Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
“Who Do’s It? The Mixtape Volume 3”
It’s hard to pin down GRIM Muzik. What started in 1998 as a rap group called the G-Riders has evolved into the biggest local rap clique, with strata and affiliations almost as convoluted as the Wu-Tang Clan. At least at press time, 16 rappers and five in-house producers fit under the crew’s ever-expanding umbrella, held tight by the Mitchell brothers — co-C.E.O.s David “Big Dave” and Kevin “YK,” who serve as the group’s executive producer and most visible producer, respectively.
As its name suggests, GRIM specializes in the dark and dour.
“This ain’t hip-hop/This what the streets love,” PI rhymes on “That’s What That Was.” Cars, rims, candy paint (on cars), moving drugs, the club, women — it’s a typical assortment for hardcore rap. At times the materialism and misogyny grate, but the menace in the music is so cartoonishly overblown it can be infectious. Even Combination, the recently affiliated group of five 15- to 17-year-olds that appears on three tracks, manages to sound hard.
It’s a mixtape, so the majority of the tracks come borrowed from music industry stars — songs like Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s,” T.I.’s “Boy Looka Here,” Jay-Z’s “30 Something” and more obscure offerings. In GRIM’s hands, the familiar chorus of “Throw Some D’s” becomes “snatch you out yo Cadillac/and take the D’s off that bitch.”
The highlights, though, come courtesy of YK, who’s not just GRIM Muzik’s lead producer, but one of the most accomplished locally. Born in Little Rock but bred in San Diego, the producer typically favors a Southern brand of G-funk, heavy on bleeping synthesizers and Moog effects. The 25-year-old has done tracks for industry heavyweights like E-40, Paul Wall, Juvenile and Young Bleed, and his production for Dre and Jontai, “Jump Rope,” just got big airtime on MTV’s “My Super Sweet Sixteen.” You’ll know his production by the lead holler of “YK!” he usually stamps on them.
Those West Coast synths and trunk-rattling drum stomps go a long way to complement GRIM’s lone female MC, Shea Marie, on her track “Boss Bitch (Get Ya Game Tight).” The MC gives it her all to hang with the fellas, rapping, “Yeah I know you heard about me/I’m the bitch who slipped a mickey in his drink and slipped his wallet out his pocket.”
“Ridin n Tha A-State,” the mixtape’s lead song, is also its best. The latest in a welcome trend of celebrating Arkansas, it’s typical bluster and bravado, but with production — from YK — that’s as effervescent as anything in rap. It could be the soundtrack to the summer, especially with a chorus that ends, “Sunshinin,' good Lawd it’s a pretty day, in the South.”
— Lindsey Millar
Riverfest Amphitheatre, July 10
The return of Widespread Panic to the Riverfest Amphitheatre was a slam-dunk success in two different ways.
First, it was simply great to see a well-attended big summer show on the river. Riverfest notwithstanding, the lack of activity at the venue has been disconcerting to say the least. With a steady rain falling all day, the venue’s notoriously leaky roof made visions of cancellation dance in my head. Thankfully, all was well by show time.
And secondly, what a show it was. Even as a longtime fan of the band, it was hard to get excited about this concert. This may be heresy to the average “Spreadhead,” but WSP’s famed live shows have long suffered from boomy effects — heavy sound that often smothered the band’s subtleties behind a sludgy aural smear. Last year’s indoor show at Alltel Arena was the worst in my 11-year experience, so my expectations were running low.
I’ve never been so glad to be wrong. With the addition of virtuoso lead guitarist Jimmy Herring, Widespread Panic sounded sharper, cleaner, and every bit as creative as ever. Herring is one of those rock players to whom even snooty jazz critics have to concede due respect. With a resume including Aquarium Rescue Unit, the Allman Brothers Band, the Dead and a lengthy stint with the Phil Lesh Quintet, Herring must have a Ph.D. in Jam Band by now. He brings to WSP a clarity that his predecessor, George McConnell, lacked, walking perfectly the fine line between deference to expectation and innovation.
Per usual, the band played two long sets divided by a long break. The first set began with a pairing of classics, “The Take Out” and “Walkin’ (For Your Love).” Herring was perfectly complimentary, the consummate Southern gentleman. Later in the set, a smooth and easy “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” was a creative triumph as Herring ripped an edgy solo that explored very jazzy spaces, transforming the song along the way.
The highlight of the set was a long passage encompassing “Tortured Artist” and “Spoonful,” with a lengthy jam in between. WSP has long had the ability to explore darkness as well as light, and the long, creepy grooves they brought to this opus were downright scary. Not to end on a ponderous note, they followed with “The Porch Song,” the chorus of “Havin’ a good time” concluding the set with good vibes all around.
Set two was an even more jammed-out affair, at times evoking a sense of dislocation as free-form improvisation gained momentum. A highlight was the timely version of “Hatfield.” Under heavy skies, John Bell sang the story of voodoo rain maker Charlie Hatfield making streams and rivers grow, the stage framed by the swift, muddy Arkansas River churning in the darkness. Let it be known that WSP has a well-developed sense of the dramatic.
The band offered up short, punchy versions of “Are You Ready for the Country” and “All Time Low” for the encores, their brevity in stark contrast to the sprawling set that preceded them. They ended as confidently as they began, however, and with a little luck Widespread Panic will continue on this very welcome creative roll.
— Tim Jones