Gangstagrass – Fully Justified

28th June 2021

I don’t avidly follow the Got Talent franchise but when something interesting pops up on my YouTube suggestions I put reservations aside and take a listen. A group I never expected to see in the AGT line-up recently was Gangstagrass.

Gangstagrass – Proving their point – Photo cred Melodie Yvonne

Like many, I first heard them on the 2010 FX Network TV series Justified. A really worthwhile series with an ass-kickin’ soundtrack. I never knew that traditional Bluegrass, super-tight hee-haw vocals and harmonies, and Rap could coexist quite so happily. I’ve made a point of keeping tabs on the band over the years and listened to tracks from the five albums that I could find of theirs.

I had never researched the story behind Gangstagrass, and spent yesterday afternoon doing just that. Before heading into the nitty-gritty, here’s the first Gangstagrass song that awoke my inner Redneck; the main theme to Justified, Long Hard Times to Come.

Gangstagrass is the brainchild of founder Rench (Oscar Owens) who had become an in-demand producer and singer/songwriter during the early 2000s. The strange combination of making beats for hip-hop and RAP artists while hosting Country Music nights around New York City got Rench to wondering what RAP would be like set to classic bluegrass.

The first ‘album’ was called Rench Presents: Gangstagrass, and he offered it as a free download in 2006. The idea paid off and hundreds of thousands of downloads fuelled the underground buzz that had started.

It was when the FX Network approached Rench for a Gangstagrass song for their new series that things really kicked off for the band. Rapper T.O.N.E-z laid down the vocal track against the slick bluegrass backing and the rest is history.

My second song choice comes from the 2012 album Rappalachia. This is their 3rd album and features guest appearances from some of the cream of the Country crop and Rap MCs. Here’s the song ‘Country Blues’ featuring Brandi Hart and Nitty Scott MC.

Gangstagrass continued the formula of using authentic Bluegrass musicians and genuine Hip-Hop MCs and Rap artists on their studio albums. Following the success of Rappalachia, they released Broken Hearts and Stolen Money in 2014. The album featured performances by legendary rap team Smif-N-Wessun, and Liquid of BranVan 3000 (a personal favourite of mine), Brandi Hart of the Dixie Bee-Liners and Alexa Dirks of Chic Gamine in addition to the now regular crew of emcees and pickers, the album received universal critical acclaim.

The 4th studio album, American Music, was released in April 2015 and features a collection of original cuts and traditional folk anthems. The album debuted at #5 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts.

The band has also become known for its live shows and have toured internationally. They take full advantage of the improvisational aspects of both hip-hop and bluegrass to bring dynamism and spontaneity to their music and act. Pocket Full Of Fire: Gangstagrass Live, the 2019 live album recorded at various venues during from the 2018 tour showcases this perfectly.

I still have no idea what Gangstagrass is doing on AGT. After all, they don’t have the normal tragic back-story that seems to be mandatory for competition entry. They are a skilful collective of professional musicians who have been wowing international audiences for some years. They do have a strong message of acceptance and unity which I stand behind fully, but pitting talents against comedians, dancers and a mixed bag of singers of various levels of skill seems a bit odd for an already well-established act.

I think my last choice gives you Gangtagrass at their best. This is from the Paste Studios in NYC shortly after the release of the live album. Meet the core members; Rench (vocals/guitar/beats), Dan Whitener: (banjo/vocals), Brian Farrow (fiddle/vocals), R-SON the Voice of Reason (vocals), Dolio the Sleuth (vocals) as they share some insights behind the band and perform the songs I Go Hard, Nobody Miss Me and the brilliant Nickel and Dime Blues.

Whatever the reason or the motive behind their performing on AGT, It’s nice to see them hitting the limelight and hopefully gain an even wider audience. Have a happy week.

The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music’s Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that does more than just share a song.

The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.

Words © Andrew Knapp 2021

Published by Loving the Music

I am a music-lover who has been fortunate enough to live through six-decades of ever-changing musical styles and genres. Loving the Music is my eclectic collection of regular music-related mini-features and whatever else tickles my musical fancy. You can also find me on the Loving the Music Facebook group and page. Happy listening - Andrew Knapp

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