Sounds Like: Stone cold proof that country and rap can get along just fine
For Fans of: Jay Z, Old Crow Medicine Show, bluegrass-meets-hip-hop
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Brooklyn-based artist and leader of the band Gangstagrass – known for the Emmy-nominated theme to FX's Justified, "Long Hard Times to Come" – has discovered the sweet spot where string music and MC beats coexist. The 15 tracks on Them's the Breaks, his excellent new solo album, marry the progressive-country vibe of Gram Parsons with the gritty street sense of Jay Z. Influenced equally by George Jones and Cypress Hill, Rench – real name Oscar Owens – often uses his music to effect societal change. New single "Mugshot" is about standing up, even if it means getting shut down by the man: Rench was recently arrested during a healthcare protest at the White House.
He Says: "I was in third grade and recess for me was putting down cardboard to do your back spins to the Beat Street soundtrack and Run-D.M.C. That was huge for me and all my friends in grade school. But my dad is from Oklahoma and exposed me to a lot of honky-tonk music, especially George Jones and Gram Parsons," says the Santa Barbara, California, native. "Later, I was producing for hip-hop MCs and I'd say, 'Oh, it'd be cool if we had a pedal steel guitar on this,' but it never went over well. So the sound in my head was only going to get out in the world if I did it myself."
Hear for Yourself: The rock-solid "Mugshot" has beats and bravado to burn, as Rench boasts he "looks good in a mugshot" over a muscular, speaker-rattling arrangement. J.H.