Joshua Gunn may be the most sartorial rapper ever to come out of Durham’s bustling hip-hop scene, often hitting the stage and rocking the mike in a dapper, lady-killing suit. But the born-and-based Durhamite admits that when he’s in the booth recording a tune, he keeps it as casual as possible.
“Yeah, that’s funny, man,” Gunn says, as he’s driving to Greensboro to rehearse with his backup band. “I don’t wear a suit when I record. I do like to dress up when I perform. I like to give that type of classy, professional vibe, I guess. But, nah man – we wear hoodies!”
When we last visited the former commodities broker-turned-rising MC in this section a year and a half ago, he was busy promoting his mixtape, “Peaceful Struggle,” by doing shows all over the state, as well as in major cities like New York and Atlanta. Now, the 28-year-old performer iscelebrating the release of his official, full-length debut, “(Broken) Glass Half Full,” with a concert/release party Friday at Casbah in Durham.
It’s fitting for Gunn to celebrate in Durham, since he recorded “Full” in the Bull City. Mostly working with the A List Productions crew, Gunn spent a year recording the album.
After recording most of “Struggle” over on the West Coast, Gunn felt he needed to record “Full” in his hometown. For Gunn, the album’s shattered-yet-still-optimistic title and concept is in reference to both his career so far as an MC and the city he hails from.
“To me, it reflects the story of Durham,” he says. “It’s the underdog story. We’re polished and we’re intelligent and we’re smart, but we realize that you might not see us that way. So we kind of embrace the edginess that you might see of the city as well, and take it all in stride and remain optimistic about the future. And, also, not just optimistic about the future, but we’re really enjoying ourselves in the process.”
Gunn started “(Broken) Glass Half Full” right after he cut ties with the L.A.-based DuBose Music Group. While he has no ill will toward the label or its owner, film/TV producer and black-entertainment mogul James DuBose, Gunn wanted to get cracking on recording an album.
“I think his intentions were great intentions, and he saw a vision for his company,” he says. “But I don’t think he was necessarily prepared for the challenge that it is to break a new artist. And the success that he had in TV and film, it didn’t necessarily translate to music, because the music industry is so different now. We just really weren’t able to, um, really get off the ground, in terms of the way that we really wanted to do it.
“I love music and I want to get my music out,” he adds. “I want people to hear it. I couldn’t really afford to sit, you know, on the shelf, so to speak, and wait for things to kind of materialize.”
And although Gunn remains the classiest of Tar Heel MCs, don’t get it twisted. As evidenced on “Full,” he can still get down-and-dirty when he’s on the mike. For him, it’s just like jazz.
“Even Miles Davis and those guys, they had a grimy, street element to ’em,” he says. “But the music just came off so smooth and sophisticated.”
A man who’s good at being sharp-dressed and sharp-tongued ... it’s still impossible to hate on Joshua Gunn.