Gruf: Hopeless

Lee Henderson

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



Label: Peanuts and Corn
US Release Date: 2005-04-11
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

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.







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

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.