorise lyrics anymore, they don’t give a fuck, they wanna, “wubadawubadawubada” like when you’re making fun of a rap song? Those are rap songs now, its crazy! As an artist, I find no love in that, I cannot respect….I cannot….I can’t do it….I fucking can’t do it, but I can give the producers love and it should just be the producers, we should flip flop it because all these MC’s are getting the shine for not doing a damn thing and just picking out beats – it should be the producers record with whatever little mumbly they got on there
Yeah, put more onus on the music makers
Yeah, there should be a shift in money too, if you’re gonna do half the job, you should get paid half the price, but you know, it is what it is and I’m definitely not gonna be that old bitter dude thats like, ‘”Well in my day, we weren’t doing the mumble stuff!”. If its making you money and you’re having a good time and if you’re not a piece of shit, which it seems to be that a lot of them are, I mean, look at Lil Yachty, I can’t do that dudes music to save my life, but, he seems like he is such a nice dude and is having the time of his life and I think he’s doing good things with his money and his family and like pffft, I’m happy for you! I’m not gonna listen to your music but I’m not gonna hate on you.
Yeah, the good intention is there from guys like him, but on the other end of the spectrum you have Tekashi69 and the like which are the complete opposite of the spectrum and just really bad guys in general.
That guy and fake dudes, I mean look how weird Lil Yachty is, he’s just a weird, goofy dude and shit worked out for him and I’ve met a lot of musicians like that and because art is weird and that expression and the ability to be comfortable with that expression is weird and we do see it and as kids we make fun of it. Prime example, ‘theatre kids’, you know what I’m saying when I say ‘theatre kids’, they’re this outgoing, like annoying stereotype because there’s almost no filter on their expression, to truly be a great artist, I feel like you need that, but how do you balance it so that socially people go, “Oh, he’s cool I like him….also, he’s got really cool, creative art”, you know? you gotta dial some parts in there or be born in the 70’s or something like that, when the artist was still a mystery. Now we have social media and shit and you know what Kim Kardashians thinking when she’s taking a shit, like, it don’t matter, there’s no mystery anymore.
Yeah, thats true!
So if you’re a weirdo, you gotta own it and make the world love you for it!
Yeah, definitely, and I think your music is very creative as well as having that element of depth and substance, when I listen to the new project, a track like ‘I’ll Be Better’, which talks about the breakup of a relationship and is something that spoke to me really deeply because I’ve gone through pretty much that first verse fairly recently and you often cover really powerful, emotional topics like that in your music, is it a cathartic process for you to do that?
Yeah, well, like I said earlier, I don’t plan it out, thats why it’s really hard when I talk with management or the label about making music and they’re just like in this period of time can you just make some songs and conceptualise an album and do that? Like, in theory, I can do all those things but I don’t know if I’ll have any music because I’ll just go in there and sit down and start making a beat and if it doesn’t pull anything from me, then it doesn’t get anything and just goes in the scrap pile. Then like a song like ‘I’ll Be Better’, I wrote ‘I’ll Be Better’ and ‘Man Down’ in the same day, I made both the beats and wrote those songs in the same day, like, sometimes it just happens. When I started hearing the melody, the swing and the groove of ‘I’ll Be Better’, the lyrics started coming out and I realised what they were and I pushed them in that direction and that was that.
It’s really interesting you say that those two songs were recorded in the same day because topically and even sonically, they are very, very different
Yeah! Thats how random it is, I don’t get to choose what comes out, it just happens, spin the wheel baby!!
I’m curious about the title of the new EP aswell, is ‘Mr Nice Guy’ something you’ve been called from time to time?
It’s like, the first EP was ‘The Confessions of Mr Modest’ and I think its not what I’ve been called, but its peoples perception of me and its not always in the best way, y’know? And so, the songs are supposed to kind of relate to that idea – theres some not so nice things on that record and theres some not so nice ideas on that record but I’d say we’re notoriously known when we show up with promoters or anything like that, we’re the ‘nice guys’, we’re the easygoing, nice guys and we pride ourselves on that
And as I alluded to earlier, you’re just off tour in the US and Canada, you’re about to head over here to the Europe and UK for The Secret Handshake Tour with Too Many T’s and I know you’ve spent a lot of time in Europe over the years, you even recorded ‘Runnin’ Wild’ with Chords in Stockholm, so whats different for you between a European audience and a US audience?
