Interview: COMP-B of Grey Market

Grey Market, the Ohio-based rapper/DJ trio consisting of Dialogue, Wes (Dub) Hunter, and COMP-B, have been gaining momentum in the Buckeye State since their formation in January 2012.  While their current stomping grounds of Athens, Ohio, a college town in Appalachia, is certainly no Compton, Brooklyn or Orange County, these dudes realize it and use it to their advantage.  In fact COMP-B (Don Johnson) nods to their rural surroundings in the musical samples on both “Drift’n” and “I Always Knew,” from their late-September self-release of the Summer Sessions & Life Lessons album, the group’s first LP 

Grey Market also realize Ohio’s legacy as a proving grounds for indie/underground rappers and DJs; and that their Buckeye peers (J Rawls, RJD2, Soul Position, Blueprint, etc.) have forged a considerable scene that includes some of the country’s best.  Following suit, their self-released debut showcases a swag-rejecting, light-hearted collective whose sound is fully-formed, whose narratives are clever, and who have an acerbic wit, even when being introspective. 

Ghettoblaster caught up with Grey Market a month ago prior to Cyclops Festival in Yellow Springs, but didn’t have the opportunity to properly address their debut opus.  So we backed that thang up, and caught up with COMP-B via phone to ask about the album, their roots, and future plans.  Here’s what he told us about doing it for the true heads…

You guys have only been around since January of 2012, right?

Yeah, we formed in January we finished and released an EP in February.  It has not yet been a year.

How did you meet Wes and Dialogue and decide that they were the guys you wanted to collaborate with?

Well, I’m also a drummer.  When I moved to Athens, Ohio, I took a break from hip-hop.  I’d moved down here to go to school and was looking for people to play with.  There was a band who was looking for a drummer and I hooked up with them.  Brandon (Dialogue) played guitar and sang in the band.  When that group ended and everybody went their separate ways, I told Brandon I was getting into making beats again and he said, “Well I can rhyme.” And we just started doing it. 

Brandon and Wes had gone to school together at Hocking College for music and had done stuff together before I came along.  That fizzled out for them also, but when we started doing this, Brandon said, “Hey, my boy from Cincy rhymes too.”  I said, “Let’s bring him up.  Let’s meet.”  Within a couple hours of meeting it was obvious that we were going to get along great.  We had the same vision of where we wanted to go with what we were doing, what we wanted to talk about, and the sound that we were going to have. 

From day one it was on.  We knew that we needed to do something together.

That natural chemistry is apparent.  I think it is unusual to be able to find two such strong MCs so easily…

Yeah.  I think it helped that they’d worked together before.  They never had a producer before and they were doing the mixtape thing, or what people call a mixtape these days where you get instrumentals from other places and throw them together.  They’d never tried any really serious effort at writing for a hip hop album.  I fit in with what they were trying to do and they told me that I was the person they’d been looking for for years too. 

The first song from the EP was one of the first pieces of music that we wrote together.  When we were done laying down the vocals for this, I thought, “This is it.  This is what we need to do.” They have such an amazing chemistry during their back and forth stuff they can do.  It just fit naturally.  We put a lot of work into this album…a lot of work, but in a lot of ways it also seemed pretty effortless.  When it came to the creative process things just clicked.

When did you guys start writing the material for the full length?

We started in March.  We got about six songs together, which we still play out, but we ended up scrapping them all for the album.  All those songs were great on their own, but they didn’t sound like they should be on the same album.  We started over from scratch, went through all the beats, picked the ones we wanted, and came up with what to write about for each song.  We listened to the beat and said, “What’s the first thing you think about when you hear this?”  We wrote those ideas down and picked the best one.  Before long we realized we sort of had a concept album going. 

By May or June is really when we started writing hardcore for what is now Summer Sessions & Life Lessons.  And all these songs sound like they should be on the same album.  I worked very hard to mix it that way so that it would be cohesive.  Our first track is a song about the beginning of the Summer, and our last track is a song about the end of the Summer.  The inbetween is what we learned throughout the Summer.  Each song was written write after the experiences that inspired the songs.  It is a pretty accurate timeline of what we experienced. 

One of the things that works best about the album for me is that you aren’t from a large city currently, you’re from a more rural setting, and that’s reflected in the samples you’ve chosen.  Was that deliberate on your part?

Sort of…well, not really.  We just matched the feeling of the instrumentals with what the MCs were wanting to say.  The songs talk about what we’ve experienced living in this area.  I definitely look for more of a blues or acoustic guitar type influence, and that happens to be the music that comes out of this area I guess.  But I don’t know if it was that deliberate.  It turned out that way, that’s for sure. 

I don’t know, when I hear something and find a sample I want to take it just works out sometimes that they all lean in a similar direction.  It was more happenstance than deliberate.

You actually have the production credits on this as well, correct?

Yeah, I produced all the instrumentals on the album.  I did the work with that, with their help.  They are both audio students too.  It helps a lot having them around.  They have a lot of input on the way something sounds and what they’re trying to get out of it too.  I’d say I’m definitely the leader in the production stuff, but as far as input, things are collaborative to ensure it gets done a certain way. 

