Grayskul redefines itself as a group of crime-fighting, hip-hop crusaders
Prior to the multi-ethnic collective Oldominion and their offspring Grayskul, the Pacific Northwest’s biggest contribution to hip-hop was Sir Mix-A-Lot. While Mix-A-Lot’s greatest inspiration was undoubtedly the female posterior, Grayskul draws influence from the likes of Alexandro Jodorowsky, Vincent Price, and Jack “King” Kirby.
|Grayskul: Spreading the word about hip-hop from the Pacific Northwest.|
For the uninitiated, Grayskul consists of Onry Ozzborn as Reason, Rob Castro as Phantom Ghost El-Topo, and JFK, who, as Fiddle Back Recluse spits “I know we’re a part of God’s arrangement/there ain’t no other way of explainin’ why we’re livin’ days in revelations/deeper than secret societies and government agents/reachin’ an entire generation /familiar with Satan.”
In recent years, emcees of all ilks have gravitated toward the kind of alternate identities found in the pages of Marvel comics. The Wu-Tang Clan kicked it off when Meth and Ghostface became Johnny Blaze aka Ghost Rider and Tony Starks aka Iron Man, and eventually released a comic book of their own. On the indie front, MF Doom, Ben Grimm and their camp have embraced the mythology of the Fantastic Four while Jean Grae has dropped aurally telekinetic albums as, well, Jean Grey aka Marvel Girl. What sets Grayskul apart is that they use their new aliases to truly explore the motivation and psyches of mercurial heroes caught in the conflict between good and evil.
“For me growing up, my neighbor had collections for days,” JFK says during a phone interview with the Current. “He let me shuffle through the books and I just loved the art. We wanted to do that with the Grayskul theme, we wanted that animated reality. We portrayed reality in such an animated way with our words that it was almost superlative, super-heroish. For us the best way to describe an emcee would be as a super-hero utilizing their power. Some emcees can use them for good reasons, some for bad reasons.”
Grayskul’s debut album, Deadlivers, is the sonic equivalent of an M. Night Shyamalan film, written by Frank Miller, with Tim Burton on the production. “Adversarial Theatre Of Justice” lays the thematic groundwork for the album with a gritty tale of vigilante payback where criminals are held accountable for violent transgressions, complete with razor-sharp sound effects.
“Action Figure Of Speech,” one of the group’s more ethereal compositions, focuses on the alienation of a pair of young boys named Bobby and Billy. After being scorned by schoolmates,Bobby discovers a magical amulet that transforms him into a superhero, and Billy receives a toy that comes to life and becomes a cloaked crusader. “Prom Quiz” is a catchy yet cautionary song that served as the group’s most recent single. Bobby resurfaces in the ebullient “Once Upon A Time,” and the bulk of the album is rooted in the darker aspects of crime fighting eloquently matched by Mr. Hill’s moody RZA-esque production and Castro’s deep bass.
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Hailing from multicultural backgrounds, (Castro is Mexican, Ozzborne is Mexican and African American, and JFK is Filipino), Grayskul has avoided many of the pitfalls and clichés that shackle emcees with Latino roots. They don’t rhyme in Spanish and aren’t overly concerned with gangsta rap or reggaetón, yet many misguided critics have labeled their style as goth-hop or horror-core. Indie-rap heavyweight Aesop Rock, who appears on Voltronic Instructional Espionage, has praised the trio this way: “Grayskul has managed to forge a sound and style that is as airtight as albums from hip-hop’s golden age while remaining unique.” Mr. Lif, who checks in on Cursive, says the group “tends to consistently do things that other rap groups wish they could do even once in a while.”
Next up for these new masters of the alt-rap universe is the Bloody Radio album, which will include new alter-egos, tighter beats, and their familiar allegiance to Portland, Seattle, and the Rhymesayers label that releases their work.
“That’s what the move is,” JFK says. “The move is to get in there and use that focus on us to spread Oldominion, to redirect everything to the northwest.” When pressed to expand on Grayskul’s heroic vibe, he replies, “My crew is my biggest inspiration. The cats that are in my crew are real spiritual and they taught me a lot.”
“Whenever I write, there’s a lot of inspiration that comes from my brothers and that’s purpose and that’s reason. We all live in dark shadows and everyone is familiar with good and bad and everyone recognizes what evil is. Sometimes there’s deeper evil and sometimes it’s more elusive. That’s what we’re fighting against.” •
By M. Solis