(both of us break down in laughter)
…the Europe stuff, I never really took off all that much overseas because I was working so hard over here, so not only did I not have time, like it was always about money because it always had to make sense to tour over there, but also I just didn’t have the time. Especially in 2011, we lived on the road for like three years and it was like – “you need to do this new record, you need to do this follow up tour, oh and T-Pain wants you to go on tour with him, so you gotta do that too, do this, do this, do that….” and then I’m like, “Hey, can we go to Europe?” and they’re like, “where the fuck do you think you have time to go to Europe?!?!?”…………“uh………okay….” and then its just rinse, wash, repeat and the same thing happens with the next record, I was like, “…….can we go to Europe?…..’ and I was actually able to get it booked into the routing, but that was our first time ever headlining over there, in 2014! A lot of wasted time, y’now? So it was like, we went and it wasn’t financially fruitful, we lost a bunch of money and management and everything was like, well next time I asked if we could do Europe, they were like, “do you wanna see what it was last time?” and I’m like, we have to do something if we want it to be an option! We have to keep doing it and we’ve taken a few strides since then, we’ve done a few openings, I mean, we’ve always done opening stuff out there through the beginning of my career, but this is a different approach, doing a co-headlining tour with the Too Many T’s, really getting Andy involved and just networking and working with the people I’ve met as opposed to just waiting for it to happen to me, I’m not doing that anymore! But its also that experience where I was talking earlier, kinda my second reason about touring, watching the music translate, going to a place where I don’t speak the language and they barely speak mine, but they speak the music and whatever english they do know, they use to ask me a question about it because something means so much to them. Thats fucking crazy, thats something else! Y’know its kinda a bit ‘Woo woo’, you’re like, “Oh, the music, it speaks! It’s an international communication!”, I hate to say shit like that, but it travels, sometimes we don’t have to understand each other to understand each other.
Definitely, its a cliched thing but it definitely is a true fact.
It’s cool, its more about what that feels like, opposed to that idea it feels corny to say, but that feeling, when it does actually happen to you, thats why people talk about it and I don’t know? It’s cool and its just nice to take the music to new places and it feels like we’re starting again, you know we’re playing in these small ass rooms and these small ass crowds and we’re grinding it out and wondering where it could all go and its cool, I’m 35, I don’t get to start my career over again, this is cool!
And we’re definitely looking forward to seeing you when you come over, so we can’t wait! Finally, the last question we always like to ask people, we always like to put people on the spot and have them make the tough decisions, so we put a couple of classic albums against each other and this time round, we’re very Outkast-centric, so ‘ATLiens’ or ‘Aquemini’?
ATLiens all day!
Yeah, why ATLiens?
Thats coming with me! Thats like one of my desert island records, I think its just where I was when I was younger and how I was discovering hip hop and that record was fucking huge! Not to take anything away from any of the other Outkast records because…..WHOOO! But just that record is….
Its a difficult discography to pick anything out of, but I think everybody has that one that they kinda go into and it sticks with them and ATLiens is obviously the one for you, what is it about the sound, obviously its a very psychedelic, space-oriented sound, what kinda gets you about that?
Yeah, well, its also kinda boom-bappy too, that was back when HIP-HOP was on the radio you know? So, just the production, the rhyming, everything is super nostalgic to me, I can think about hearing it for the first time and how exciting it was….I’m actually thinking I’m gonna bump that record today! I’m downloading it right now!
Nice! So, I’ve influenced the rest of your day, thats good to know! Anyway, thanks very much, it’s been a pleasure to chat and we look forward to meeting you when you come across.
Oh hell yeah!
The Secret Handshake Tour kicks off on Friday 8th of November and will be touring through the UK and Europe for the full month, tickets available here!