August 22, 2017
River Green with Billy Crank
Article written by William Ellis
In his song, “From Me to You “ River Greene lets you in as his listener through an intimate door to his inimical world – a world he paints in this instance with familial details via a cadenced point of view as though you are already discretely aware of the personal dynamics which comprise a portrait of the singer / songwriter’s family. Details of that familial arrangement are embedded within a fresh and earnest stream of consciousness that is as painfully wrenching as it is refreshingly direct and unpretentious. Yes, directness and incisive honesty are qualities which persist within this auspiciously youthful and seemingly old-soul’s lyrical demeanor as he wanders through the streets of Tokyo beaming with America (i.e. see his video “All I Know ”); as he seeks a contemplative and resolved social change (ditto on his tributes to teen shooting victims Trinity Gay and Angel Juarez in “Hands Up Guns Down,” and “Head Up.”); and as he basks in the hip-hop tradition of day to day African American reality within his panorama of unique idioms and dangling lyrical hooks (see again “Ride Wit Me” and a plethora of his other videos). Whatever it is – whatever inimical choice of details that gets immersed within a rhythmic flow of rhyme – whatever mental acuity – or “genius” – as Woody Guthrie said – it takes to “make” something which is “complicated . . . simple” – River Greene surely possesses within an effusive Tasmanian wit which is always more angelic than devilish. Through his first person dialogues Greene both regales and passionately paints an African-American reality of America as though you as the listener sit looking out the window of a fast train or an accelerating car via the personal lens of this artistic arbiter whose dynamic visions are both passionate in attitude and confessional in tradition, yet stoically dead-on when it comes to telling things as they are. As he implies an expressionistic objective correlative among the scattered pieces of his well-chronicled worlds, similar to that famous Old English bard, Shakespeare, Greene often implicitly dwells on the world of reality as it conflicts, otherwise, with the world of appearances. (As far as his songwriting goes, Greene is definitely on the reality side of things.) And yet through imaginative and rainbow-imbued idioms – sometimes rapped in a vehement sarcasm which deftly transcribes psychological slices of Greene’s world and sometimes posited in earnest sorrow, Greene manages to unfold his world’s three- dimensional reality within psychedelic depths and dimensions. Meanwhile his incisive and dynamic rhyme cuts through the superficial to the vital as Greene’s verse conscribes a static barometer of cultural socio-economic realities even as Greene’s lyrical gaze sometimes turns optimistically (yet guardedly and provisionally) forward in such tributes as “Head Up“ (as featured here as a video at the Sound of Lexington). (Greene considers himself and, in fact, is too much of a realist to posit a steady and evenly applied optimism.)
The range and the scope of Greene’s inimical lyrics are both micro and macro. In “From Me to You “ (abovementioned and also featured here at Sound of Lexington) Green chronicles the painful familial loss of his father “When I heard you was gone its like my brain stopped / Just fell down my face like a raindrop.” The moving musical elegy includes Greene’s eventual prideful ascendance as an evolving hip-hop artist “I was gonna give you lots of money: I was gonna take you around the world with me,” and the fact that things will never be the same “You used to come to football games, yeah, I know shit ain’t the same”. And Greene does this while hauntingly scoring the heartfelt dissonance and finality which the death of a family member – in this case River Greene’s father (Joseph ‘Jo-Jo” Greene) – inevitably incurs. It is also a song of a son honorably following his father’s wishes and assuming a leadership role in the family. The song is by no means trite or braggadocios. Rather it is a courageous song which is gnawingly heart-wrenching, a song of tremendous openness with tremendous cathartic capacities. In “Head Up“ (also featured here at the Sound of Lexington), Greene laments the shooting deaths of innocent teens, or as he says in “Ride Wit Me,” innocent bystanders” — “Granddaughters and Grandsons” (“Head Up”). Greene performed “Head Up” as a tribute for a local Lexington youth, Angel Juarez, who was gunned down at his home on Henton Road at the age of fourteen. Greene had previously performed a tribute for a shooting victim who was murdered also when she was fourteen, Trinity Gay, with the song “Hands Up Guns Down.” In “Head Up,” Greene riffs “let the kids live, let the kids eat, let the kids learn, let the kids teach, let the kids listen, let the kids speak, . . . let em’ speak.” Greene observes “somebody die, every time I blink,” as he implores “head up, keep your head up,” lamenting “I know we’re all getting fed up” urging “the more we speak up, the more we have the upper hand” Like the previously mentioned “From Me to You,” “Head Up” dualistically functions as a roaming elegy which also infers the squalid socio-economic conditions out of which tragedies often erupt. Greene’s ability to transpose realities on top of each other while accruing a critical mass of details seemingly paints a fleeting and impressionistic lyrical fresco within the concrete backalley’s of his world. Yet Greene actually and rather cleverly operates within precise lyrical pivots as he provides his listeners with an impressionistic whirlwind of details – often at an avalanche’s pace – towards a tactile correlative which indicates the rusty revolving door of African American reality even as it nobly engages the painful loss of Greene’s father as well as presages the advent and celebration of the Id within a psychedelic psyche which both looks