Gangstagrass: Rappalachia

If you were hoping for Tupac’s edgy poetics blended with Bill Monroe’s “ole-time fiddlin’” and “high lonesome sound”, you will likely be disappointed.



US Release: 2012-06-05
UK Release: 2012-06-05
Label: Rench Audio

If you were browsing your local record store, you might find it hard to pass up an album entitled Rappalachia by a group called Gangstagrass. The sheer cleverness of both the album’s title and the band’s name is more than enough to leave you curious…after all, how could such a traditional brand of music mesh with a genre that was essentially created to break the rules? If you were hoping for Tupac’s edgy poetics blended with Bill Monroe’s “ole-time fiddlin’” and “high lonesome sound”, you will likely be disappointed.

Under the direction of New York City native guitarist and producer Rench, Gangstagrass is the unusual effort to fuse country and mountain roots with rap lyrics and backbeats. Rench is joined by bluegrass musicians Jason Cade (fiddle and banjo), Todd Livingston (resonator guitar), and Ellery Marshall (banjo), and the group's most recent release Rappalachia features acclaimed MCs such as Kool Keith and Dead Prez along with rising country artist Brandi Hart.

Although there are some big names associated with this album, most of the songs seem somewhat contrived. The lyrics are almost always trite or generic and the bluegrass backdrop forgoes the genre’s time-honored instrumentation (missing bass and mandolin), leaving many songs sounding hokey and lacking in depth. Although it is apparent that Gangstagrass’ Rappalachia was a bold experiment, the album unfortunately manifests as country’s answer to Limp Bizkit—just another glitch in music fusion.

The album begins on a tawdry note with “Gunslinging Rambler”, a maddening hoedown song that seems to keep “ramblin’ on”. With unbefitting yodeling and trite lyrics such as “This ain’t my first rodeo”, the song suits neither bluegrass nor rap but rather poorly parodies Wild West traditions. Featuring rap artist R-Son, the song speaks to the struggles of a music career, only with deficient metaphors and subpar bluegrass melodies. Perhaps the most infuriating part of “Gunslinging Rambler” is the line “Keep rambling on like Led Zepplin”, seemingly insinuating that Gangstagrass is on the same innovative level as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. The line comes across as insulting, only reinforcing that one should be careful before he starts name-dropping for the sake of being clever.

The album’s second song “Honey Babe” is only moderately better. The song incorporates country singer Brandi Hart’s vocals as what would be the R&B mixture in songs such as “Love the Way You Lie” featuring Rhianna, and Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems” with refrain vocals by Kelly Price. Although Brandi Hart gives the song that ever-popular Carrie Underwood touch, “Honey Babe” remains just as artificial and clichéd as other songs on the album.

It would seem that listeners would look forward to songs such as “Western” featuring Kool Keith; however, the song is incredibly distant from what Kool Keith fans expect and appreciate. While Kool Keith’s songs usually act as non-sequiturs, both abstract and graphic, here Kool Keith performs in yet another stale and trifling rap song—a disaster reminiscent of I.C.P.’s “Bitches” featuring rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

Although most of the songs are busts, Rappalchia does have a couple of good tracks to offer. “Crossbow” is an instrumental song blending modern bluegrass with conventional hip-hop beat sounds such as electronic handclaps and snares. In fac,t Rench might have been better off to design more tracks such as “Crossbow” as a fresh way to transform bluegrass music.

Rappalachia also gains a victory with “Dollar Boss” featuring Dead Prez and Kamara Thomas. The background instrumentation for once sounds like bluegrass and the song truly addresses struggles of oppression that were, and still are, prevalent to Appalachia and the southern United States. “Dollar Boss” is the most well-written, best performed and most poetic song on the album. The refrain, sung by Kamara Thomas, is haunting like an old African American spiritual. The song is short, but is definitely representative of what rap music originally aimed to do. One of the album’s most significant problems is that it has no cohesive direction; the album would have been better if the album would have featured one rapper who could be on-board with rapping about being in Appalachia.

All in all Gangstagrass’s Rappalachia is a poor attempt at a new style of music. Perhaps Andre 3000 could have pulled off Appalachian rap if he had experimented with it in one song. Maybe a “Gangstagrass” genre could have succeeded with instrumental blends of bluegrass and hip-hop backbeats, but the album is stuck in mediocrity. Rappalachia, unfortunately, got caught stepping in horse shit as Brooklyn35 Collective so eloquently expresses in the album’s twelfth track.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.