LSA senior Alfred “Griot” Austin isn’t just a college student. He’s also one half of rap duo Lawless Element, who will perform at The Blind Pig on Saturday night. Griot and producer/rapper Magnif’s music has a distinctly smooth, soulful sound, which is reflected in their recent debut Soundvision: In Stereo.
Influenced by legendary artists like Rakim, Nas and Slick Rick, Griot has a style all his own. “We’re just ourselves. The marketing (of the group) is not too much different from what I am day-to-day,” Griot said. “A lot of people put on a front and they pretend to be something that they’re not, but we’re just ourselves.”
Griot recalled a solid support for local artists here at the University. “It was a pretty good hip hop scene (at the University),” he said. “A lot of shows went on at the Underground, at the League, where people came out and supported underground music.” As far as the college music atmosphere in general, he added, “I think the college campus is pretty accepting to underground music because it’s a place that’s supposed to stimulate your mind, so it would be kind of hypocritical for you not to actually listen to music with a message.”
Griot is unhappy, however, with a growing trend in rap: the overwhelming abundance of rappers. Currently, there are “too many MCs, too many artists,” he said. “There are a lot of career choices, but it seems like people pick up a microphone because they think it’s an easy way out, but it’s really not easy at all.” This can make it even more difficult for new artists like himself, since many fans would rather be on stage than part of the audience. “When you’re performing for someone who wants to be doing what you’re doing – They’re not going to be so quick to clap.”
The clear message and substance of Lawless Element’s songs, in addition to Griot’s rhyming and Magnif’s production talents, make them exceptional compared to the Cristal-popping rappers so prevalent today. “We don’t try to imitate what we see on TV. We try to make music with real issues,” Griot said.
And perhaps that is one of the reasons their fanbase has expanded. “The music we make is embraced by everybody – we don’t get just underground supporters – We get mainstream fans. When we make music, we don’t really make music specifically for an underground fan or a mainstream fan. We just try to be ourselves as much as possible,” Griot said.
A Detroit native, Griot was also quick to add that while he thinks highly of other local rap groups like the socially conscious Slum Village, Lawless Element’s music is not the same. “Initially, a lot of people probably don’t listen to the music and throw out a lot of comparisons. If you actually give it a listen, you’ll find it’s not alike.”
As for their upcoming Ann Arbor show, Griot guarantees the audience will be entertained. “They can expect to see a pretty intense live show,” he assured. “It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time. It’s going to be an excellent show. I promise.”