beyond and sees within. “I don’t rap about money, cars, and bitches like a lot of people”, Greene told Lexington’s Mixx magazine in a 2016 interview, “I stick to what I feel is true when I make music.” That is, even as Greene becomes extroverted within the presentation of his art, he surely (and demonstrably) possesses the mind of a contemplative introvert and searching soul. He is like Christopher Isherwood’s soundless camera which records everything around him or Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Invisible Eyeball transfixed within the Transcendent. Greene’s is a noble pursuit, one that involves a certain degree of fearlessness and control. As Greene sometimes conscribes and sometimes bemoans the circumstances and warped gravities of poverty’s displacement within the African American realities of his Hip-Hop’s lyrical excursions, he is a leader and a source for generating psychological relief specifically towards a race ravaged by Jim Crow generations of adroit cultural discrimination. After being incarcerated for a short period, Greene himself has had to hustle and survive in the streets. “I don’t do well in school,” he said in his Mixx magazine interview, “I don’t do well with this 9-5 stuff. Music is a journal for me. I’m a storyteller. I tell every little detail with no fabrication.” Though Greene often deploys cryptic, culturally encoded references to portray the attitudes and perspectives which flourish in and about his world, he has inherently recognized and certainly assumed implicit responsibilities which go with being such a revered public figure. As Greene said in his Sound of Lexington interview with Billy Crank, what inspires him to be an artist is “seeing the reaction that my music has on people . . . how it affects people in positive ways.” (Negative Capability – in literary theory – the ability to sacrifice one’s self for the service of others.) In the less than ten sum-odd years he has dedicated his life towards the creation of his art, Greene has already assumed the mantle of public servant (as in his tributes for Trinity Gay and Angel Juarez), served as an artistic American ambassador to Japan, and assumed the eldest son role as the male leader of his family (“now I don’t know if I’m worthy . . . I’m gonna take care of my little sister, yeah I’m gonna take care my brother, that’s from me to you”).
Like most artists, Greene began his artistic sojourn when he was just becoming an adolescent. ”I used to write raps for people back in the sixth and seventh grade . . . I’ve been doing it for so long its just what I like to do,” Greene told Mixx Magazine. Despite his early, precocious talent with lyrics (or perhaps partly because of the strident idealism and imaginative acumen that generated those youthful lyrics) Greene nonetheless experienced a troubled childhood. His father was “in and out” of his life, as Greene grew up intermittently in and out of group homes and lockdown facilities. He eventually found himself on the streets, hustling to survive. All of this, of course, by now becomes material for Greene to draw on – as, in a sense, it was then – yet time and distance creates perspective and perspective helps to hone methods by which to employ the residue of the past onto the bright cinder of the present – something Greene has more than auspiciously accomplished as much out of repetitive practice of his craft – writing lyrics – than by his more obvious refuse of talent. Greene told Mixx Magazine “Soon as I get off my little 9 to 5 bullshit I go straight to my house . . . I don’t never usually get to bed until 4 o’clock and I wake up at 7 o’clock to go to work. . . . On the weekend I’m usually up all night and I don’t get no sleep – wake up and do the same . . . the next day.” (What do they say)
“Writing is 95% sweat and 5% talent?”) By the function of coming up with his lyrics, Greene is always re-combining the past with the present. Or looking for fresh ways to crystallize the present (that is, his songs) generally out of remembered (and felt) moments of the past reflecting and accumulating in the artist’s conscious like in a net of Indra. Thus in finding something meaningful to say – whatever magic it is that congeals in Greene’s mind to subconsciously put those raps together – must be assembled through a process that involves Greene’s life experience as much as it does a present that burns out of any random or particular moment. Finding what to say and knowing how to say it is a large part of artistic lyrical pursuit. And people often don’t quite understand how this dominates an artist’s lifeforce and purpose. And how the invisible eyeball never shuts off. As Greene told Billy Crank here at Sound of Lexington, seeing how his music “affects people,” how his music “helps” in a given person’s “life and situation” inspires him: “that let’s me know I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”
Eventually, at a point relatively some time ago amongst his twenty-two years, River Greene exited his repetitively troubled existence and turned toward further developing his craft as the an overriding principle in his life. If what Aristotle posited about all art coming from a hamartia – a psychic (childhood) wound – is right, then Greene has plenty of gas in his tank. There is a humble quality, a hunger about an artistic pursuit with such a Spartan attitude and burning desire. And the results show in his work. In “Ride With Me,” River Greene approaches his childhood idols (Lil’ Wayne, DMX, and Tupac) in a rapacious rap that intrigues with a picturesque momentum even as it ubiquitously perturbs yet draws its listeners in with its somewhat violent inferences and male-bonding, cowboy enthusiasms. “Ride wit me, ride wit me / Money on the side with me / Money, money, money, money, money / Gonna die with me / Chop these beats up, like Benihana.“ “I don’t care about shit, don’t throw it back / I don’t care about shit, I was raised like that.”
