Seattle rapper Benjamin Laub, aka Grieves, isn’t your typical rapper. No no — he’s a completely open book on and off the stage. Being in the game for about seven years and with his fourth newly released album, Winter & The Wolves, working with Macklemore and more — he’s no newcomer. I had the pleasure of talking to him about music, life and what really inspires him as a 30-year-old rapper.
Although he was born in Chicago, he started his rap career at the local joint where they would have rapping battles a few times throughout the year. At the ripe age of 19, Grieves decided that this was his time to get in the game. Actually, he came up with his name at his first battle.
Smile Politely: Grieves is quite an interesting name, how’d you come up with that?
Benjamin Laub: In the town I lived in, I went to a battle rap competition. And on the sign-up sheet, I put down “Benjamin”. And the lady was like, “What? You’re just going to put down Benjamin?” And I was like, well, yeah, that’s my name. And so she kind of made fun of me and was like, “You know what? You should take off, take an hour and come back with a rap name.” So, I did. I walked around, went to the place that I worked at, sat down and came up with a rap name. And I just didn’t ever want to go through that process again [laughing].
SP: I know you’re originally from Chicago, so where were you when this happened?
Laub: That was actually in Fort Collins, Colorado. And I lived there up until right after high school and then I moved to Seattle.
SP: So when exactly did you want to become a rapper? Was it at that time while you were doing rap battles?
Laub: Battle rapping wasn’t really my thing, it was just the only outlet that we had at the time. There were no studios or any people really working in our town. So that as really the only way to participate and be active in hip hop at that time. But [battle rapping] wasn’t really my thing; I wasn’t very good at it. But I really enjoy it all. I really enjoy the writing, and making beats. I was pretty obsessed with Hip Hop at that point in my life. I wanted my life to be… hip-hop, you know? I was a young man and young men obsess over things. And that was my thing and I was very passionate about it. And when I moved to Washington, I didn’t really know anybody. All I really had was music and it became more serious to me and I became more passionate about it. I was writing more for therapy than as a exercise and I think that’s when music truly became a permanent part of my life.
SP: So, you’ve just released your fourth album, Winter & The Wolves, and I really liked the album artwork. It reminded me of that movie The Grey with Liam Neeson, have you seen that movie?
Laub: Liam Neeson? Yes, I’ve seen the movie!
SP: So what were you trying to go for with this particular album?
Laub: Well, definitely that movie was one of the references for imagery that we used for the album cover. That and Game of Thrones. But I don’t know. That record was… I had a point in my life where the older I get, the more things would kind of just work themselves out. I never really took the effort or action to changing those things myself so I was just realizing now as a 30-year-old man that nothing changes unless you change it. At least the things you want to change in your life and yourself. Nothing will ever get better unless you do that. A lot of the songs on that record, are about that and that’s kind of the space that I was living in at that time. A lot of things were different in my life from love and life all the way down to the creative process which was a different experience than what I’m used to. So Winter of the Wolves felt like a very appropriate title because there’s some things that are chasing you and killing you but thinking the things that are trying to kill you aren’t necessarily going to kill you but they define who you are. Give you the strength to move forward.
SP: After listening to some of your music, I hear different content than the “typical” rap music, which is great and refreshing. I really liked the consistent production throughout the entire album. My favorite song would have to be “Serpent” and I just felt the emotion behind it, and I always appreciate that.
Laub: Well, thank you! That’s one of my joints.
SP: So I see that you’ve worked with Macklemore? How was that?
Laub: It was cool. It was great. He was the second person that I met when I moved to Washington.
SP: Now do you think that there will be anymore collaborations in the future at all?
Laub: I’m not sure, you know. I’m doing my thing, and he’s doing his thing and it’s all cool.
SP: Well, how exactly would you describe your particular sound?
Laub: I would say that it’s open and honest, and if I could use the word progressive. People usually use the word progressive in music when they meant they’re trying to keep up with the times and style but I think that if you listen to my records, each one is much different than the other. It’s progressing and it’s different than the one before. And I would like to keep that going because that makes the process so much more fun to me. I’ve been writing raps since I was 16 years old. The idea of writing raps doesn’t excite me anymore but being in the studio and making music, you know breaking things down to build it up is great to me. And I like to change that process with my records.
SP: So this is your fourth album, so what’s your goal?
Laub: I don’t really know. I mean, clearly to make more music, I don’t have to be the next Waka Flocka Flame but I’m completely content with where I am right now. I just want to be in the music. Or in the studio or helping someone else with their music. It’s just a good thing for me, I’m good at it. So whatever path I decide to take, I just want to be with music.
And there you have it. Grieves the open and honest Seattle rapper. Check him out tonight at The Highdive with Sol and T.R.U.T.H. Show starts at 9 p.m.
Top photo by Jenavieve Belair.