Ben Laub is a Seattle rapper and producer with Rhymesayers Entertainment that goes by the stage name of Grieves. He’s been around making his own records, usually with the help of one other producer, since 2007. His style is very honest, normally quite introspective, and it’s a relaxing combination of calm and complex. Flows similar to Slug or old Macklemore. Over the last decade, he’s released five studio albums, with his latest, Running Wild, being cause for his current tour. Running Wild is a fairly dramatic departure from Grieve’s previous style. Working with Swedish musician and producer Chords, Laub decided to shake it up with a bit more modern beats and vocal styles. The result is an album heavy on the trap aesthetic with Grieves molding his voice and flows in the direction of Drake’s semi-melodic tone and more recent Macklemore. Similar to his previous work, though, the album still maintains a dark tone with a good sense of humor. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ben about Running Wild, and he very kindly shared his thoughts on his experimental new songs:
“Postcards” was one of the later songs that we made with the record. We were like “What does this record need?” Sonically, we had everything I was going for. We had the newer vibe stuff, we had the very “authentic me” stuff like “Roses,” broodier songs like Night Shift that were epically produced like songs from my previous album like “Kidding Me” or “Falling From You.” So there’s a lot of classic me, a lot of new me, but what I wanted was a more vintage-y, classic hip hop sound. So we started taking stabs at that, got a sonic space and that background, and we just got it right off the bat and hit it with “Postcards.” I was just feeling good, so I kicked everyone out of the studio, tried not to overthink it, just tried to figure out where I was and what was going on. We recorded the whole record in Sweden. I remember specifically with that song it was during this huge soccer game. So, the guys were in the other room watching the soccer game, and I cranked the speakers up in the other room and completely interrupted their soccer game and just started rap-attacking them with this song. “Watch them actually be down with it when I just totally interrupted their game.” I was like “Alright, I feel like this has the right energy for the first song.” And it does set a more energetic tone. It sets a happier tone, because the rest of my records are so inside of my own head and my heart, and with this record particularly I wanted to put some more postitive and happier energy out there. So, when I look back at all these records when I’m 40-something years old, I can see some happy shit and not just all the bad things that happened to me. The reason why it’s the first one is it sets that tone. It puts you, the listener in that space, too. And it’s groovy!
“Faded” is the follow-up song to [Postcards] for the people who were like “Well, I don’t want energetic Grieves! I want introspective, like, I want fucked up Grieves.” But, at the same time, it’s such a step out of my direction. I could take those lyrics, that chorus, I could sit down at a piano and put a dark red light behind me and sing that song acoustically, and people would be like “Oh yeah!” But since I did it over this very modern, almost trap-b sounding beat, it pushes the listener to see me in a new space, which also is the point of this record. There are sonics like that on this record, and I feel like I’m seeing people who are saying I’m abandoning who I am, which is crazy, because you’re not listening to the song. All you’re doing is being an asshole and you’re hearing the 808 kick come in first and you’re like “Nope, this sounds like Drake.” You didn’t listen to the song at all. You didn’t listen to the lyrics, you didn’t listen to anything. It’s a space that previously, I was like “Yo, this beat is tight, but I can’t rap on this, because people will push.” And Jens (Resch Thomason AKA Chords) was there right next to me when I’m saying that going, “Well, all I heard you say was that this was tight. Why do you care what other people care about? You should do what you want to do. I also think this beat is tight, and we just made it together, so let’s fucking do this. You just spent two hours making a beat that now you don’t want to use because you’re afraid that people are gonna not like you on it?” So, I did a lot of that on this record. I put my interests and my excitement forward, as opposed to sticking to my formula. I strayed away from my sure shots, I guess. And “Faded” is a very prime example of that.
