Don’t let $1 inter-city bus fares fool you: The distance between New York and Boston, psychologically and geographically, remains considerable. This goes double for artists, where high achievement in the local scene favors — if not outright requires — taking advantage of the more expansive opportunities and bigger risks found a few hours south down Interstate 95.
Take Grey Sky Appeal as the modern example. The trio of MCs Subtex and Outwrite and producer Taj Campman emerged as leading figures in Boston’s hip-hop scene following the release of their 2011 self-titled debut album, a set of unpolished-by-design cuts bristling with nods to both vintage boom-bap and Allston’s DIY ethos. Two years, a second album, and several awards later, the group has swapped Boston for Brooklyn, N.Y., a journey that coincided with the recording of their newest EP, “Occam’s Razor,” a collaborative EP with Chicago rapper Qwel, released last month.
“I think Boston and Allston did nothing but form community for us and community in hip-hop before anything,” says Subtex on the phone from the Flatbush apartment he shares with his bandmates. “We took that to New York and have been expanding on that here while maintaining what we built in Boston.”
Grey Sky Appeal will make its return this Wednesday, when they perform alongside Boogie Boy Metal Mouth and Moe Pope for the latter’s birthday show at Church in the Fenway. But the group, whose members hail originally from Vermont and New Hampshire, left a lasting impression before the move, thanks to raucous warehouse shows at Allston’s defunct Unit 11 and standout collaborations with C-Rayz Walz and John Robinson. After Taj won best hip-hop producer at the 2011 Boston Music Awards and the group was voted best hip-hop group in the Boston Phoenix’s annual music poll the following year, Grey Sky seemed to be peaking.
Staying in Boston would have ensured their place among the city’s top rap acts, but the group, already relentlessly working the East Coast tour circuit, had a different path in mind.
“It came up really quickly,” says Outwrite, who was sharing a single room in a house with his bandmates in Allston a month before the move. “It wouldn’t have made any sense if one of us went and two of us stayed or vice versa. All three of us knew we were going to go, it was never a question.”
“Musically, for me, there’s so much of everything in New York,” adds Taj. “From a production standpoint, there’s so much influence from every direction. It’s been crazy for me coming from Boston where I was friends with most of the people who I was working with; it was a fresh start in New York.”
“When you are making music, a lot of the people who we collaborate with are people we are friends with and we respect,” says Subtex, who also credits trips to SXSW in helping build their fan base outside the city. “It’s not like we are losing contact with these people. Musically, having friends all over the country really helps you out because you have places to stay and do shows.”
As the move began to materialize, so did “Occam’s Razor” (available at www.greyskyap
peal.bandcamp.com). The opportunities provided by New York became apparent in its recording: It began inside their apartment’s home studio in October 2011 and finished late last year at Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn, a professional studio backed by the deep pockets of the North Andover-based footwear and apparel company, which has featured some of Grey Sky’s music in its television commercials.
Strengthened by Qwel’s presence, “Razor” feels like the artistic progression Grey Sky Appeal was looking for. “Sugar Cubes” finds Subtex and Outwrite spinning witty musings on dealing with shady business types (“we both think the world should think like me, and that’s [expletive] up”) over Taj’s pastiche of plucked strings and handclaps. The claps turn up again on the single “Brains,” alongside dirty lo-fi electric guitars and piano bar flourishes, while “Order Up” uses food as a thematic launch pad for a string of virtuoso exercises in flow.
The album’s title refers to a scientific principle that states that the simplest answer is usually the right one, and it’s not hard to see why they chose it. Grey Sky Appeal’s good instincts have taken them from Boston to Brooklyn and places beyond, and they’ll continue to trust them.
“Don’t overthink moving around, just do it,” says Outwrite bluntly, when asked for advice for aspiring local talent. “You’ll find a way to make things happen. If you have something, don’t overthink it too much. If you sit around overthinking stuff, you may get stuck in the same place. That goes for any artist, no matter where you are.”
Charmingly Ghetto’s development into one of the city's most interesting rap talents continues on the recently released “Of the Meaning of Progress,” an 11-track collaboration with New York producer ATG, with assists from Chaundon, Koncept, and Reks (on the forceful statement of intent “I’ve Arrived”). . . . Internet meme-turned-rapper Riff Raff sold out the Middle East Downstairs the last time he played the Cambridge venue, and, no, we still don't believe it either. He’ll look to go two-for-two when he returns on July 30. . . . Famous Nobodies (Dutch Rebelle, Real P, and Chris Brook) dropped their new mixtape,“Nobodies Nation,” last week. So much for being inconspicuous.Martin Caballero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @_el_