Gangstagrass Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape

Despite living in a world where new genres of music are being invented seemingly every day, Brooklyn-based project Gangstagrass still managed to come out of left field. The band takes opposite ends of the musical spectrum, hip hop and bluegrass, and combines them to create something that is, against all odds, completely new and insanely ear-friendly. You can hear it for yourself when the cleverly titled Rappalachia comes out June 5. The mix tape band founder Rench made for us below is made up of a very diverse collection of artists. We can’t say we’re surprised.

“Western” (download):

Ralph Stanley And The Clinch Mountain Boys “I Just Think I’ll Go Away”
Since this mix tape uses videos, I want to kick off with a couple that take advantage of the fact that you can see it being done live. I have always found the best Ralph Stanley recordings to be the ones in the ’70s with the Clinch Mountain Boys, during the few years that Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs were in the band. I saw a short clip of this in a documentary on Stanley, and from the moment Whitley starts singing, I was hooked on this particular live recording. The album versions just don’t capture the warmth and melancholy that he delivers here. Video

George Jones And Tammy Wynette “Take Me”
One more live performance to include in this mix tape: the two smoothest voices of honky-tonk sharing a microphone. Their vocal tone is like warm plush velvet that smells like chocolate. Video

Mississippi State Penitentiary Inmates “Rosie”
I love chain-gang work songs. The Alan Lomax recordings documented these incredible songs that are so simple and raw, and performed so powerfully. If there is a place to find the heart of blues and soul, it would be on a chain gang. Video

Solomon Burke “How I Got To Memphis”
Not only was Solomon Burke one of the great soul singers (and possibly the one who coined the term “soul music”), he understood country music as well and regularly mixed the two together. Shortly before he died, he released a country album called Nashville. Buddy Miller produced it and did an excellent job of understating the production, leaving things raw and unadorned, letting Burke’s talent at tearing country songs up really shine. Video

Mos Def “Mathematics”
Mos Def is just a mind-blowing writer, the way he is able to have a really smooth style, and also fit in meaningful concepts. This lyricism and vocal performance is top notch, and you could write a dozen dissertations on the topics he brings up in the span of four minutes. This video has the lyrics so you can catch all the knowledge he is dropping on you. Video

Candi Staton “I’m Just A Prisoner”
Before Candi Staton became famous making disco tracks like “Young Hearts Run Free,” she made straight-up hardcore Southern soul music and took it all the way. She pushed her voice to the breaking point (or, from what I read, producer Rick Hall did, making her record dozens of takes until she was hoarse, then recording the real take to get that scratchy vocal breaking that sounds so good on this track). The song is from several albums she did backed by the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section. I love the way it starts so sparse and builds into a full fever pitch. Video

George Jones “Seasons Of My Heart”
Pure honky-tonk with the Rolls Royce of country singers. This one is from earlier in his career. He is still copping Hank Williams style with the high lonesome wails, but you can also see his own richer tone starting to come through, and the balance of the two is perfect here. Video

Deltron 3030 “3030”
Once when I visited my friend DJ Ray Dawn (a.k.a. Crunc Tesla), he put this album on for me. This track was all I needed to hear. Produced by Dan The Automator, the sound is really sweeping and dynamic in ways that hip hop usually isn’t. It may just be the samples he is layering together, but that is its own skill. And Del The Funky Homosapien goes all out with the retro-futuristic flow. Video

Hank Williams “Ramblin Man”
This was originally recorded to be released under Hank Willaims’ alter-ego “Luke The Drifter,” but it was too good so they promoted it to be under his name. A great combination of songwriting brilliance and perfect vocal delivery—the way he engineers the breaks in his voice and keeps the lonesome tone cranked to 11. Video

Portishead “Roads”
You probably know already. But if you don’t know, now you know. Video

Iris Dement “Pretty Saro”
This is from the film Songcatcher, about early attempts to record and publish Appalachian music. There is a scene where Iris Dement just comes out and sits on the porch and sings this, and you just watch it all the way through, simple and understated, but really soulful in a country sort of way. Video

RJD2 And Weathermen “5 Left In The Clip”
This is a lot simpler than the complex production I usually like RJD2 for, but it works really well as a springboard for these NYC underground rap stars like Cage and Copyrwrite and BreezeBrewin to get crazy. It just clicks. Video

Blind Willie Johnson “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was The Ground”
A blues track so good, there is just no need for words in it; they would just ruin it. Just pure heartache and pain in sonic form, so lonesome. Nailed it. Video

OutKast “Rosa Parks”
Sweet beat, great rapping and an awesome harmonica breakdown in the middle. Aquemini is my favorite OutKast album and this is a great example of their originality of vision. Compared to most other chart-topping hip hop, this is so original and works so well, and stands up to repeated listening. Video

Jim Ford “Harlan County”
Gangstagrass did the theme song for the show Justified (and got nominated for an Emmy for it), which is set in Harlan, a place with so much crazy history and culture to play on. Harlan in some ways has come to represent the incredibly hard life of Appalachian mining work and the terrible poverty and violence that comes with it. Jim Ford came out of the area, spent a while homeless in L.A., then became Sly Stone’s party buddy (Sly dubbed him “the baddest white man on the planet”), leading to a very short recording career where he spewed forth some real gems like this one, with real talk about the one and only Harlan. Video

James Brown “Your Cheating Heart”
James Brown covers Hank Williams. Nuff Said. Video