Maybe Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus and Diplo started a trend with “Old Town Road.” Then again, maybe the bluegrass meets hip hop ensemble led by Brooklyn producer Rench, and featuring local rappers R-Son the Voice of Reason and Dolio the Sleuth beat Nas and company to it with the start of Gangstagrass in 2006. Either way, the mix of authentic instrumental folk and bluegrass with hip hop is here with its sixth studio album, “No Time for Enemies,” to show for it.
Aptly-titled albums such as 2010’s “Lightning on the Strings, Thunder on the Mic,” and 2012’s “Rappalachia” show that Gangstagrass has as much heart and humor as innovation. “No Time for Enemies,” however, shows a flare for more varied flair and poignant, good-natured lyrics. That makes them ripe for the picking when it comes to this week’s annual Philadelphia Folk Festival. Starting August 13, the all live event in Schwenksville, PA is virtual, streaming, and – with the aid of Gangstagrass’ love of the good groove – a little funkier and more positive.
“My lyrics have always been positive,” said Mount Airy native, R-Son the Voice of Reason, still living in the house he was born in. “I just brought that same energy and style to Gangstagrass when Dolio asked me to do my first show and tour with them and it clicked.”
When It comes to Gangstagrass’ arrangements, sounds follow suit from any other live hip-hop band… think The Roots or A Tribe Called Quest. “The difference is really merging the two music forms in a truly authentic way using the real elements and sounds of each.”
South Philadelphia-based Dolio the Sleuth has also, always been a “conscious-leaning emcee as far as my lyrics, as well as generally having a desire to make the world better than I found it,” he said. “I met Rench when I moved to Brooklyn and started playing music with him shortly thereafter. He was cooking some awesome new sounds, and he was on a positive vibe that I dug.”
Dolio continued, “For us, I feel our voices act as another instrument, especially since we use harmonies heavily in the singing. I’m usually singing bass, although on this album I’m singing some tenor. For the rapping parts, it’s more percussive, where we can flow between legato delivery to rapid-fire staccatos.”
In regard to the Philly Folk Fest, Dolio calls it, “an institution where folk artists come together in celebration of music that flows from people, full of emotion and meaning. For me, it’s an honor to participate in such a celebration, especially in the city that I call home, with such a rich and deep history of cultivating all elements of the arts.”
“My goal as a Philly native at the Folkfest is to make sure that my city knows that two-fifths of The World’s Greatest Bluegrass Hip Hop Band calls it home and that they’ve got almost immediate access to greatness,” said R-Son. “I’ve wanted to rock the Folkfest for a while. They’ve slept on us for too long.”
So, no sleep ‘til Schwenksville it is.