Seattle rapper Grieves just dropped his fifth LP Running Wild, the happiest-sounding album of his career following a decade of releases that often found the artist, well, grieving. But on the fifth time ‘round, Grieves, born Benjamin Laub, lurched into a closetful of new pockets to procure a hemmed version of himself, a different look from the backpack rapper his day one fans expect to hear whenever they put him on.
“There’s more charisma on this record, there’s more humor on this record,” says Grieves during a phone conversation in between show rehearsals. The emcee behind dreary tracks including “On The Rocks,” “Scar Gardens,” and “Bloody Poetry” infuses the spritz and spunk from his live shows into his latest project, serving up a listening experience he was yet to offer.
“[Fans] get this different energy at the show and it’s based off what these songs mean to them and the energy of the community in the room. And it’s definitely not as dark as the records are and I wanted to put that foot forward,” Grieves explained.
To reach such a place Grieves bound a new set variables whose impact separates Running Wild from each of his past projects. For starters, Grieves took a page out of your favorite rockstar’s playbook and went abroad to lay down the album, taking eight trips to Stockholm, Sweden and cozying up to the Swedish producer Chords, who coached Grieves — a producer himself — through times when self-doubt and apprehension threatened to keep Grieves in that dim room whence the sum of his past music had come.
Often, Chords played the shoulder angel, pushing Grieves out past his boundaries whenever the artist found himself hesitating to shoot from a new spot on his sonic court until the Seattle native was completely sold on widening his range. Chords, who Grieves met on tour with the CunninLynguists in 2009, shakes all fear of adapting a style that differs from zones in which he previously found himself.
“I’m such a sucker for approval, especially when I’m in the studio, that I find myself limiting myself from what I normally make a decision on, being like ‘oh that’s cool, but I feel like people don’t want me doing this, they want me doing this’,” Grieves confesses.
He eschews the self-crippling conventions for Running Wild, though, regardless of the fact of he almost ditched the standout “Rx” from the new album due to paranoia that told him he wasn’t allowed to rap over beats “like that”. “What It Dew”’s contemporary southern flow smacks between laughable quips and Timabaland-esque guitar from the early aughts — yet another departure from past Grieves. He also employs the southern rap go-to of lyric repetition for emphasis on “Postcards” — usually anathema to backpackers around the globe.
But paranoid speculation soon became reality for Grieves the instant he began sharing his new outlook and its offspringing music with the fans who’ve held him down, in that gloomy space, for more than 10 years.
“When we first dropped “Rx” people were like ‘fuck that, that sounds like a trap song.’ And it’s like yeah, well the thing is, I’m trying to do new things,” he lays out.
As much as Grieves’ tracks serve his fans, his tracks have been a release for the writer, producer, and engineer, too, who looks to music as an outlet from a life once wrapped in addiction. Running Wild is also a battleground allowing Grieves to perfect his aim.
“I saw a lot of comments that were like ‘this is bullshit, I’m not hearing any piano.’ Its like, ‘you know how long I’ve been playing the piano for and how many piano beats I have?’”
While the desire for your fave to reproduce that product that hooked you initially seems natural, Grieves’ forsaking of a formula has favored the emcee predating his debut when he overlooked samples — an underground, backpacker’s Old Testament. Running Wild is another chance for Grieves to turn heel on the norm.
“At this point I have to look back at it like to say if people didn’t want me to do something different, I wouldn’t have a career to begin with. Irreversible would’ve never came out.”
Grieves plays the Constellation Room on Monday, Sep. 4 (Labor Day). For full details click here.
I listen to music. I write about it. I like hot sauce on my chicken.