It’s intimidating to stumble across a rap group that has as much history as Pittsburgh based Grand Buffet. Underground rap artists are notorious for pumping out crates of impenetrable mix tapes, remixes, 12” vinyls and any other self-produced materials hungry heads at indie-hop shows are ready to devour. Grand Buffet is in no way the exception.
Jackson O’Connell-Barlow (a.k.a. Iguanadon, Grape-a-Don, Plaps, Nate Kukla, and Mr. Pennsylvania) and Jarrod Weeks (a.k.a. M-Dog, Lord Grunge, Viceroy, Matt Kukla, Fred Durts) have been cranking out their own brand of fuzzed-out, synth-saturated, hysterical hip-hop since 1996, and are now basking in their 13th year of existence. They have released over a baker’s dozen of demos, LP’s, EP’s, mix tapes and greatest hits compilations. They have a fervent cult following not just in Pittsburgh but in cities and college communities sprinkled across the country, a literal shit-ton of underground credibility, and the overflowing respect of anyone who has ever played with them on the same bill (including indie heavyweights Of Montreal and MGMT). This is not a catalog of music you suddenly “get into,” these dudes have created a massive sphere of influence that is denser than fucking dark matter.
Listening to their latest album King Vision (and by latest I mean that it was released a little over a year ago) and their greatest hits album released in 2005, Five Years of Fireworks, I knew I was barely touching the surface of Grand Buffet’s mystique. I felt embarrassed especially living in Pittsburgh most of my life that I am only familiar with their most recent record output. By only examining Grand Buffet’s career from the fringes of their robust catalog, it’s hard to gain a dependable grasp on what these two dudes are about.
“…Most times, we come up with ideas that are so intense and so funky, we have to destroy them shortly thereafter,” said Lord Grunge in an interview with a Palm Beach newspaper in 2003. “.In fact,” he continued, “we have come up with tracks that are just too hot to exist.” If they actually edit their Twilight Zone-batshit crazy-verses, I can’t imagine the surreal ideas that don’t make it to the studio.
As I listened to Lord Grunge’s kaleidoscopic rap on “Cream Cheese Money” about meteorites breaking his fish tank and pancaking his wife, I realized he sounded more concerned about the fish tank. Later, Grape-a-Don claims he’ll blow your microwave up because it doesn’t play DVD’s.
I was unprepared to wrap my head around the operating procedures of these two enigmatic MC’s. I attempted to categorize their music through the usual mediums of analysis but it only made me feel as if I was going deeper down the rabbit hole: more questions, fewer answers. As I kept looking harder at who they were I slowly became removed from appreciating what truly made these guys great: the terrifying live shows complete with bona fide suicide threats, the rotating aliases, their unrelenting production of self-released material, most of which could only be obtained at one of their very few concerts. All of these components were essential to Grand Buffet’s importance, but could only be understood through a first hand account.
However, Grand Buffet haven’t played a show in Pittsburgh since they opened for the shitstorm that was Girl Talk’s victory lap at Gravity Night Club last November. I watched their opening set from afar, choosing to stay close to the make shift bar area that was handing out 16 oz. Pabst Blue Ribbons by the handful. I had no context for what I was seeing, it depressed me to think I could have gotten closer to what was apparently a legendary show and chose not to.
They play a couple of shows in Florida over the next couple weeks, but have been known to keep Pittsburgh dates quiet and selective; who knows where or when their next show in Pittsburgh will be.
Why do I feel that failing to notice the prominent presence of such a celebrated rap group in my hometown is such a bad thing? Why am I so worried that I missed my chance to appreciate them? What the fuck does it matter?
I grew up in the south hills of Pittsburgh which comes with a feeling of detachment from the city proper. Mt. Washington does more than obstruct the view of the PPG building, it disconnects the suburbs from the collective unconscious of the city’s underground music scene. Maybe Grand Buffet can only exist within the limits of the pulsating city. Maybe Lord Grunge and Grape-a-Don’s desire to remain elusive motivates their desire to continue producing music that is meant to mystify and provoke speculation. Maybe I don’t like the feeling of missing out on something as potent and unstable as a Grand Buffet concert. Maybe I’ve convinced myself that I’ll never get a chance to witness their mad-scientist genius in Pittsburgh again.