Music

Gruf: Hopeless

Lee Henderson

The Canadian North has microphone fiends, and producers gone grime, and you ain't heard of that?"


Gruf

Hopeless

Label: Peanuts and Corn
US Release Date: 2005-04-11
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Don't laugh at the Idea of the Dirty North -- Canada as the next hip-hop frontier. I said don't laugh. Why are you laughing? Every year there are more surprises... yeah okay, they are still surprises. When Canada has a rap hit, well, that's a surprise. But hey, no one up here's going to accept that Maestro Fresh Wes didn't bang it back in the day (check out the CBC television and radio program 50 Tracks -- Maestro makes the list of best songs ever written in Canada [the list also includes a LOT of Gordon Lightfoot, yo]). I'm willing to admit that the average year in hip-hop is not filled with the sounds of the Dirty North. Allow me stop calling it the Dirty North now -- it was just an idea. For now let's name some of the good vibe shit from north the 49th parallel we've heard in the last few: Buck 65, Sixtoo, Local Rabbits, Kardinall Offishall, Choclair, K-OS, Organized Rhyme, the Farm Fresh crew, Moka Only, Rascalz, the Break Bread crew... Now, from out of the last crew mentioned, we've got a solo debut from Gruf to contend with, and I'm serious, he lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Stranger things have happened in rap. I mean, three of the most famous MCs ever are Jewish (intergalactic Jews, mind you). Manitoba might not sound like a place where rap comes from, but consider that Winnipeg is one of Canada's most creative cities, with musicians as unlikely as Venetian Snares and the Weakerthans, artists like Marcel Dzama and Janet Cardiff, and filmmakers like Guy Maddin. It's a weird little outpost in the middle of the Canadian prairies: the long expanse of Ice Age flatness that shows the arc of the globe without even a tree to interrupt it. But people are open-minded to weirdness in Winnipeg. And there's not much weirder than Winnipeggers making hip-hop. Gruf and the P&C boys are bringing it strong. I recommend this album, along with the other recent releases of mcenroe's own Farm Fresh crew, and the brilliant mcenroe solo record Billy's Vision.

Producer mcenroe really is the backbone of the Peanuts and Corn squad. He's Canada's Erick Sermon -- the cleanest, baddest beats you've heard from above the 49th, and never failing. Props to Battleaxe and the Swollen Members, the Rascalz and Moka Only, but thanks in large part to mcenroe's chill hitmaking skills, Peanuts and Corn are creating an impressive underground for themselves in Vancouver and Winnipeg, providing solidly wicked Northern sounds to gather around. Like Sixtoo and Buck 65 in Halifax, the rappers and producers on the Peanuts and Corn label are poised to bring you their kind of ruckus. mcenroe's beats are like Hemmingway's prose, muscular and minimal, with a special sensitivity for playing the beats off the melodies. And he's making a serious stab at a truly Canadian hip-hop sound, one that combines his stark, cold beats with intelligent and uncompromising MCs. On Gruf's record he's able to parlay this post-RZA sound into melodic, almost Timbaland psychedelia. I only wish he could take his sound one step further -- Gruf is an able rapper, but he's not quite the inspiration that mcenroe needs to really brush his shoulders off.

The first track, "Fillossaphee" is the most straight-forward, with a bit too much MC Paul Barman in the delivery to be taken seriously, despite the namechecking of M.O.P, and crazeee guest spots by fellow Peanuts and Corn MCs. The second track, "Process Assimilate", is just fucking incredible. The brilliant step-by-step, punch-in, punch-out, ironic robotic voice (a la Anti-Pop Consortium) is brilliant in contrast to the humanistic piano, viola, and drum machine. This track is followed by another of mcenroe's great beats, "Whatyoucallit?", with a rap about the pressure to reflect on the incoherent rant against airport racial profiling in Canada in the new age of Terror -- heart's in the right place, but the lyrics are sometimes too tame.

Cam'ron and The Diplomats have turned all Harlem on to their kinetic yayo sounds and psychic gun-talk. Dr. Dre has L.A. locked down in G-Funk. Timbaland and Jazze Pha and Lil' Jon represent a Southern explosion of drawling outlaws with crunk in the trunk. Anticon, Lex, and Definitive Jux have achieved underground status in the backpacker set. MF Doom is on the cover of The Wire. Grime, M.I.A., and Roots Manuva have turned the projects of London, England into a hotbed of talent, not just another of the world's underprivileged ghettos, where artists molt and whither unnoticed. Baile funk is changing how we think about the favelas in Brazil.

It's time to bring up that big-ass charisma to Canada, make some ruckus on the Rockies. Who's the Don of Don Mills? Who'll be the Neptunes of Saskatoon? (I'll spare you more of these.) If Peanuts and Corn really want to break the barrier, they might go down to Vancouver's oldest neighborhood, right there on the ports where the heroin sneaks on to the continent in vast quantities... I'm talking about old Strathcona. Start asking the kids our age about a guy named Shane Ehmann, and when you find Shane, ask him about hearing some of that serious underground rap shit coming out of Vancouver. Names like Knob Central and Grassy Knoll should be discussed, for this is the secret freak-folk rap shit that NO ONE has heard, and could turn Vancouver into a pioneer outpost of the hip-hop globe. For a decade now P&C has been a tight clique -- if the label wants to grow, it should start thinking about other sources of creative energy, and Shane Ehmann's a place to start: local, strange, and brilliant.

With mcenroe's tight beats, Gruf is buoyed slightly when his raps sink. When hip-hop is the dominant music of our culture, it's no time to sleep on your rhymes and flow... every second MC is ready to pop off and blow. For the most part Gruf is an able MC. I predict that Peanuts and Corn is going to be a major player in the Northern rap scene, and you best get on that tip before all the grime bloggers turn into Winnipeg watchers.

7


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