Greg Grease is a wizard.
As one-sixth of the Minneapolis nouveau-funk collective Zuluzuluu, the 31-year-old MC and drummer helps concoct heady cauldrons of afro-futurist flavors, drawing from Prince, West Coast synths, and a modern hip-hop sensibility.
Grease and the Zuluus are all wizards, though he and his compatriots in esoterica spell it “WZRD.” And the meaning isn’t always easy to pin down, even for him. “Man, it can mean a lot of different things, y’know?” Grease said.
“I’m trying to think of a way to explain it without just getting more into that like ‘it’s all about alchemy and science…’” Grease laughs. “But it is, though!”
A “WZRD,” he says, is someone who can adapt to any surrounding, who can make something out of nothing.
“WZRD” isn’t their only shared vernacular among Zuluzuluu. The word “matrix” gets thrown around a lot, too. It’s also a versatile term. It can be the city of Minneapolis itself or the hyper-connected world.
And when Grease gets too worked into the matrix, the signals can be too much for him to process. So he escapes to the nearest farthest place he can: the Mississippi River.
“Ever since I was young I’ve always kind of been a loner,” Grease said. “So I would like always hop on my bike and just bike down to the river and walk around there by myself. And then as I got older I found more people that liked to do the same thing. So that’s how I spend most of my time in the summer when I’m not doing music or working.”
Down by the riverside, everything comes to pass – even the headaches caused by the mixed signals and crossed wires of the matrix. On his recent track, “Migraine,” Grease hits out at the people and distractions that would drag him beneath the surface. Over a dense, slogging beat that feels a bit like being underwater, Grease drawls out the last word of each line: “They trying to drag you through the mud/ drown you in a flood/ trying to kick you like rug/ trying to take your plug/ only pretending like you buds/ so they can come up/ claiming to give you a hand up/ only to leave you slumped.”
The time Grease spends by the river might seem like he’s on furlough, but he contends it’s about work. “If I was on vacation all the time I’d have vacation music, or party music,” he said. “I don’t party, though…”
While Grease can make songs that get crowds moving, the majority of the music he makes is designed for slow cars or solo bike rides. It’s introspective headphone music that helps him — and his listeners — to reflect.
All that reflection has resulted in a new creative push for him. He recently released his third solo album, “Down So Long.” He also just finished a big West Coast tour with Zuluzuluu and Minneapolis’ hip-hop’s elder statesmen, Atmosphere.
The tour brought a lot of attention and new fans, which means he can focus more on making music. And that’s great, but it also means dealing with the one constant struggle for touring musicians: It’s hard to keep a regular job.
Grease hustles money where he can, doing odd jobs and playing shows. He also sews shirts and makes backpacks for extra cash under his own label, the aptly named “RiverLife.” His creations use recycled leather and earth-toned canvas bags, and bold, black and gold patterned tunics. That independence gives him more time to work on his art, but there’s also a downside: “I’m broke, man… I’m broke!” Grease choked out under a Dave Chappelle-inspired laugh. “But my bills are paid. It’s worth it.”
That kind of freedom is why Grease is dedicated to the grind. “That’s the thing is I’m like, man, put me in a new city, with underwear and a t-shirt on, I’ll have my bills paid, bro,” Grease said. “That’s the kind of hustle I have, you know what I’m saying?”
One would expect nothing less from a WZRD.