C-LeGz & Cray Wilz: Calling all emcees

by BENNETT HANSON

Hip-hop is no stranger to these lands. Bellingham is well represented by the crew of emcees featured on the two albums of C-LeGz (Mark Metz) and Cray Wilz (Chris Willis): Grape Summer 2014 and Blueberry Winter 2015. Thanks to a chance meeting while each was on their first tour, these two beat-miners have struck out on a quest to make filthy-clean beats for all to hear.

Over the last two years, the duo has shared the helm of the beat-making and track-crafting process, pulling together local emcees to spit verses over their handiwork. Though both have areas of expertise in the studio, the two artists’ roles aren’t set in stone – each contributes to the tracks as needed, whether that’s recording original guitar or digging up a Motown track to sample.

Still, C-LeGz, has his preferences. “I enjoy making bass lines, melodies on the keyboard, playing guitar, making drum beats on the sampler, or even singing on the hook and being the hype man,” he said.

Often, C-LeGz will do the first recording of the vocals, help with the melody and beat, then pass it on to Cray Wilz to mix, master and polish the track, Metz said.

C-LeGz got his first taste of making beats in high school with a friend’s old, floppy-disk eating Akai sampler, he said. He went on to tour with Gift of Gab and others.

Cray Wilz comes across as the mastermind technician who can turn a dusty 8-track sample into a strikingly crisp and complete beat. One song can have up to 25 layered tracks, all mixed and mastered by Cray Wilz, or Chris Willis. But that’s not the only piece of hip-hop he’s familiar with. As an 11-year veteran of Bellingham’s hip-hop scene and member of the city’s legendary former group My Dad Bruce, Cray Wilz is not shy around a mic. For years, he joined his friends to spit rhymes in Forest and Cedar Park during what they called “Sunday Ciphers.”

In their current dynamic, however, C-LeGz and Cray Wilz mostly stand back from the mic and leave it for other emcees to shine, while they work their magic in the studio. “That’s the fun thing – emcees will get on these tracks and they trust us – they know the song isn’t going to sound like it did in the lab, yet they let us freak with it,” Willis said.

The tunes from C-LeGz and Cray Wilz, featuring top-shelf production, draw mostly from the boom-bap element of hip-hop, but also from R&B and jazz. “Jazz is the element that hip-hop came from,” Metz said. “It’s been reworked into the hip-hop world, but to me, that’s what’s cool about hip hop – you can take classic, golden elements of music and rework it into a new medium – it keeps that golden era of music alive which is being destroyed in the music world today.”

One of the standout emcees on Blueberry Winter is Dinofour. She captures a smooth and confident sound whether singing or rhyming, and she spits in a way reminiscent of Ladybug from Digable Planets. “When I first heard her rap, I told her, ‘You are like Ladybug reincarnate,” Metz said.

Another prominent emcee is Pascal, who at 19, gives a jolt to the duo’s work. “We’re older and we’ve seen how the world can beat you down – especially as aspiring musicians – but I love music, I’ll continue to make it, and having people like Pascal around to inspire us is priceless,” Metz said. “That’s why we’re making him the focus of the next album – Cray Wilz & C-LeGz present: PASCAL (The Lakehouse Testimonie’s VOL. 1). The new album had an advance release on Aug. 14.

Published in the September 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine