Bluegrass/Hip-Hop may sound like an odd combination, but don’t tell that to Producer Rench, who conceived the sound of Gangstagrass in 2006. Though it began as an isolated experiment, Gangstagrass has since grown into a critically acclaimed success celebrated by The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, TVGuide, Elmore Leonard, NPR.org, and more than 50,000 fans who have been entranced by one of the band’s hundreds of performances and have purchased the band’s four official LP’s.
“There are a lot more people out there with Jay-Z and Johnny Cash on their iPod playlists than you think.” says Rench, who had previously made a name for himself as an in-demand Brooklyn country and hip-hop producer, and solo artist.
When he shared his first bluegrass/hip-hop experiment, Rench Presents: Gangstagrass for free on the internet, the buzz occurred instantly and unexpectedly. Rench’s unique vision combined hip-hop MCs and beats in sync with banjos, fiddles, and dobros, and made the combination feel seamless, natural, and authentic. As a consequence, Rench Presents: Gangstagrass received hundreds of thousands of downloads and blog features including BoingBoing.net.
But it was one phone call that would convince the young mastermind to continue his experiments with a more fervent focus and passion. It came from the FX network— who upon listening to Gangstagrass, commissioned Rench to write the theme song to a new show, Justified.
Enlisting the assistance of a new team of expert bluegrass players, Rench brought along T.O.N.E-z, the younger brother of early hip-hop legends Special K and T-LaRoc. to record “Long Hard Times To Come” and it was immediately embraced by the network. In 2010 Justified became a hit with viewers, and Rench and T.O.N.E-z received an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music.”
To satisfy an exploding following’s demand for more material like the Justified theme song, Rench immediately produced the band’s first official, physical release, Lightning On the Strings Thunder On The Mic. Its second track “I’m Gonna Put You Down” became a beloved fan-favorite and would be broadcast by the History Channel to promote the show “Appalachian Outlaws.”
For the 2012 album Rappalchia, Rench brought along an impressive cast of MCs to the table. Those MCs included Kool Keith, Dead Prez, R-SON The Voice of Reason, and Dolio The Sleuth — the latter two would make names for themselves as the two MCs of the Gangstagrass touring lineup. Like Lightning, Rappalachia would receive nearly unanimous critical acclaim, and included tracks that appeared on Justified, Buckwild, and Bones.
Broken Hearts and Stolen Money, released in 2014 contained 12 tracks, including “Hand Me The Money,” featuring the legendary rap team Smif-N-Wesson, “O Death,” featuring the Juno Award-winning rapper Liquid, and “Two Yards,” which The Boston Globe called “Essential.”
Released in 2015, American Music debuted at number 5 on the Billboard Bluegrass Charts and features the radio staples, “Barnburning” and “Ran Dry.” “Speak A Lil Louder” was featured on ESPN’s First Take. American Music also celebrates the end of Justified’s six season run with a remake of the Emmy-nominated “Long Hard Times To Come.”
Gangstagrass has been touring nationally and earning rave reviews of their incendiary live performances at everything from major festivals to highway rest stops. Expect the influence and stature of these pioneers of a new American sound to continue growing.