Here’s a little history about me; I grew up outside of Yellow Springs and started DJing when I was 16.  I started producing when I turned 18, and worked with some guys who went to Antioch in a group called School for the Deaf.  It went on a few years.  We played a lot of shows, played a lot of big hip hop shows at Antioch.  They left, it fizzled out, and I continued making beats for a while until I got more interested in playing the drums.  In 2006 I joined the military for a few years; during that time I actually met The Latebloomer, who is on “Time Travel” the track with Wes about going back to the ‘30s and stuff.  Then when I moved here I got back into making beats. 

I took a pretty long break from doing it, and I think I have a completely different style now than I did then.  The sound that we have came from the other guys.  They’ve influenced me tremendously.  These guys really drive me to make beats a certain way.  I live to make a beat to hear what those guys are going to sound like on it.

Was there ever a decision to have a deliberate, overarching concept behind the lyrics on the album?

Like I said, we started in the beginning of the Summer and wrote tracks about what went on over the Summer.  When we realized the other album wasn’t going in the direction that we wanted, we sat down and mapped it out, and set goals to make it happen.  We knew what we wanted, but not what we were going to experience yet.  We had to wait for that to play out, and record them as we went. 

Did you always anticipate that you were going to self-release the record, or did you ever shop the record to labels?

We knew this was our first shot and we really just wanted something that we could enjoy.  We’d love to have the opportunity to distribute this on a larger scale though.  Going to school for music stuff, we’ve seen the direction the industry is going, and the only real perk to having a major or big indie backing you is distribution.  That is one of the only things they have to offer anymore.  Everything else you can do yourself.  We always just felt like we were going to do this, distribute it ourselves, and see where it went and what would happen.  And already people have started to pick up on it and spread it around.  We’ve been very fortunate in that aspect.

Is the end goal to be a well respected hip hop artist, or is it to be a high profile artist with Jay Z money?

No, no, no.  Everyone wishes they had Jay Z money, but just to be respected in the craft of true heads is what we want.  I’ve played shows before and looked into the crowd and could tell who the true heads were.  You can tell who is actually into it.  There are people that come to hip hop events who would be there if it was swagged out radio rap also.  It wouldn’t make a difference to them at all.  But to see people who are there because they respect us as true hip hop is amazing too.  I would rather play in a bedroom for 10 true fans who are in it for the love of the culture and the art then to play in front of 1,000 people who are there no matter what hip hop artist is playing.

We talk about things people have experienced, can relate to, or knows someone who has.  We talk about what we know.  We talk about life experiences.  To us, that is hip hop; expressing ourselves and telling what we’ve experienced in this life, and putting it out there for the world to hear.  We’re not very happy with what’s available to us in the mainstream.  It’s ruining the culture we grew up loving.  Our goal is to put our love and appreciation for the hip hop we grew up with, and that influence into our music, for the kids who didn’t get to experience that stuff.  A lot of people listen to rap, searching for hip hop that isn’t really out there anymore.  There was a time on MTV and BET that they were playing good hip hop.  There was a time when real hip hop was on there.  But it is rare to hear that in the mainstream or media today.  A lot of people get into Kanye and Lupe Fiasco who are teetering on that mainstream hip hop border.  A lot of kids are searching for a hip hop sound that they’ve never experienced before and then when you give it to them, they’re really into it.

I use a lot of samples that have been used before.  I know they have.  And I use them for a reason.  I use them because these are the breaks that I heard on hip hop albums growing up.  My love for jazz, funk and soul came from that place.  I was a fan of hip hop and then got into jazz and soul.  I want to do that for the other kids.  I want them to hear what I heard in a hip hop song in ’97 that unless they’re doing hardcore YouTube searching they will never be exposed to.  I want to put that out there, not to try to educate the masses or anything like that, but to put it out there and let them educate themselves. 

Nothing is ever more fun than turning people on to music that you love…

Right. 

Where can people get your album?

It will be available on the Grey Market bandcamp for $3.  We’re not trying to bust heads on the price of getting our album.

That’s Fugazi money…

Yep.  Exactly.  Ian MacKaye was ahead of the game.  We have no overhead in online, so we want to offer it at a price that reflects us getting a little something for our work, but not at a price that will turn someone who could potential become a fan away.  For a hard copy CD we are only charging $7.

Do you have a bunch of live shows scheduled in support of the record?

We’re playing on the 24th or 25th here in Athens at Casa Nueva with Blueprint.  I’ve had the pleasure of playing with him before and it will be good to reconnect with him.  We’re doing a charity thing for the Zombie Walk in Yellow Springs on the 20th of October.  We’re headlining that.  After that we’re in the market to book stuff.  We’d like to play Columbus.  We’ve been out of the booking game for a while, so a lot of our connections are out of date.  So we’re just hoping to do some networking, meet other artists who have the same vision and love for the culture that we do, and spread the culture that we’ve loved so much.  We want to form those alliances and work together to offer good music to people.  That is a win-win situation for everyone.

(Pick up Summer Sessions & Life Lessons here: http://thegreymarket.bandcamp.com/.)