Happy 10th Anniversary to The Grouch & Eligh’s third album Say G&E!, originally released April 21, 2009.
One of the best things about The Grouch & Eligh’s Say G&E! album is the pair of California-born emcees know how to keep it honest. They present themselves as fallible human beings, who are as capable of making the wrong choices as anyone who’s out there. With their third collaborative album, Corey “The Grouch” Scoffern and Eligh Nachowitz acknowledge their imperfections and re-dedicate themselves to improving their lives, as well as the world around them, in the hopes of creating a more livable place for themselves and their families.
Throughout Say G&E!, released a decade ago, Grouch and Eligh discuss serious and compelling subject matter without coming off as aloof or sanctimonious, as they explore such concepts as loss and redemption without being maudlin. It’s a difficult line to walk, because the two earn the sentiment through their skills of astute observing and their ability to craft amazing music.
Grouch and Eligh are both longtime members of the Living Legends crew, a collective of Bay Area and Los Angeles-based artists that was formed in the mid-’90s that helped define underground and independent hip-hop in the Bay Area for close to 15 years. Together, the collective of nine emcees and producers helped establish a thriving Bat Area underground scene, powered by their “Unsigned and Hella Broke” ethos.
In a crew of unique voices, Grouch and Eligh meshed well together. Both pulled double-duty as emcees and producers, and both used contrasting styles to distinguish themselves. While The Grouch was steeped in the lessons of artists like Too $hort and Del the Funky Homosapien, Eligh was a product of the Los Angeles underground scene, and it showed in each of their rhymes and cadences. While Grouch is laid-back and free-flowing on the mic, Eligh packs each of his bars and verses with seemingly the maximum amount of words and syllables.
The two were frequent contributors to each other’s solo albums, and eventually the pair began recording music together as a duo. They released G&E Vol. 1 & 2 (2000), a collection of two EPs that they had recorded together during the late ’90s. They followed up that release with No More Greener Grasses (2003), an extended dedication to enjoying life in California.
Say G&E! was the duo’s first album in more than five years. By 2009, Living Legends wasn’t quite the unified front that it once was, coming off the heels of a “comeback” EP, The Gathering (2008), and amidst rumors that members of the group were considering leaving the collective. Grouch and Eligh’s chemistry remained unaffected by the hiatus, as they assembled an often dark and moody album that at times finds them worn down by the world and their own demons, and at times finds them full of hope and ready to fight to make the planet a better place.
Grouch and Eligh had specialized in introspection for the majority of their careers up to that point. The album really shines on the production end, with Eligh himself commanding the boards for much of the project. He puts together a melancholy palette that matches the thoughtfulness of the verses.
A sizable section of Say G&E! concerns addiction, specifically Eligh’s personal struggles. After years of serious drug use, he finally checked himself into a treatment program and got clean. Grouch and Eligh put together a four-song stretch on Say G&E!, each reflecting a particular facet of addiction and the recovery process.
The bookends to this section are the strongest. The “suite” begins with “Denial,” produced by Bay Area workhorse Rick Rock, a bleak ode to the lengths that addicts can go through to avoid coping with their disease. Grouch’s verse about a friend’s lies and betrayal is powerful, but it’s Eligh verse, where he shares some of his own feelings and experiences, that really hits home. He raps, “But I’d rather get high cause I need to get by / ’Cause it hurts my body to wait / Opiates got a hold of my brain / It’s a whole ’nother thang.”
After “I Know I Wanna Feel” and “Teach Me The Way,” the passage comes to a close with the inspiring “All In.” Over bubbling keys and organ, Grouch, Eligh and Gift of Gab all hit the track with charged with energy. The passion and excitement in their delivery is infectious, as they embrace life and all of its challenges with great zeal.
