Grits & Gravy stand apart from other hip-hop acts. The duo of Neal Titus, providing the instrumentals, and Marcus Steward, aka GiovanniRaps, on vocals, are both classically trained musicians and bring a unique perspective to the rap scene. What has typically been a street-driven and trained art form has grown to the tipping point, becoming an art that can be studied and composed academically.
“Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, jazz was not looked at academically at all,” notes Titus. “And now look at it, jazz is one of the biggest things for college kids. I would like to see hip-hop like jazz was, I’d like to see it taken more seriously in the academic world.” Grits & Gravy strive to create something that is technically composed and soulfully experienced. Though both parties have largely studied and performed as percussionists, their music is about more than just a cool rhythm in sync with a few clever words. Their classical studies have also given them a love for all kinds of music, classical and jazz in particular.
It’s the time and devotion they have dedicated to studying and listening to music that defines much of the work they produce. But it isn’t only their knowledge of music that makes them connect with what they hear. “It’s honestly about what’s going on in our lives, and for me it’s what I’m listening to, what’s in my ear,” Neal comments. “Music is the best way to relate to [what’s going on in our lives.] If we didn’t have music we’d just be a bunch of lame poets.” Honesty is key to what makes Grit & Gravy as solid and focused as it is. The relationship between Giovanni and Titus is a true artist collaboration, rather than the traditional beatmaker/MC relationship seen in most modern hip-hop. The ideas are developed together, making the lyrics and instrumentals inseparable.
This unity creates an atmosphere on Grits & Gravy recordings. “A lot of the stuff on People Like You is extremely moody,” Titus states, referring to their ability to create a tone. This comes primarily from the openness and honesty that Neal and Giovanni share with each other. Having a partner helps each half of the duo perfect their craft and find something unifying to center each track around. “I’ll send Marcus a beat and he’ll be like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool, but you need to change this and this,’ and I’ll change that. And then he’ll record a verse and I’ll say, ‘I really don’t like this part, you need to change this and this,’ and he’ll go back and rewrite it,” recalls Titus, describing Grits & Gravy’s writing process. The back-and-forth challenges them to constantly improve their music and think about it thoroughly and critically, honing their craft and skills. “We wait until we’re absolutely 100 percent about a product before we put it out.”
Currently, Grits & Gravy are preparing their next recording, Symphony, for release in early 2013. For them, the album is a chance for them to prove their strength as composers and songwriters, and to show hip-hop in an academic perspective. As an effort to change the face of the genre as a whole, they plan to release the record for free and are financing the entire project out of pocket. Steward and Titus both work to pay for recording and equipment, while also striving to complete college degrees. Though their lives are busy, they constantly work on music for Grits & Gravy. Their passion for the music they make isn’t about finding fame or getting rich, it’s about creating something original and smarter than anything that came before them. It’s this tireless work ethic and commitment to creativity that make Grits & Gravy one of the most prominent up-and-coming hip-hop acts in Colorado. Like them on Facebook for release information about Symphony and the latest news about the duo.
Photos by Kendra Hamman.