Ten years ago, Benjamin Laub quit his job as a sauté cook at a Seattle eatery to become Grieves, the rapping alter ego he had been working on since he was 16.
The road to where he is now has been predictably rocky. After being everything from “a really (expletive) breakdancer” to “a really bad DJ,” the Chicago-born, Seattle-based Laub ultimately decided to go with being an MC, coming up with his name when he made the mistake of signing his real name when he wanted to compete in a battle.
“I just put my name down,” says Grieves, 33, calling en route to Wyoming. “(The organizer) was like, ‘Nah dog! You can’t put your (expletive) name down.’ I was like, ‘Well, why?’ She was like, ‘You gotta have a rap name.’ So, I just wandered around for, like, 20 minutes and came back with a rap name, and that’s what it was.”
He released several albums and EPs for another label, but the shaky relationship he had with that label had him pondering if he should leave the rap game.
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“I was told, you know, before I make any decisions that I should talk to somebody,” he remembers.
A friend hooked him up with Brent “Siddiq” Sayers, one of the co-founders of the Minneapolis-based Rhymesayers Entertainment label, which is home to such artists as Atmosphere, Brother Ali and Aesop Rock.
“We had probably about two weeks of conversations about kind of where I am and what I do and why I could or should or shouldn’t leave the music industry,” he said. “And those talks kind of ended with an offer on the table.”
It was certainly a dream come true for Grieves, who says he was influenced by the introspective hip-hop Rhymesayers has dropped over the years.
“I definitely was inspired by that label to kind of get into certain creative spaces, especially when I was a lot younger,” he says. “And it never seemed like an option to me, though. You know, it just seemed far out of reach. And then one day, it just kind of happened and it was crazy and super-surreal. My idols became my peers, and it’s been a bizarre journey.”
Rhymesayers has released his most recent albums, including his just released “Running Wild.” He’ll bring his “Running Wild” tour to Raleigh’s Kings on Sept. 20.
Critics have already been calling “Wild” a looser, funkier departure from the previous emo-rap productions he released.
“I think people get scared,” he says. “Like, especially with my music, I feel like people use my music very specifically – like in certain moments – and they don’t really want that to change. But I am and always have been way more dimensional than that. And I can’t keep doing the sad, dreary, broken-hearted, rappy blues songs. I want to make more music. I have so much more music inside of me than just that. But it’s hard, you know, especially as an artist. Like, it’s hard to, like, not do what works.”
For “Wild,” he got together with Swedish producer Chords, who pushed him to experiment and go deeper with his rhymes this time around.
“I wanted to work with Chords, and I knew Chords when I was living in New York, because he was also living out there,” he says. “And that was kind of the decision that I knew that Chords was the guy if I wanted to approach all these different soundscapes.”
In order for Grieves to do that, he had to meet up with Chords in Stockholm, where they listened to obscure jazz records and picked up what they liked.
“We were hitting home runs on the first trip,” he says. “It just happened to be that I had to fly all the way to Stockholm for it. … I had to do, like, eight of those trips. Eventually, it got a little like, ‘(Expletive), I’m running all this way to do this!’ ”
Now that Grieves is on his “Running Wild” tour, the man who almost quit hip-hop is now doing everything he can to stay honest and determined whenever he’s on the mike.
“I wanna make sure I believe in what I’m doing,” he says. “And if I don’t, I just kinda try to stay away from it.”
Who: Grieves, with Dem Atlas and Danny Blaze
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20
Where: Kings, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh
Cost: $13, $15 day of show
Details: 919-833-1091; kingsraleigh.com