Boop Bop Da Willy:
That’s more of that charisma that you get from my live show. That energy, that happiness, that kind of derpy humor. Also much more “me” production-style. That’s the first song on the record that I produced 100%. You can tell, it’s smoother, it’s kinda simple, but it’s got that loungey, jazzy vibe to it that I was really feeling. I’ve been working on these sample packs that I was thinking about putting out for aspiring producers, and maybe people can chop it up and use it for their own stuff. And I was like “Nah, I’m gonna chop it up and use it for my own shit.” So, I chopped it up after I played it and created this beat in my living room using the keys on my computer as a drum pad. And I made the beat super fast, and I was pretty inspired by it. And I was like, “Who would rap over something like this?” The first one that came to mind was Logic, and kids like that that were rapping over these classic, old-school beats with this new flow. And so I channeled some of that, some of the younger musicians that I’m hearing now, but I did it my way.
Chillin’ (Ice Cold):
Chillin’ (Ice Cold) was another one where I was in the studio and I was like “Ooh that beat’s nice!” And it reminded me of back in the day when I was writing Irreversible. I remember we rented this super sketchy studio. It was like an old real-estate building from he 70’s. The dude was like “Yeah, you can do whatever the fuck you want in here. Just pay the rent, and don’t set it on fire, and you’re cool.” It was right by the Space Needle, classic downtown, perfect location, but it was just abandoned. Peoples’ desks had their family pictures on them from the 70’s, there was like blueprints of buildings in Seattle, all the phone lines were still plugged into the wall. It was weird and eerie, but we started our careers out of that sketchy little place. Everyone used to roll through. I remember I would get off work and I would go to the studio and there’d be like five musicians in there that I’d never even met before, and they’re all working on something, or there’s a rapper in the corner writing some shit. I miss that local collaborative thing. I miss that energy. We used to always make these songs called “Last Call” and if you made a record out of the Robot Room, which was the name of that studio, you had to have a “Last Call” on your record. [Chillin’ (Ice Cold)] kinda reminded me of that. It had that energy, and I missed that. That’s why I only have local features on this record, because I wanted to provide that experience for the people that I think are dope in my city. And at the same time, maybe help them out with the business, like teach them about publishing and stuff like that. So, I called up Romaro (Franceswa), who I’ve been super into his music lately, and he just jumped right on it.
What It Dew:
That was one of the harder days in the studio, because we just couldn’t figure out what to do. We were sitting there, we were listening to records. Jens was probably so frustrated with me that day. He was playing keys and nothing was resonating with me. And we were rifling through old samples that he had, then we found something, and then I feel like as soon as I turned my head up, the song was written. It happened real quick. But it was another one where I wanted the energy and the excitement from the live show to translate over to records. And the whole time I was writing it, I was like “Can I see myself playing this live? It feels fun. It feels good.” And so I just gave in to it, and I just let that song be that. It’s probably one of my favorites on the record. I love that song.
“Gutz” is almost like a classic me song. It touches on a space of my life that I write about a lot, but it is uncomfortable. The beat is weird. It’s graphic. I don’t sugarcoat it like I normally do. I don’t poetically dance around it. I don’t come up with metaphors for it. It’s a straightforward, raw approach to that subject, because I think I’m trying to put that subject to bed. No pun intended. I remember sitting in the studio with the omnichord, and I came up with a progression and we reversed the notes and faded them in, and I just felt intoxicated when we had the beat together. And that’s where the subject came from, because I was like “Well, what’s intoxicating?” Clearly drugs and “bump ba bump ba bump,” and I wanna talk about that on this because there’s like this weird sexy? vibe to it, too.
“Roses” is the song for the people that need my previous records. It is an open song. It’s an honest song. It’s a piano-based, melodramatic, dark song about personal and social issues. I’ve been working with an artist out of Seattle named Fearce (Vill) for about two years now. I knew when I wrote my verse, that he was the perfect person to call, because he’s so good at tapping into that space. He has his own struggle from a completely different persepective, that I really wanted my fan base to listen to. So, that’s him and I just talking about our personal issues. I talk about the drugs and the panic attacks, and he talks about growing up poor and black in a place like Seattle. It’s a song you gotta listen to. I think it’s an important song. It’s definitely not one that provides that super happy, excited energy, but at the same time it is honest and true to myself, and I don’t see it affecting the album in a negative way. And the same with Davey on the hook. First time I heard Davey sing, I was like “What the hell!? He’s like this tiny little, Cambodian D’Angelo!” And it was fucking amazing. So, any chance I get to track that dude, I’m excited.
