NOLA's Grosser Gets Personal; Raps, Relationships, and Reality on His New Project "PONY"
Photography: Connor Crawford
Rarely does a project from an underground artist manage to strike the intricate three-way balance between raw emotional content, well executed and thoughtful rhyming finesse, and most importantly, organized packaging that is clear and concise. New Orleans based artist Grosser manages to check off all three of these boxes on his second project “Pony,” released January 21st
Production wise, “Pony” is a refreshing menagerie of booming, lo-fi production that thumps with percussive fury. Stylistic tropes of the quintessential southern sound are blended effortlessly with rugged lyricism and delivery that seems to be clearly rooted in the east coast sonic movement. This pleasantly unconventional stylistic pairing is in many ways a metaphor for Grosser himself as an artist; a VA born and raised emcee transplanted to New Orleans, a city rich with hip hop history.
“Pony” as a project functions almost like a Pandora’s box of emotion; once you open the lid the emotion literally flies out. Grosser seems to share his deepest self with his listeners; with depression leading to despair, and finally manifesting in the cold, steeled sense of determination present throughout the entire project. This honest and thoughtful display of emotion makes “Pony” as relatable as it is inspiring; it’s the story of an emcee passionately battling his own depression. The star studded features on “Pony”, including Chicago based artist LUCKI (f.k.a. Lucki Eck$) serve to further strengthen the ability of “Pony” to stand alone as a complete project. Raw talent, thoughtful honesty, and a focused aesthetic make “Pony” a must listen and confirm Grosser as an underground emcee that deserves close attention.
Photography: Ben Davis
I had a chance to chat with Grosser about himself as an artist, “Pony” as a project, his creative process, and the next steps for him and his sound.
B: Let's start basic: where are you from, what’s your background, and when did you start rapping?
Grosser: I was born and raised in Virginia, and then moved to New Orleans for college. I graduated from Tulane with a degree in philosophy and political science, and couldn't even come close to bringing myself to leave NOLA after I graduated. As far as rapping, I was freestyling with homies a bit at the end of high school and a lot in college, and then started writing stuff down when I was about 19. I've always been playing music though. I've played drums for over a decade and played other instruments throughout my childhood and adulthood. Rapping became my outlet as I grew older and my life circumstances began to drastically change.
B: What would you say your biggest sonic influences are in general, including music outside of hip hop?
G: This is a question I take very seriously I'd say the first band to really influence me deeply was Rage Against the Machine, who I probably still consider to be my favorite band. I was influenced by politically driven hip hop at first, like Immortal Technique and shit. Now a days I'm genuinely influenced by the whole spectrum, from popular top 40 to very lo-fi indie music. Obviously I'm drawn to Atlanta, Chicago, LA, New York, you know, cities with hip hop strongholds, but I'm also influenced by all the various niche movements - like what's happening in Broward county, FL right now, and all the infinitely deep corners of soundcloud in general. I have a bunch of friends in bands here in New Orleans so I have a decent pulse on the general indie band scene. Finding new music and new influences is what gets me up in the AM.
B: Wordup, what would you say your biggest hip hop influences have been?
G: Yeesh - at the start it was just the 90s and the greats - Nas, ‘pac, Zack de la Rocha, Immortal Technique, Tribe, Eminem, Kanye, Wayne, Company Flow, Dilla, MF DOOM, stuff like that. Then I became obsessed with Earl, still am, and now find myself influenced by a ton of different modern hip hop shit - Travis Scott, all of OF, Thug, Future, Carti, A$AP. The list is low key endless because I can be influenced not only by someone's sound but also their place in the culture/the fabric of the genre. I don't rap like Uzi but I'm definitely enamored by his and someone like Yachty's aesthetic. However, if I had to pick one rapper that I was straight taking notes from, teaching myself how to rap, it’s definitely Earl back when I was in college. Earl is a fucking mastermind - raps wise and production.
B: As a white rapper, what do you feel your role is in hip hop right now, given both the tumultuous situation the country is in right now, and the revolutionary origins of the genre itself?
G: I think it's massively important for white people to be doing a lot more listening than talking, so that's what I'm focusing on. Listening to the POC and women in my community and those affected by all this madness more so than I. I'm very attracted to and identify with the revolutionary roots of hip hop.
