Story by Allie Volpe
Andy Gross is a student of two schools: New Orleans and hip-hop. For some, the two may be independent of one another, but for Gross, those distinct educations shaped his experiences, both personal and musical.
Though Gross was raised in Virginia, his house so deep in the woods that cell service was often spotty, it wasn’t until he first got to New Orleans as a freshman attending Tulane University that he began to hit his stride, inspired by the demographic of people who inhabit the city and the changes it facilitated in his character.
“New Orleans has this working class bravado that’s so unique to to the city,” Gross said. “While maintaining this uber friendly environment, everyone is putting their head down and getting theirs every single day in whatever regard that may be. That is a theme in my music and my writing and my life in general. I like to be self-sufficient and a hard worker in my own singular environment.”
Initially a poetry writer and a lover of hip hop, Gross began freestyling and falling down the rabbit hole of the emerging web-based musical sphere. He’d pull all-nighters, not studying, but searching through Bandcamp and Soundcloud, each new discovery leading him to another artist, another cadence to dissect, production to immerse himself in. The expansiveness and iterations of hip hop - both new and old - seeped into his brain and allowed him to think outside the box when songwriting and fashioning a song, especially on his debut mixtape calm as things better not to tell, released this February.
Grimy and ominous, Gross’ raw voice cuts through minimalistic beats, often growing from a twinkle or a trickle into an onslaught of rhymes. From the understated “man loves magnet [but does not understand it]” with a constantly rolling rhythm to unceasing “don’t stop [bright bars],” Grosser possesses a talent for maintaining a flow, turning constant verses, never taking his foot off the gas until the track wraps.
Lyrically, he explores themes of inequality, an internal struggle of good versus evil, lessons that could only be learned from experience, though sometimes a lesson not inherently desired. “Think of me just like a journalist with nervousness / I’m a servant serpent / spitting sermon shit that’s turbulent,” he raps on “man loves magnet [but he does not understand it].”
Though for all its cohesiveness, the tape’s only constant is Grosser. Out of the mixtape’s 12 tracks, 10 unique producers provided their services. From British producer MF DOOM to Albany, New York’s Rhakim Ali, calm as things is a scrapbook of sound and place. It was a conscious decision, too.
“People utilize a lot of different tactics to get certain sounding beats on their tapes,” Gross said. “You have artists that are making the entirety of their project, from silence to completed mixtape, within a 10-block radius of their place in Chicago and then you have artists that who are alone in their bedroom in St. Paul, Minnesota and are emailing people all across the globe and getting different files sent to them from Germany, Europe and all across the States and they’re compiling all these instrumentals that they’re gonna rap over and make their own.”
Grosser, meanwhile, did a little bit of both. He sourced beats from artists he’d discovered on the internet, while some of the tracks featured instrumentals and songwriting from the musician community in New Orleans.
It all comes back to the education, the base knowledge of hip hop - the genre that he loves - and New Orleans - the city that he loves - and the creatives that reside within it.
“It is an academic thing for me as well as a pleasure and a profession,” Gross said. “I want to know as much as I can about the genre. Even if you’re not liking everything you’re listening to, you’re still learning from what you’re hearing and that’s still helping you in the end.”