Plates crash, glasses clink and people yell at the Green Pig Pub, where I meet with Rha'gene Beal and Porter Dalton of Ogden's own funk-minded hip-hop band, Grits Green. We were supposed to meet at a coffee shop, but the bustling Pig better suits Beal, who sociably chats up every passerby while Dalton, calm and pensive, sips on a rum and Coke. The setting probably didn't matter. These two are at home anywhere.
Grits Green started with Ogden musician Jed Keipp, formerly of hyper-eclectic trio Jebu. "He wanted to start a hip-hop thing, asked me and Rha to be a part of it," Dalton says, "and a month later, he moved to Virginia." Beal and Dalton decided to keep the momentum going, taking MC titles—Rhagenetix and Porta D, respectively—and creating beats in the Reason production program.
It wasn't long before the software proved too limiting for their purposes, and the pair invited friend Greg Shaw to add bass to the recordings. "We asked him to come over ... and he never left," Dalton says with a laugh. Shaw suggested adding guitarist Jonny Knoder, and Dalton's cousin, Curtis Stahl of Folk Hogan, manned the drum kit. When Stahl decided to focus on FH, Dalton says Grits Green filled the void with "the baddest dude around," Bobby Gilgert.
Each member has other projects—Beal attends the Berklee College of Music online and produces beats, Dalton recently reunited Spearit, Knoder (as J-Note) is dropping a solo album, Shaw works with producer Mike Sasich at Man vs Music and plays in Big Blue Ox and Shaky Trade, Gilgert performs with Pinetop Inferno and Joe McQueen. But "the energy never gets too far away from Grits Green," Beal says. "We're rhythm junkies."
Their addiction, filled almost daily now, began in childhood. Beal's was a family of regular churchgoers: "Being a part of a congregation with singing and shouting, bass, organ and drums was a big deal to me." Later, he discovered RUN-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, and realized that "music is an integral part of life."
Dalton, meanwhile, owes his very existence to music: "My dad was a traveling musician, playing country music, and that's how he met my mom," he says. His own style is influenced by everything from indie hip-hop label Rhymesayers Entertainment to Sublime to Michael Jackson. These influences share a common, communal vibe that helped shape the band's good-time "people music" vibe.
After garnering local acclaim through frequent shows and perseverance, Grits Green played the 10th (and so far final) Uncle Uncanny's Music Festival in 2013. Fresh from their set, they were approached by trumpet player Willie Waldman (Banyan, Perry Farrell, Tupac Shakur). This led to an odyssey-like adventure to the home of Waldman's friend, veteran engineer and producer Dave Aron, who recorded Sublime's self-titled 1996 album and previously worked with Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, U2 and Prince. The band played a gig at the L.A. House of Blues and tracked their debut album, Imagination in Motion (Reverbnation.com/GritsGreen, 2013). "We basically recorded the album live," Dalton says. "We put in four 14-hour days, mixed it down and headed home."
Despite working with a big-name producer, Dalton and Beal say they never expected Imagination in Motion to break big. "When me and Rha got together, we decided we would make party music," Dalton says. "We didn't expect big things from it. It's just music for our friends to party to," he says. It's also a love letter to Ogden: "I think almost every song was, in one way or another, written about our hometown."
Things are a little different now. Grits Green is recording an EP at Man vs Music and Shaw's home studio, eyeing a winter release. Beal, through his studies at Berklee, has learned more about the music business, spending time on fan acquisition and "really working the new songs." Dalton says they're "thinking bigger, production-wise," taking their time and adding bells and whistles they didn't use on "Imagination, which was recorded live with no samples or extra anything."
In the more immediate future, they are looking forward to opening for Digable Planets at the Twilight Concert Series—their prize for winning "Best Hip-Hop/Rap Act" in City Weekly's Best of Utah Music 2016. Their excitement is two-pronged: They're big fans of DP, and they're stoked to play for such a large crowd. They've even added a three-piece horn section for the occasion. "I want to show people what passion looks like," Beal says. Then the pair, in unison, says, "We're gonna bring some heat!" CW