It is hard to imagine that Greene came up with such a quality riff as “Ride With Me” before he reached twenty. Purportedly, like Baudelaire, Greene wrote “From Me to You” (featured here at the Sound of Lexington), and “Heads Up, Guns Down” when he was sixteen! He wrote “Head Up” when he was twenty and “All I Know” around the same time. And he has, if you check him out over the Web, many professionally produced videos which accompany some of his already myriad amount of songs – many – like “From Me to You,” and “Blow It In the Air” with bucolic shots of Lexington in them. As a prodigy, Greene has been Syphisis-like in his production. Shows with national recording artist T.I. & Tyga; musically induced excursions to Japan and Atlanta (as chronicled, respectively, in his videos “All I Know,” and “Ride With Me;” he’s performed (Lexington-based) public tributes in honor of 14 year-old shooting victims Trinity Gay and Angel Juarez; been written up in Atlanta’s #1 print publication “Makin It Magazine;” has received airplay on WBTF 107.9 The Beat; and has won the award for the Best New Artist in Kentucky. All this while producing a plethora of songs. Greene’s three projects with K.O.A.T. Kreative include his debut project Riverpark I – a collaboration with D.J. Testarosa; Riverpark II which features twelve songs which speak to “trials and tribulations of everyday life;” and a third musical project known as ”Best Not Talked About,” a compilation album. He saddled up with his current promoter, childhood friend Adam Carson two years ago and as Greene professes in his interview with Lexington’s Mixx Magazine “I’ve gotten way more respect for my music,” since then. This includes trips to Japan and to shows with T.I. in Atlanta. Doing such things as performing his music in Atlanta and Japan is an indication of doing quite well. Greene’s winning “Best New Artist in Kentucky” was not a political decision or a quota-filling decision based on his artistic style (or if it was it was misguided). The award served, rather, as a validation of Greene’s achievement as an artist who is more than a bit obsessed with his craft. Greene exists as a contributing member to the canon of hip-hop simply because he exists as an artist first – a writer who writes out of his necessary and established space within his culture and in response to that culture – not simply because he creates along traditional hip hop lines.
This is to say that Greene is not an emulator – or if he once was, he’s past that now. He has found and nailed his own voice to ‘the windows and the walls.’. Having been exposed to the diverse musical influences of his parents (his dad liked jazz and his mother a wide variety of hip hop), Greene said in his Mixx Magazine interview, “every time I do a song now I try to make [it] . . . different. A lot of music I hear now, its like, its just all the same.”
As Wallace Stevens called it, Greene is a “Maker.” Christopher Isherwood is also a “camera with its shutter open” who develops print-negatives of his world, just as Greene develops narrative-driven print negatives which correspond to his unique world. Greene attains what T.S. Eliot called an “objective correlative” – that is, his peculiar choice (and arrangements) of words – in sum total – effect a “catharsis” – or trigger an emotional reaction – from his listeners, Greene doesn’t write for money . In his Mixx Magazine interview he said, “I mean money would be nice but it ain’t all about money . . . .in the 6th grade I wasn’t even thinking about money – I was just doing it to do it.“ Commenting upon the requisite necessity for authenticity in his art, Greene further told Mixx Magazine that his songs “should be a way for people to get to actually know me . . . like what I’m about. . . . When you say something just to try to get people to rock with you and its not truly what you’re about . . . it don’t make no sense. . . . 90% of my lyrics are about things I’ve experienced in my life. . . . the other 10% of it are about things I’ve observed.” The art of this, of course, an art in which Greene excels, is in subconsciously realizing what to choose as metaphors from out of all the minutia of life, and in knowing where to start and where to end . That knack, that crystallization of life, is both an innate talent and, most of all (depending upon your perspective) an accrued mental (and / or spiritual) exercise . And there are, as well, a mountain of things that go along with that – hence all the hours Greene professes to spend working – sweating blood – on his art. Obsessed? – Check. And yet he makes it look easy. Greene is certainly destined for a fabulously prosperous artistic career. He already is a fabulous artist, and as Greene already knows, that is perhaps the greatest reward of all.
River Greene pictured with comedian and actor Billy Crank.