B: If you could sum up “Pony” in three thematic concepts what would they be?
G: I'd say the three most prevalent themes of “Pony” are the idea of self concept, battling w and understanding mental health, and relationships.
B: What did this project mean to you? What do you want this project to mean for the listeners?
G: First and foremost, I'm always trying to grow with each new project, even every new song I write, so that was my primary goal. I wanted to sound of “Pony” to impact the listener in a personal way, really invade the listeners brain and shit, both sonically and lyrically. But, I also see great benefit from being able to play something in public and have it be enjoyable to a general mass of people, so I try to maintain some form of radio-esque sensibility in what I'm writing these days. For the listener, I wanted “Pony” to be somewhat of a self-exposure; I find that that's generally why I make music period. I tend to feel, as many do, wholly unknown by everyone around me, and music is a way to show someone what's really going on in a matter-of-fact way.
B: Talk about the influences of New Orleans and NY on your sound, as well as the ways in which these cities are different and/or the same.
G: What I'll say is you just have to come here. New Orleans got me as a young kid and has turned me into an adult real fast. It's not America here, more like the northern Caribbean. The general swagger and demeanor the people is what I feed off of the most - it's pretty much impossible for one's surroundings to not bleed into their art. NY is a city that I personally have less experience in, but have spent time there and have immersed myself in the culture via art - mainly music but also visual art and poetry. I always feel like I have much less privacy in NY than in NOLA - just by nature of the design and population. New York artists were obviously the first to teach me about rap, and invented the genre itself, so I obviously owe a lot to the culture and people of NY.
B: What do you think of the direction of hip hop currently, mainstream and underground?
G: Shit, I think it's a goddamn renaissance. I do however think that the rapping ability of these modern guys gets overlooked and misjudged pretty immediately for a myriad of reasons; addiction to the culture over content, media representation, vocal inflection, the list goes on. Admittedly, some of these 'rappers' aren't rapping, they are more after a pop music icon mold. That being said, the same judgements of inability were bestowed on to Young Thug until everyone looked up the lyrics to 'Halftime' on genius and tried to rap along with him, immediately realizing how fucking money he is...point being, a lot of these guys can flat out spit.
Grosser: To Me, It has some similarities to the abstract expressionist movement in the 60's and 70's. Artists were ridiculed for their lack of precision, style, ease of making work, abundance of work, perceived difficulty of work, etc etc. Just because someone closed their eyes while splattering a canvas with one color of paint doesn't remove it from genius. A similar mindset and ear; understanding this music as a 'avant-garde' movement, while treading lightly on classic examples of excellence is much needed for understanding/enjoying the raw talent of a lot of these guys. Don't get me wrong, there are a million wack rappers out there who I don't fuck with, but I just don't think that if someone doesn't bring a classically fire 16 then that removes them from the upper crust of hip hop. It’s all cyclical though, I wouldn’t be surprised if hyper-lyrical rap takes the main-stage in the coming years.
B: Art is often a reflection of life. Talk about the process; the feelings, events, passions, and people that went into the creation of “Pony”.
G: I mean, for sake of not getting overly dark I won't get too deep into the details, but I had a woman in my life, and, for a thousand and one reasons, but largely due to my own deteriorating mental health at the time, it wasn't a safe or healthy relationship. All of those emotions, my battle with clinical depression, and the realities of living with all the other fun disease titles doctors want to assign are embedded into “Pony”, and pretty much all the art I do in general. Apart from my past relationship and personal battles with mental health, the concepts of truly knowing oneself (very difficult), and truly knowing other people (more difficult, probably impossible), drive a lot of my lyrical content.
B: As an artist, if you could tell yourself one thing two years ago what would it be? What would you say to yourself two years from now? Where do you hope to be?
G: If I could give myself a piece of advice two years ago I would say to put a chokehold on every penny you have an only spend money collabing with people that you really trust and you know you can benefit from. In two years I hope to have a big Internet following based off my music, you know, lots of Twitter and Soundcloud followers and all that, in addition to making records that people truly respect as great art. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dream about fame, but my most important goal is to make music that leaves an impact with each listener, every single time.
Photography: Erica Lipoff