Gruf the Druid
Marathon of Dope Records, 2015
Review by Kent Manthie
OK, so it’s mid-April. What’s going on? Well, what I want to bring up to your attention today is the new Marathon of Dope release, the newest EP by Gruf the Druid. It’s a relatively smooth riding hip-hop record, with plenty of slick rhymes; a groovy rap album, Surface Area.
Since the early 1990s, Gruf has been active in hip-hop both as a solo act and, for instance, his first outfit: the Winnipeg-based hip-hop combo, Twisted Spirit, which soon changed and evolved into Frek Sho. Even back in those early days, Gruf was known for originality, the fluidity of perspective in his work as well as a great imagination, which has always been a main feature of the albums on which he was featured. One of Gruf’s most influential and memorable indie hip-hop albums, even today, continues to be the one where Gruf worked with Pip Skid on the Fermented Reptile album, Let’s Just Call You Quits.
Druidry, Gruf’s solo outing, continued to showcase his unique tighrope act. Now, in 2015, with some 12 or so albums behind him, like the 2013 Marathon of Dope album, 2 Sense Squared, Gruf, once again emerges, on his own, with a brand new work of hip-hop that has its own style, not one of the few copycat snoozers you hear on commercial radio, for instance, but one that has some inspired, original and trailblazing albums – iconoclastic, if one is really enthralled, one could call it, Gruf has just released, on Marathon of Dope, Surface Area. Produced and co-written by The Gumshoe Strut, The Surface Area takes the listener on a mind-expanding ride with a superlative rhythmic core. The Surface Area shows, once again that Gruf is still in his peak and doing well, always veering off into wider and wider, as well as new terrain for him that fits like a glove.
This is a surprisingly groovy album, not a syrupy, faux-R&B ripoff which you hear a lot these days: rappers and other hip-hoppers trying to exhume the past and pull the gold off the fingers and teeth of the corpses from the now dead, giants of yesteryear (by dead, I don’t necessarily mean figuratively). But in Gruf’s case, he has a knack for fusing catchy hooks and dope beats along with a mellow-but-firm and not directionless MC.
So, let it be known that Gruf’s back again and this time he wants to take your breath away. Sure, it’s no breakthrough, like NWA or Public Enemy, or even the groundbreaking genius of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. No, Gruf isn’t going all out for the in-your-face political-social polemics set to music and, the one thing that I do sort of pine for when I listen to this, are those kick-ass, bombastic beats, the seamless DJ-ing which, with a lot of today’s more sophisticated and talented hip-hopsters, overlaps with real instrumental work in the background. I’m not saying Gruf should just go and be a copycat of what’s come before, but to keep in mind what made the best rap the best – the beats and the razor-sharp zig-zagging which takes one in and out of the hippest clubs in NYC and not be afraid to show a little bit of roots. Remember what’s happened to all the other rap acts who tried to be more “accessible” (aka “white friendly”) – not gonna happen. But on top of everything else, you have to stay true to your beliefs and your style – you cannot copy anyone else’s style and hope you won’t get called on it – you will! Otherwise, this is a steady album and it deserves a listen. Who knows, I may be wrong, maybe I just need to listen to it a few more times to get it. But going by what the fans and critics are saying and writing, I’m going to be easy on him and say – OK – give it to me! -KM.