While Eligh’s production throughout Say G&E! is clear highlight, some of the album’s best moments come when the duo varies the musical soundscape. DJ Fresh, the crew’s compatriot and occasional touring DJ, creates an evocative vibe on “Do it Again” for Grouch and Eligh to let loose one of the album’s few bursts of lyrical braggadocio. Grouch is at his most nimble as he strings together complex phrases as he raps, “And now the worlds on your shit chain, slick / Or pain a pick like this for plenty to see infinity / So put this remedy on I must deliver these songs / One gets the message wrong it’s not the end of me.”
Grouch and Eligh enlist another pair of then young and hungry Southern California up-and-comers on “Old Souls”: producer Flying Lotus and guest emcee Blu. With its filtered ethereal vocals and hard-hitting drums, the beat has all the hallmarks of Flying Lotus’ trademark sound, over which the three impart their own world-weary wisdom. They warn of the inexorable passage of time and encourage everyone to work hard to rise above their worldly concerns to achieve their potential.
Though Say G&E! contains numerous guest appearances, Grouch and Eligh occasionally play with the audience’s preconceived notions of what these artists will contribute. Slug of Atmosphere delivers the opening salvo on “!Boom!” having a blast reminiscing about his younger days, rolling the streets of Minneapolis with a jury-rigged system. He raps, “Felt like a champion, the windows rattling / Rusted paint, wood panel and It didn't matter I was still the man to them.” Ant Live, the production half of the Zion I crew, expertly puts together a beat composed of spare pounding 808s and handclaps, creating a certified Bay Area slapper.
Meanwhile, Bay Area icon Mistah F.A.B. joins the pair on the introspective “Comin’ Up.” Over a sped-up loop from Band of Horses’ “The Funeral,” all three meditate on their journey to prominence in the realm of hip-hop and the sacrifices that they made along the way. F.A.B. raps, “I sit and reminisce of homies dead on my shirt / I wish I could shift like the axis on the Earth / And get away from this nonsense on the turf / But life's got a twist like a football Nerf.”
Towards the end of the album, Grouch and Eligh spend a lot of time examining the state of the world, searching for ways to make the planet a better place. “Rivers Run Dry” is an excellent environmentally conscious hip-hop track, as the pair lament the increasingly dire global situation. But even as Grouch grieves over a world where his daughter can no longer play in the sun, he acknowledges his own imperfections noting that, “I'm a walking contradiction ’cause I drive an SUV in the car pool lane.”
Later, on “Worried About the World,” the pair are joined by indie rap stalwart Sage Francis, as they decry “the muck and the mire” of political corruption, unchecked consumerism, and violence in all of its forms. Mike Marshall, of the mid ’80s R&B group Timex Social Club (perhaps best known for his distinctive vocals on The Luniz’ “I Got 5 On It”) provides the song’s soulful hook. The song’s beat is uptempo and almost Kraftwerk-esque, with pulsing keys and shuffling drums.
In the midst of all the weighty discussion of impending global disaster, Grouch and Elgih switch things up a bit with “No Flowers,” a love song that could double as a metaphor for the pair’s passion for music. Eligh’s production prowess shines, as he expertly chops the introductory piano and strings from the saccharine “You Never Bring Me Flowers Anymore” by Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond, and transforms it into something soulful and moving.
Say G&E! was the beginning of creative resurgence for both The Grouch and Eligh. Grouch would release another project, Three Eyes Off the Time, by the end of the year. He would later release his second collaborative album with the group Zion I, Heroes In the Healing Nation. (2011). Eligh would take the time to delve deeper into confronting his addiction on record with Grey Crow and later Therapy At 3, a collaborative album with the aforementioned Amp Live. They followed up Say G&E! five years later with a triple album, which featured a collaborative 333, as well as solo releases from each of the two.
Aside from MURS, The Grouch & Eligh have remained the most active members of the Living Legends. They have continued to share their unique perspective with the crew’s dedicated fanbase, while also appealing to all of those who value honesty in their hip-hop. Both members of the group as individuals have continued their careers, as each released a new project last year. Hopefully another G&E album is in the future, because they continue to bring out the best in each other.