I first met Colin “ProbCause” Grimm six years ago when he was working as a delivery driver at the Morseland, a now-defunct North Side Chicago club. I don’t think he was even legally old enough to drink.
Three things struck me about Colin: He was really tall, wore a constant smile and always seemed to be drawing or rapping. The Morseland attracted all types, but especially talented musicians who were always broke as hell, but played with unfettered passion. ProbCause was one of them.
Now 26, ProbCause has a lot more recording and touring behind him, yet maintains his humility, even staying in school to pursue his other love: drawing and painting. At heart, he is a creator.
Along with beat master Ben Cofresi, also 26, ProbCause is in Costa Rica this weekend for the first time, playing two shows Friday and Saturday night at the Best Fest on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast.
The Tico Times sat down with ProbCause before Friday’s show. Excerpts follow:
The Tico Times: What are you doing in Costa Rica?
I know Exmag especially well. Gramatik is a DJ and started a group called Exmag, which is kind of like funk meets electronic and soul. It’s all over the place and genre-bending. We have mutual friends, and they’re friends with a group we’re touring with, Cherub. So we have a lot of connections. I just started a remix for them, because I’m a big fan of theirs, and it’ll be cool to see them live and get to rock with them a little bit.
Exmag is also very hip hop-based, and you can tell these guys grew up on it. I think we’re the only hip hop act in the fest, but a lot of these artists are rooted in some way with hip hop, because it’s pretty much the genre of this generation. Hip hop is not just about the music; it’s also about the culture. It’s probably the most popular culture of our generation, and it has influenced everything from clothing to dance to music. Everybody seems to want to be a rapper now, at least in the U.S.
When I was out here in San José, I was walking in the park (Parque Morazán), and there were all these kids just breakdancing, and that comes from the Bronx, New York. Now it’s out here. Everyone’s kind of influenced by it in the world, really, in one way or another.
You came up in Chicago, how has that influenced your music?
Chicago always has had a really cool underground hip hop scene, and culture in general. So there’s a lot of graffiti and there’s a lot of hip hop music and acts making records. I think just being in the city and seeing everybody around me be a part of that culture in some way or another made me want to be a part of it. Also, my older brother was a sound engineer and DJ, so I was always around hip hop music just from the people he brought around.
But I think Chicago has its own flair, too, since it’s in the middle of the map. It’s influenced by the West Coast rappers and it’s influenced by New York, by southern rap. It’s also got it’s own kind of flag to it. It’s just a cool melting pot. And I think with my music and the way that I rap, the genre I choose to incorporate, you can tell that it’s a Chicago thing, because it’s so heavily influenced, and there’s just so much going on, as far as pulling styles from different regions.
I definitely came up on the underground hip hop that had the golden era stuff, so I love Mos Def and Talib Kweli, I love Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes, and that stuff is what initially pulled me in. Then I really got into the underground Chicago scene, like J.U.I.C.E. and Rhymefest, and later Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, and of course Common, who was a huge influence. But I also love other Midwest rap like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. I definitely rap fast on a lot of my stuff, so you can tell I’m pulling from Bone Thugs and Crucial Conflict and Twista. I’m into everything, though.
What have you been doing the last couple of years?
I’ve been all over the place. I put out two volumes in a series called “The Recipe” series, Vol. I and Vol. II, and then simultaneously I’ve been in graduate school at Chicago’s Art Institute. So, I toured during the semester – last semester was crazy, I’d basically fly back on Tuesdays, have all my classes on Tuesday, and then every other day of the week I was on the road or doing shows in Chicago.
This upcoming semester I’m going to do a 40-city tour while still going to grad school. I’m in Costa Rica, then I have to give a graduate lecture the day I get back.
What initially sparked some of the success we’ve had recently was the release of this project, “The Recipe Vol. II,” because it features a lot of Chicago rappers. The Chicago hip hop scene is getting a lot of attention right now due to a lot of different things. Part of it is the violence that’s going on, but another part is rappers like Chief Keef and Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa, who have kind of put a spotlight on the music scene. The album “The Recipe II” really kind of captured the essence of what’s going on in Chicago right now as far as the music and the culture of the city.
