Seattle rapper returns and talks to Clash…

Winter is coming, don’t you know? Sure, the UK is gripped by smog, and temperatures are on the up – but in TV land the return of some fantasy TV show or other is ready to transport millions to a frozen north.

So it seems perfect timing for ‘Winter & The Wolves’ to make an appearance. The fourth album from Seattle-based rapper Grieves, aka Benjamin Laub, ‘Winter…’ is an introspective indulgence of an LP, an enveloping personal journal of positives and negatives set to beats crafted by Grieves himself and B. Lewis. It doesn’t hurry, it’s not looking for quick hits. It’s one of those to sit with on your headphones, letting it colour the world going by.

‘Winter & The Wolves’ is released through Rhymesayers Entertainment (Step Brothers, Brother Ali, Dilated Peoples) on April 7th (UK), preceded by videos for ‘Shreds’ and ‘Serpents’, which can be seen below. After the video: check out a brief Q&A with Grieves, and then stream his new album in full. Nice.

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‘Winter & The Wolves’ is your third album through Rhymesayers – would you say three is the magic number, and this is your most rewarding LP yet through the label?

It’s hard to tell. I’m definitely more established now with the Rhymesayers crowd, but I’m not really sure what this record is gonna do yet. It’s still so new and fresh. I’ve seen a very positive and active response so far from all over the world, so things are looking good. But I wouldn’t wanna jinx anything yet.

You’ve been around a while, with four albums total under the belt. But are you okay with being received as new to some listeners now, in the wake of increased focus on Seattle hip-hop? Is it right to assume that all new listeners are welcomed, regardless of how they find your music?

Newcomers are always welcome. I encourage it. Watching a song I wrote 10 years ago affect a new fan is a beautiful feeling. I’m here to connect with people and share my thoughts – why would I ever wanna limit someone from being a part of that?

‘Winter & The Wolves’ is a pretty personal experience – it definitely sounds like you’re putting a lot of yourself onto the record. But in rap, it’s not uncommon for artists to hide behind masks, behind constructs, in order to articulate themselves. Why does this frank approach work for you, and could you imagine doing it any other way?

I’m not really all that concerned with what the ‘norm’ is when it comes down to hip-hop. Music has always been a source of self-release for me. It was there before all the touring and record sales, and it will be there for me long after all the stage lights turn off and the people go home. If I’m not being honest with myself during that experience, then that release serves no purpose. I’ve just been lucky enough to have people relate to things that come out during this process.

The new album is a coherent listen in terms of tone, of production. I note that some reviewers have considered this a negative – but was it the intention to create a record that operates at a very, I suppose meditative level? Rather than peak and trough from intensity to introspection?

My favourite records are cohesive pieces of work. I think that sticks with me when it comes down to my writing and sequencing process. I can understand why some people don’t like that – but I make records, not singles, mixtapes, or EPs. I make records that fit a theme and a story. It’s been that way ever since (2010 album) ‘88 Keys And Counting’ and, to be honest, I don’t really plan on changing that. I love sitting down with a producer and carving out an overall feel and tone, and with this record I feel like I’ve scratched the surface of a new plateau. So watch out.

Stream ‘Winter & The Wolves’ below…

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Find Grieves online here, and see him live in the UK as follows…

9th – Oslo, Hackney, London
10th – Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
11th – Soup Kitchen, Manchester

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