When you call rapper JFK’s cell, you’ll hear the Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” before the phone actually starts to ring—a rather ironic gesture for the Seattle-based MC, half of the brooding rap duo Grayskul. The group’s new LP, Graymaker, feels inspired by late-’90s Wu-Tang production—RZA specifically. It’s a more vibrant sound for Grayskul, which typically makes darker, more emotional music with beats and lyrics to match the Pacific Northwest’s grey skies.
For Graymaker, Grayskul teamed up with burgeoning Chicago hip-hop producer Maker, which not only shifted their writing style but helped give the album a nostalgic feel. The samples and beats sound nothing like what’s being created in Seattle at the moment, and that’s exactly what makes it stand out.
“Of the albums we’ve done in the past, we’ve never had a whole project that’s straight-ahead hip-hop,” says rapper Onry Ozzborn, Grayskul’s other half. “People always say our stuff is dark, weird, bugged-out, but I think this one will catch people by surprise. [Maker’s] beats in general made us write different. He uses more breakbeats, slower BPMs—so you’ll be able to hear that.”
On their DANGERDOOM albums, producer Danger Mouse and similarly gloomy rapper MF Doom mashed their styles together in a sonic blend, and JFK and Ozzborn think Graymaker has the potential to be heard the same way. You’ll hear movie clips as song intros, and the tune “In the Know” starts with a sample of Bob Marley’s “No More Trouble.” That’s a world away from the Oldominion sound the two started with back in 2004.
On Graymaker, the lyrical wordplay is noticeably heightened. It’s not overly happy, though the overall feel is less emo than in their past work. “Some of our music can isolate fans,” JFK admits. “[But] the type of criticism we get for the music that we make really wasn’t for those type of people to be listening to in the first place. On all of our albums, we give our fans something new, but I think in general people should be able to feel this more, because it’s more grounded and we’re showing you who we really are.”