When I put this project out like six months ago, it got really good reviews and everyone picked it up. Sound Opinions named it one of the best albums of the year, the Chicago Tribune called it one of the best 10 indie albums out of the year, and it just got all this attention that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. It pushed me into another place and allowed me to gain national recognition and start touring a little more.
What’s up with Chance The Rapper?
Chance is killing the game right now. He’s probably one of the top five MCs in the music industry right now, if not even higher than that. He’s completely independent, and he’s probably got million-dollar offers from every single label under the sun. But he just chose to do it independently and in his own way.
He just sold out a national tour of his own, and he’s been killing the game. I knew him through the Chicago scene. We were homies and he would come over to my crib and we’d just hang out and listen to music and play video games. And we ended up making a couple songs that went over really well. And it happened to be put out at a time when both of us were kind of rising, so it worked out really well. That’s my homie.
How old is he?
He’s either 19 or 20. He’s a young blood, but he’s rich now (laughs).
Where did you go to undergrad, and what kind of art do you do now?
I went to undergrad at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Now I do a lot of animation stuff, like I animate little satirical video clips mocking the art world and the rap world, and all these different worlds that I’m involved in. And it’s cool, because I’ll be on tour with hip hop acts or something, and then I come back to school and I’m sitting in class with a bunch of art students who are nerdy and ranting about painting, and it’s just funny. I have a cool vantage point because I get to see all these different angles from the different worlds I’m involved in. I came up as a painter, I love to draw, so my stuff’s kind of all over the place.
Tell me about your partner, Ben Cofresi.
Ben is the man. He just walked in the room and is eating bacon and rice and what not.
That dude likes to eat, don’t he?
Yeah, he likes to eat, that’s the first thing I can tell you about him. He loves to eat, and he loves music. He’s my drummer, DJ and production designer, and really has helped take my set from being just a DJ and a rapper to being a musical experience. He’s really good with soundscapes, just digesting the waves that the listener experiences. He’s kind of transformed my set and made me think about transitions in a whole other way, and track order, and high points and climaxes, crescendos and shit that I never really thought about as a rapper. I think we’ve had a really good time together building a new sound.
There’s not a lot of rappers who can do what we’re doing. I grew up as a musician so I can follow along with him, and I understand what he’s trying to do. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s not a lot of electronic DJs who not only play drums and DJ and play launch pads all at the same time, but also have a rapper who can follow along. So we take pride that we always have something interesting going on in our set, and there’s really no bullshit, no filler, no boring moments. Every single second of our set something’s happening that people are engaged with.
I was watching you guys rehearse in my apartment and it struck me that you mix a lot of variables. Ben’s doing a lot of live stuff, not like back in the day where you’d play a DAT and someone would rap over it.
Absolutely. And you saw us without the drums. There’s a lot of people who perform and do it the easy way and don’t push the boundaries, because either they have to learn something new or they have to work a little harder.
I think just the fact that we can make live beats on the spot and then build on top of them and do all these unique things that no one’s really every played with before is the thing that sets us apart from all these other acts. And it allows us to be booked with every genre of artist. We’re on tour with an electro-pop duo from Nashville, you know what I mean? We can come in there and their audience is just as receptive to us as anybody else, even if they don’t like hip hop. We have so much other music that we’re playing with that pulls them in. So, it also allows us to appeal to agencies, because then they can put us on tour with whomever they want.
How did you get hooked up playing the Best Fest?
I played with Ojo de Buey at North Coast Music Festival in Chicago. They were looking for someone to rap over this one section of a beat, and all the North Coast Music Festival guys were like, “Oh, you gotta play with ProbCause, he’d be dope.” So I ended up going there. They played on like a Sunday morning, and I think it was their first U.S. show. I went up on stage and freestyled, fucked around with them and had a great time. I think they enjoyed it. I know I did.
We hung out a little bit, and their manager is involved in Best Fest. He said he would bring me out to Costa Rica, but I hear stuff like that all the time. I’m like, “Yeah, you’re full of shit.” Two months later, here I am!
You got a message for Costa Ricans?
And check out the Chicago hip hop scene. It’s a beautiful thing if you’re into hip hop. It’s a great underexposed grouping of music that I think everyone would get involved with and enjoy. Definitely check out Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa.
Watch ProbCause’s video for “Flex,” currently in rotation on MTV: