Pursuing an independent music career is nothing new for The Grouch and Eligh, who have been thriving in it from as early as the ‘90s as members of the California underground Hip Hop collective, Living Legends. However, during this time, independent success stories were not as common as they are today. Despite this, The Grouch and Eligh have managed to sustain a strong and loyal fan base, which they say are their biggest supporters. With the release of their triple disc album, The Tortoise and the Crow, which includes one solo album from each artist and a joint effort (333), the duo decided to go above and beyond to show their gratitude for the support of their fans, who have pushed them the entire way. With their Kickstarter campaign, The Grouch and Eligh created a way for their fans to become a part of their musical journey in a very personal way with unique rewards in exchange for pledges, ranging from exclusive merchandise to a private show at the donor’s choice of location.
“It’s not anything new for us because we’re independent artists and our money has always come from our fans supporting us; nowhere else,” The Grouch tells in this exclusive HipHopDX conversation. “So essentially our fans have been propelling us the whole way, and this is just another way for them to see it, recognize it and have it feel more tangible. And we really felt like the fans showed out and showed their love for us.”
In their joint record “Run,” which is featured on 333, Eligh rhymes, “You can say I’m independent but I need my fans / G&E fans are the best and advanced,” which serves as a testament for the campaign. As the two kick off their tour for the album, they shared why they made it a point to give back to their fans, the meaning behind the album and the title, and the state of Hip Hop today.
How Fan Appreciation Fuels Grouch & Eligh’s Career
HipHopDX: You guys are a week into your tour for The Tortoise and the Crow. It’s early, but how has the tour experience been thus far, and how is the reception of the album?
Eligh: Wow, the reception of the album has been pretty amazing. We’ve both been kind of floored by it. People are really absorbing everything in the way that we hoped they would; there’s so much music with the three albums, and it’s enough music to last for a year. So far the shows have been amazing, and the energy, smiles and happiness at these shows…it’s just vibrating the same way our music is, which is great. I feel like people are absorbing the feeling we wanted them to absorb and then bringing it back to us. So Seattle in particular last night was probably our favorite show so far. It was sold out, beautiful crowd, and just great energy.
DX: So the title of the album is The Tortoise and the Crow, what is the meaning behind it?
Eligh: Well I know that the crow and the tortoise are spirit animals I believe. I’ve always gone by the “Crow” as kind of… I don’t want to call it a side name, but it’s been a title that I’ve been using since I was young. The tortoise and the crow definitely represent spirit animals.
Grouch: For me, the title of the album also represents the duality of both of us and the yin and yang between him and I in this group. He raps really fast. I rap at a slower pace. And also, we bring totally different sides to the equation as far as his voice is lower tone; my voice compliments his in a different way with a higher pitch. And then we also have been in the game for a long time, so I feel like the tortoise represents that and our longevity. We might not be at the forefront in terms of record sales or anything like that, but we’ve been doing independent music and have been very successful at it for a long time.
DX: Speaking of your longevity in the game, from your work with the Living Legends to your solo efforts that ranges from the ‘90s to now, you have both created countless projects. Why was this the time to release The Tortoise and the Crow, and what about it makes it historic for you guys in comparison to your past works?
Eligh: The reason why it makes it historic and separate from all of our other projects is the whole triple album concept and the fact that its never been done before. The closet thing that we saw done like this was the OutKast album [Speakerboxxx/The Love Below] put out 10 years ago where it was one Big Boi and one Andre album. But they didn’t have an OutKast album together, so the fact that no one has ever done it, that was tempting. That’s what inspired us to be like, “Man, we have the opportunity to do something that no one has ever done.” We had the music to make it happen, so that was a huge inspiration in going for the triple album.
Grouch: Yep. Another part to that is that we both make so much music. We both make projects with different people, and we also enjoy making stuff together and solo, so it was like we already had started. Me personally, I had some Grouch songs already started, but I felt like I want to work on music with Eligh at the same time. And we have listeners who start asking us like, “When is the next Grouch solo record going to be out?” “When is the next G & E going to be out?” Certain people are ready for certain formations at different times, and so it was an extra bonus just to give them all three dimensions at once.
Eligh: Yeah, and I’m glad that you were able to pick up on the fact that all of the albums sound really different. We’re pretty proud of that. I know that I am. I did a lot of producing on it, but Grouch’s album is done by a bunch of different people. Everything sounds so completely different, and that’s why I think it’s just like one long journey. That’s why having one arching title over the whole thing—The Tortoise and the Crow—makes perfect sense. It’s one big journey.
Grouch Says Kickstarter Created A Tangible Connection
DX: Along with the fact that you guys have been making music for a long time now, how has your approach to releasing independent music changed over the years?
Grouch: Well this year we actually launched the Kickstarter to begin the funding for this record—it was a very successful campaign by the way. A lot of people look at and they say, “Wow, that’s new. They’re doing the Kickstarter.” A lot of people have done Kickstarters, and they do it in a way where they’re saying, “We are trying to fund this project, and if you get us this money then we’ll be able to fund the project.” To be completely honest, our project was done before we started our Kickstarter, and we kind of used it to just get the people involved and have them be a part of the process of making it come out. We used a new platform, but its not really anything new for us, because we’re independent artists and our money has always come from our fans supporting us—nowhere else. So essentially our fans have been propelling us the whole way, and this is just another way for them to see it, recognize it and have it feel more tangible. And we really felt like the fans showed out and showed their love for us. We included a lot of their names in the liner notes if they supported with certain packages and things like that, but really we aren’t doing much different than we’ve ever done. It’s always just been independent music. No one else is funding us, except people who support us through buying our records, our merchandise and you know, out of our own pockets.
Eligh: Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was thinking.
DX: With the Kickstarter campaign, you both made a huge strive to give more than just your music to show your appreciation for your fans through your various awards. What prompted you to make such a strong effort to show your gratitude?
Eligh: I just believe that we wanted to do a Kickstarter, we wanted to make it stick out and we wanted do stuff that we knew our fans would be driven to want to be a part of. I have a Kickstarter supporter that I will be meeting in L.A. after this tour. She will get in my car, we’ll drive to San Diego and get a tattoo that I drew myself at my favorite tattoo shop. That was a cool one that this woman supported, and we want to do things that no one is doing. We want to connect to our fans in the closet way we can, and doing stuff like that is way cooler than making some like special buttons, downloads or signs and stuff. We wanted to go above and beyond.
DX: Yeah, I can tell. There was even one reward to go to Hawaii with Grouch—a vacation with your favorite artist…
Eligh: Well Grouch lives in Maui, so it was a pledge. Yeah, somebody bought that pledge—they would get to Hawaii, and then he would take them around all day to all the spots, waterfalls and beaches. That was an amazing one too, and those were the things we just wanted to do—things that no one else has done or no one else does because we appreciate our fans so much. We know how valuable they are to us, and the energy exchange is priceless between us and our fans.
Grouch: The reason why I look at this Kickstarter as something so valuable is because the platform is put out there, and they can see it and feel like it’s tangible this time. For example, you saw it, and you can see all the cool things that we’re doing for our fans… You could visibly go on there and see like, “Oh, these are the packages that they’re offering. This is cool. They’re giving back to there fans.” But I just want to stress that we’ve always been down for our fans, and we’ve always been the types of artists that stay to the very end of the show, sign every autograph and take every picture. We offered contests even through our own websites even before this Kickstarter campaign, so it’s really nothing new for us. It’s something that we’ve known since the beginning, and that’s to show love for the people that show love to you. Our fans are our most important supporters in this whole game, because aside from you writing about us right now, we don’t have a bunch of rappers knocking on our door everyday. We’re not covered by the media that much, and so our fans are our biggest word of mouth and are our biggest supporters. We love them just like they love us.
Eligh Talks Sobriety & L.A. Hip Hop Origins
DX: Going back to the Kickstarter campaign, you guys also pledged to donate $10K if you reached a certain amount to the Grammy organization, MusiCares—which is the organization that helped Eligh get clean. So Eligh, in what ways did this organization not only save your life, but also your music?
Eligh: That was actually something that we came up with later in the campaign, and it was if we reached a certain goal after our initial goal. We didn’t get to that goal, so that didn’t happen. But MusiCares is a… Man, it’s godsend of a foundation. They paid for me to get into rehab when I had no ways of me to do that. I was struggling and at the bottom of the barrel and wanted to get clean and couldn’t do it by myself. I could not afford to go to rehab. MusiCares—all they needed for me to do was to prove that I was a working musician—and they put me in a rehab. They paid for it, they paid for Sober Living, and they paid for me going to the dentist when I had no coverage. It’s just such a great foundation, and I definitely put a lot of the reasons I was able to get clean into their hands. If we were able to reach that plateau, we decided that would be a great place to give.
DX: Going along with that, it’s common in Hip Hop culture, especially today, for artists to popularize the use of narcotics and drug use, such as “poppin molly” and things like that. As someone who overcame that, how important do you think it is to give your testimony in your music?
Eligh: Well it’s very important to me. Every album I’ve done since I’ve gotten clean has a message in it regarding that. I’m very proud of it. I’m very grateful for it, so I speak on it often. I’m not ashamed of it. I want to give people hope and let them know that it’s possible to get clean and stay clean, because look at me I’m doing it—especially in the world that we function in and it’s working. A lot of people come to shows and tell me that they got clean to Say G&E, or they got clean to Grey Crow, and they’re still clean and they got a year now. All these wonderful things people tell me is a result of me just being honest about my stuff, which has always been the music we made anyway. And that’s the thing: I won’t make music telling people how horrible they are for doing drugs, or if they shouldn’t be doing this or they shouldn’t be doing that, or if this music is terrible because they’re talking about this. I just talk about me, my experiences and what I’ve gone through, and it works.
DX: That’s great. Going back to what Grouch stated earlier about not being on a mainstream level, despite that, you have still maintained a strong fan base, touring and you are successful independently.
Grouch: Well definitely. Our music is stronger now than it’s ever been, as far as I’m concerned. So it’s all fresh and new. You know, we have a path that we’ve been on to get here, but we’re current and we’re relevant. We have plenty of things to say and different styles to invent and release into the world as well right now.
Eligh: Yes, that’s perfectly stated by Grouch, because I’m starting to have a little bit of beef with the word “still.” I don’t like the word “still” at all. “You guys are still doing it.” We’re not still doing nothing; we’ve been doing it, and like he said, it’s the path that it took to get us here at our strongest point now, which is amazing. I’m so grateful that we’re able to be at our strongest point right where we stand right now. Grouch at the shows, after what song—I don’t remember what song—but he says to the crowd, “This is the best moment to be alive right now.” And I get like some kind of energy or feeling after that statement, because it’s the truth. I mean right now we have the most fans we’ve ever had, we’re making the best music we’ve ever made and it’s the best time to be alive right now.
Grouch: For everybody.
Eligh: For everybody.
DX: So Eligh, on your song, “A Different Way,” you rhyme about being raised in a different way, and how “it’s had to stay sane in a different day.” Can you please elaborate on that?
Eligh: Yeah, I was definitely speaking upon being raised in the L.A. Hip Hop scene. Discovering the biggest, most influential artists for me was just like Freestyle Fellowship and Pharcyde, and mostly the Good Life. All those guys, the styles and the amazing, futuristic rhythms and ways that people were rapping back then blew my mind. That’s the style of Hip Hop I was raised by, and to me that’s the most innovative time in Hip Hop. It’s gone, man…to me it’s gone. I feel like I have sort of a duty to keep that style going in a way that remains relevant and futuristic—not like a reminiscing, going back in time to bring back a style thing. I’m trying to keep it relevant and keep it in the game. That’s basically what I was speaking about… being raised in that style of Hip Hop at that time, and as far as what it’s like right now, it’s just different. I’m still inspired by new music, and it’s just a different way. To me, nowadays, it’s more about smashing genres together, mixing and matching and creating new sounds that just have never been heard before. I just appreciate people that do that and don’t make the same old stuff over and over.
Grouch: My opinion of the state of Hip Hop today is that it’s a beautiful thing. The fact that people can create music on an independent level and be successful with it is happening now more than ever before, and I just think that people should take advantage of it while it’s like this. Be yourselves, be creative and put your art into the world, and hopefully it will touch people in a genuine great way.
DX: Definitely. Was there a recent project that you listened to that brought you those feelings that you discussed?
Eligh: Man, there is a lot of mixing and matching I’ve been doing with artists and random songs I catch on different platforms, such as my favorite radio station in L.A. The only radio station I listen to is like a college kind of public-funded radio station, and they play a lot of indie stuff. I’ve really been inspired by a lot of indie Rock and EDM stuff. The last Hip Hop full-length album that I was really feeling was actually Kanye’s album [Yeezus]—you know the production and just the energy he came with, and of course Kendrick Lamar’s stuff. For me, it comes from every direction. There’s no one genre. I pull from everywhere, and it keeps me inspired.
Grouch & Eligh Talk Future Plans & Personal Evolution
Grouch: The last album I really liked was by a woman named Laura Mvula. I don’t know anything about her. I saw her CD online, and then Eligh told me that he’d listened to it as well, and he liked it. That’s the last one I played that I really liked. Aside from that, I play a lot of like the old greats—just Bob Marley, Fela Kuti and Reggae. I live in Hawaii, so Reggae is the vibe out there that I’m feeling when I’m out there. Erkyah Badu, Raphael Saadiq, Kendrick Lamar and OutKast; these are the things that I listen to.
DX: Nice. Going back to the Tortoise and the Crow, if you could sum up your message of the album in just one sentence, what would it be?
Eligh: Speak your truth.
Grouch: Use your intuition.
DX: Interesting. There’s definitely a deep meaning behind the title.
Grouch: Well there’s even more I think, and there are so many details about it. Like the elevation part; the crow is in the sky and the tortoise is on the ground and it is grounded. Eligh is in the sky, he moves fast and he is a faster worker. For one, he creates music faster than I do. On the other hand, my train of thought is a little bit slower and more calculated. I think I take more time with it. There are just so many different things that represent the significance of the title. Also, it comes down to our voices, it comes down to our physical appearances, and the way we compliment each other in that way. There were just so many different things to me that when we came up with the title, it just made sense and clicked. For example, if you take an upper case “G” and take a lower case “E”—my daughter thought of this one day—and then fit it together like a circle, it almost looks like yin and yang. There are so many different elements that went into the meaning of the title. It was just the way that we think and the way the title just hit us as being an obvious choice and the most relevant thing that we could name the album.
DX: Interesting.Eligh, I know you are focusing on your music, but you are also getting heavily into production, so what can we expect from you later?
Eligh: Well what’s funny is the next album that I plan on releasing is actually produced entirely by another friend of mine, D&A. It’s like all bass music, all trap stuff, and I’m really excited about that, because it’s really different from anything else that I’ve ever put out. But as far as production-wise, for me my whole next goal in life—the next step that I want to move to—is film. I can’t wait to be doing that, because I could do that from the comfort of a nice setting, and I get to produce and then print out sheet music and then pass it out to all my musician friends. [I get to] have them play stuff that I want them to play and get the connects to movies and film, which is one of my favorite things. I love visual meaning, so I’m excited about that.
DX: Grouch, what can we expect from you in the near future?
Grouch: There’s nothing exactly defined yet, but I’m just going to continue to work with a ton of talented musicians that I’ve met over the years and that surround me in my home even…just the people who are unheard of by the world, as far as any sort of name or fame that are so talented that live right around me. I just wanted to concentrate on music with them.
DX: Looking forward to both of your future endeavors. Are there any last comments that you guys would like to add?
Eligh: Man, just hoping to see everyone at some of the shows on our tour that we’re on right now. We’re still at the very beginning of it, so we’re hoping to see people live and in person, and be able to have that energy I mentioned earlier. I want everyone to get to experience this triple album that we put out. It’s a lot to absorb, and we hope people get a chance to do that.
Grouch: Yeah. I just want to say to anyone who might not be familiar with our music to go on and take a chance, give it a listen and there’s guaranteed something on there for you on there. We’re doing stuff that is a little bit different then I would say your typical Rap artist, and it’s very relevant to what’s going on in the world right now. I feel like there’s so many different angles and elements within it that it can touch anybody. It can touch a 65-year-old person. It can touch a five-year-old person. It can touch someone from the streets. It can touch someone who’s been raised in privilege all of their life. There’s real talk on the album. Excuse me for that phrase, but I don’t know what else to say. There’s genuine, heart, love, soul put into it, and I think that it can be appreciated by a large body of people.