by Martyna Turczynowicz
“If I’m being completely frank, most music that’s categorized as hip hop in Winnipeg that I see, I’m really not feeling,” says Brendan Grey, the brains and vocals behind Super Duty Tough Work and one of the Sleeping Giants one afternoon over coffee.
Grey believes that hip hop should “in the very least, draw on the four elements of b-boying, graffiti, DJing and emceeing, and the kind of ethics and morals that were a true part of Hip Hop’s birth and inception,” he tells Stylus. “Have a good time, party,” he adds. “Not just party like go crazy, but have a good time, treat people well, treat each other well.”
Grey sees hip hop as a genre that’s become “so mainstream, so far away from those original morals and it’s not connected to the original culture, it’s become a corporate selling point for anything and everything, completely diluted and watered down.” When hip hop was born, “there was a strong aspect of social commentary that stemmed from social issues,” which he senses is “a little lost right now.”
Young people who have been raised on that kind of mainstream hip hop have a completely different understanding of it, Grey believes.
“Their connection to it and their understanding of it is completely different, so what they want out of it is completely different,” he says. “Even those who are drawn to the older stuff, when it was more pure, they find it doesn’t satisfy those more superficial needs.”
Grey’s has been involved in Winnipeg’s hip hop scene for almost ten years. He met Nereo II, one of the original members of Sleeping Giants, “In a battle at Wise Guys at U of M in 2003. We used to meet up and have ciphers in Merchant Park. That was a big thing for emceeing, b-boys and graffiti artists at the time.”
In 2006, they teamed up a few others and formed Sleeping Giants. The band’s been working on an album since 2010, but “for whatever reason it’s never been able to have to come out, the sound’s never right. It’s just never right.” Recently Sleeping Giants have taken up working on the record again and he hopes that “in the next month or two you’ll be seeing some material.”
This brings us to 2014, and Brendan’s latest project, Super Duty Tough Work.
“The goal with SDTW is to give that really raw, authentic, hip hop sound, using a live band, live instruments and a DJ. Just high quality music and high caliber lyrics. Something that has a little bit more value than the other things I’m seeing.” Most importantly he adds, “the goal is to have fun and to play music that I’d like to hear.”
It’s grown-up hip hop, with the funk that’s expected from the genre and a polished sound that comes from working with seasoned musicians. The performance aspect is a big part of Super Duty Tough Work too, the band is comprised of a rotating group of musicians, featuring different people on bass, percussion, keys, sax, at each show. It adds flavour to the performances, percussionist Tony Ustel tells Stylus. “The rotation of musicians performing makes every show feel like it’s the first time,” says Ustel. “Everybody’s excited to be there and there’s always a new dynamic.”
Working with young people counts as another of Grey’s passions. He volunteers in drop-in centers and after-school programs, helping kids develop musical skills and being what he hopes is a positive role model “whether you have great parents or bad parents, you’re still going to be influenced by outside factors. Everyone looks to someone different. Some people look to soccer players, movie stars, fashion designers or whatever. Some people look to musicians and artists.”
That doesn’t mean artists have to be squeaky clean, Grey says, “But artists whose market is younger people who are in the stage when they’re beginning to make decisions based on outside factors should take into account that they have power and influence.” There’s room for everything, he’s not saying that “All these different things in Hip Hop can’t exist, they just can’t be the only thing people see. Especially if that’s what being used to represent hip hop when that’s the furthest thing from how and where it started.”
Grey knows as well as anybody that “ Nobody wants, cheesy, corny music. Nobody wants to be talked down to or beat over the head. A part of Hip Hop is that it’s this raw, jagged, painfully truthful reflection of society.” He points at Will Smith as an example of a musician with a positive message who produces quality music Most people, in hip hop who consider themselves to be “More hardcore or whatever, probably wouldn’t really respect Will Smith, but he has moved a lot of units. So there are a lot of people listening.” “I recently read an interview with Nas where he said and this is a quote that ‘Will Smith can rhyme’. “
In the end, Grey says “It all depends on how you do it, and I guess the trick is how you balance it.”
Super Duty Tough Work will be playing at Souled Out Saturday May 31, with Keisha Booker, Jupiter Storm and The Silver Fox at FrameArts, 318 Ross. Doors at 9pm, tickets are $12.