Feb 172010
Authors: Louie Page

Nearly a decade ago, a Fort Collins teenage rapper with a normal name –– Ben Laub –– walked into the Aggie Theater to sign up for one of his first rap battles.
But he was turned away for not having a legitimate nickname, almost an unspoken requirement in the hip-hop world.

Excluded from the battle, Laub, originally from Chicago, ended up roaming Fort Collins looking to think of what he could call himself.

Inspired by the dark buildings of Old Town and the lonely feel of the streets, he said, “I was feeling grievous” and came up with the name Grieves.

Laub didn’t return to the Aggie that night.

But he has gone on to become an underground rap icon touring the country with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, playing host to audiences from across the country.

“We drive hours from state to state, week after week, doing show after show, it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s so worth it,” Grieves said.

A long road to stardom

After his brush with frustration on the streets of Fort Collins, Laub has moved around the country, playing college parties, in search of mellow gigs to practice his art.

He crossed the country twice, looking for the perfect rap atmosphere, first setting up shop in Seattle and eventually moving to New York City, where he now enjoys a deal with Black Clover Records, a nationally recognized underground recording enterprise.

He has quickly begun to gain a large audience, that thirst for his different style of hip-hop and melodic rap from his newest album.

He performed at parties and different venues in Seattle, but a big moment of progress was when a record label representative heard him at an Evergreen State University party. The representative helped Grieves cut his first demonstration album.

Under his newly found moniker, Grieves, Laub continued to write and perform in Seattle, where he met a local radio station manager named Lisa Wood, who helped establish him in the Seattle rap scene.

“She started giving me radio play right off the bat and introduced me to people in the music industry,” Laub said. “After that, all of the big stuff was starting. From then on, I just couldn’t stop learning about music. I was so driven by it.”

Shortly after that, in 2009, he moved to New York and recently struck a deal to do a countrywide tour with Budo, a DJ he had worked with in Seattle to produce his first album “88 Keys and Counting.”

The “internal ticker”

With his quick rise in the underground rap community, Laub has gained what he calls “an internal ticker.”

“I know exactly when a verse needs to end on a beat count and what words to go with it,” he said.

With Laub’s natural ear for a smooth beat and Budo’s mixing skills, the two are on the road, hitting cities across the country, including Denver and Las Vegas.

The inspiration for their music comes from an unlikely mix of historical music genres. Laub cited a mixture of the irreverent 1990s punk group NOFX and soul musicians like Ray Charles, Al Green and Wilson Pickets as early inspiration, while Budo finds his roots in the 1990s grunge movement, as well his mother’s frequent piano playing when he was little.

When Budo was 11, he took trumpet lessons, his first formal form of music education, and moved on to a large number of other musical interests.

“I went through a phase when I was totally immersed in jazz, but as I got older, I kinda transitioned into rock and rap and hip-hop, stars like Lid, Mike Snow, more ambient music,” Budo said.

Looking to the future

The hip-hop duo are looking to release another album called “Confessions of the Sonata,” which will incorporate more guitar than “88 Keys and Counting,” a series of dark, melodic beats.

The latter exhibits what could be described as the gloomy side of the musicians’ work.

“(It) makes the hairs of your back neck stand up,” Laub said. “I try to be very personal in my songs.”

The new album, which Laub and Budo recently named, has meant sleepless nights for the pair of artists.

“Lately I have been waking up in middle of the night and writing,” Laub said. But the bizarre work schedule is “giving me a lot of material for my new album.”

Laub and Budo have not set a release date for “Confessions of the Sonata,” but preorders come with a free remastered version of “88 Keys and Counting.”

Entertainment writer Louie Page can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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