“Levees” is the instrumental track. “Levees” is the song that I wish I would have made on Winter & the Wolves. I normally always have an instrumental track on my records, and I missed that about the last one. I made a bunch, energetic ones and a bunch of other stuff. And one day, I sat down, I started playing the keys, and I came up with that song. Then, I put it next to “Roses,” like “meh, let’s just hear it. Oh, well that works way too well.” And the transition between “Levees” and “No Sleep” was perfect, the space was perfect. I think albums should have peaks and valleys, just like a live show should, and that concludes and creates my valley. And it gave me goosebumps, and normally that’s a good indicator that I want that on my record. And it’s me being able to tell people how I’m feeling without having to say anything.
To me, if I had to sum it up, I’d say [No Sleep] was like a stream of consciousness. That was a beat that Chords had just sitting around, and it was just that initial loop with the strings and the drum loop. That’s it. And he looped it, went and did some other shit, then he came back and I had like both verses done. The whole song was done probably within 40 minutes. I didn’t stop writing at all, like “What is a better way to say this... and what word is...” just BAM! and it just flew out of my head and my heart. And it was just that song over that loop. Then I brought it home and started working with Paris Alexa and I was like “look, there’s this Hieroglyphics song that has Goapele on it, and I’m getting kind of a similar vibe, here. I feel like they’re living in the same space.” The song by Hieroglyphics is called “Make Your Move,” I believe. And she was like, “Oh I love Goapele!” So I said, “I have these words that I think would really go well with it.” And she was like “Yeah, whatever, just turn the mic on.” So she went in there and she said, “Now, tell me the words.” And I just started giving her what I thought would be cool for a hook, and she just started laying down the hook on the fly. I was like “Oh shit.” And so, more energy started getting pumped into that song, so we started spacing it out. Then I brought it back to Sweden and Jens was completely blown away by it. And he was like “Dude, if we loop it at the end, and bring it out where the valley of the song’s going to be...” And that’s why it’s so funky at the end. That song transforms more than anything on that record. It starts with just that loop and then it spaces out and the whole hook opens up and all of a sudden it turns into a jam at the end. And that’s rad to me.
Bonnie and Clyde:
Fun, lighthearted love song. A positive love song. Happy. You could play it with your baby girl in the car. As soon as we made it, I was like “Man this is fun.” And it’s not anything that I want to take super seriously, but it’s groovy. A lot of my homies are like “Yo, that’s my favorite track on the record.” It’s pretty authentically me when it comes down to the humor and the actual musicality of it.
“A-Okay” is similar to Postcards, where we looked at what we had and I felt that that was missing. I wanted an energetic, groovy hip hop track that’s got the rolling energy of like a 1990’s hiphop song, like that breakbeat in there. But it’s very cleaned up, there’s no samples or anything like that. It’s the obligatory hip hop song on the record.
“Night Shift” was the big-produced song that I normally have on my records. It’s kinda me looking back at my experience in the industry as a musician and as a human. Watching things change around me and kind of understanding that if I can go through that, I can go through anything.
“RX” is a battle with my demons. It’s a tried and true subject of mine over a very modern soundscape. It’s risky. It’s open. It’s about a subject that I don’t really talk about, and it’s about something that I’ve been struggling with quite a bit. And if I was going to do that, I think I needed to do it in the most uncomfortable way possible. So, when I heard that beat, that’s why I decided that I couldn’t write something hard over it, like “I’m swooping through this fuckin’ bitch..” Nothing like that. I needed to kinda air myself out on a track and that was that.
I’m in love, man. [Haha] I think I have found myself in that world. I’ve always been a sucker for a love song, whether it’s good or bad, and this is a good one. It’s not complicated, it’s simple. It’s not overwritten, it’s pretty much me and a guitar and it’s me saying how I feel to a person that I care about a lot.
Grieves will be performing at the House of Blues Parish Room on Monday, September 18th.