- Kaelan Barowsky
When compared to other Philly hip-hop artists, G. Love and Special Sauce have always been more Fresh Prince than Schoolly D. The blues-influenced rap trio, which first drew national attention with ’90s college-rock hit “Cold Beverage,” specializes in the kind of party music vibe that characterized their early songs like “Hooping It Up” (which did, in fact, feature a Fresh Prince guest vocal).
But as the country has grown more divided with each passing news cycle, frontman G. Love has begun slipping more political references into his lyrics. Take, for instance, the title track of the band’s new album The Juice, which was released last month on Universal Records’ Philadelphonic imprint. Co-written and produced by longtime collaborator Keb’ Mo’, the song finds Love encouraging his fans to march in the street with their fists in the air.
“I’m always going to sing about partying and smoking weed,” Love promises, “but I’m also going to sing about politics and what we hear on the news and what we’re experiencing in the streets. So The Juice is my kind of knee-jerk reaction to Donald Trump’s administration and the policies he’s pushing forward, and also the kind of climate that he’s creating in our culture in general.”
Growing up in Philadelphia at a time when it was a hip-hop powerhouse, Love recalls tuning in to Power 99 FM on Friday nights to hear Street Beat with Lady B, a show where he first heard political rap acts like Public Enemy and KRS-One’s Boogie Down Productions. It was in high school that he hooked up with upright bassist Jim Prescott and drummer Jeff Clemens, who all set out to make a stripped-down, organic approach to the music they loved.
“When we were coming of age, I’d be out writing graffiti, playing basketball and listening to the Beastie Boys, but then I’d come home and sit in my bedroom practicing the blues. So I was out living a hip-hop lifestyle, but I was a blues-folk kid in my room. And then one day, those two things collided.”
It was after the group got signed to Epic Records, who put out the trio’s first three albums, that Love and fellow Epic artist Keb’ Mo’ decided to go off and form their own indie label and subsequently signed Jack Johnson. The three musicians toured and collaborated, while continuing to maintain their own distinctive sounds. “You know, Jack has his signature kind of smoothed-out reggae and rock ‘n’ roll style, and then Keb’ Mo’ has positioned himself as kind of the James Taylor of the adult contemporary blues.”
So how does Love see himself fitting into that equation? “I guess I’d be more like the KRS-One of the blues. You know, like nitty-gritty, down ‘n’ dirty blues.”
Which brings us back around to politics, something Love doesn’t hear much of in today’s music. “I’ve lost a lot of fans in the last two years,” says the musician, who’s also been known to share the occasional Bernie Sanders post on social media. “ But all of the artists I love — Bob Dylan, KRS-One, Bob Marley — they all made protest music. And I think today’s artist community has been a fucking letdown. It’s like just grow a pair, you know? Take a fucking stand.”