Hip-hop group Super Duty Tough Work is keeping its grind alive

MC Brendan Grey discusses the new album, Paradigm Shift, with The Block's Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe.

MC Brendan Grey discusses the new album, Paradigm Shift, with The Block's Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe

The members of Super Duty Tough Work pose in black outfits with Brenden squatting in front of them on a paved grey floor.
Super Duty Tough Work's Brenden Grey opened up about the group's new album, Paradigm Shift. (Skye Spence)
Music from Machel Montano ft. Destra, Bunji Garlin, Sure-D, MC J & Cool G and more, plus special guests Super Duty Tough Work

Winnipeg hip-hop group Super Duty Tough Work has been grinding away since forming in 2014, steadily building a name for itself in the local music scene with festival slots and showcases. The group received national attention in 2020 when its album Studies in Grey earned a spot on the Polaris Music Prize long list, making Super Duty Tough Work the first hip-hop act from Manitoba to be nominated.

Brendan Grey, the band's MC and frontman, shared that Super Duty Tough Work has continued with its creative output, and recently released its sophomore album, Paradigm Shift. The record keeps the same fiery, political spirit that blazed through the group's first record, with jazz-infused nods to Grey's heroes including the Black Panthers, painter Kehinde Wiley and more.

Grey sat down with The Block's Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe to discuss Paradigm Shift, joining a new label, his musical inspirations and live performances.

So I read that you are a drummer — can you tell me a bit about your childhood and your first musical experiences and musical training?

I come from a musical family, you know what I mean? Both my parents play instruments. My grandmother was a singer and pianist. Her mother was also pianist and organist. You know, my uncle's a musician, an artist in his own right. And it just goes on and on.

So, I started quite young, playing piano and guitar, and then I just gravitated to drums. [I] played drums for a while, and then kind of started doing the rap thing. And now I'm doing the rap thing more than the drumming thing. But I do still play on occasion.

I started quite young, playing piano and guitar, and then I just gravitated to drums. I played drums for a while, and then kind of started doing the rap thing.- Brendan Grey

So you brought up your lineage: what I did know is that Winifred Atwell is one of your relatives, a ragtime pianist who is pretty famous. And then the late Gerry Atwell is your uncle, and he [was a] Juno winner. He was part of this band called Eagle and Hawk, and he was an early adopter of hip-hop. So maybe you can tell me a little bit about Gerry and whether or not he had an influence on your love of the genre and culture.

I mean, I wouldn't say that he was influencing my tastes in hip-hop, you know what I mean? More than anything, I grew up in a musical household, so my parents played — and more importantly listened to — lots of music. My mom especially loves everything, you know, from jazz, hip-hop, gospel, rock, folk, ambient. So a lot of my tastes, I would say, are kind of shaped from when I was very young, listening to what she was listening to, which included lots of hip-hop stuff like Grandmaster Flash and Maestro Fresh Wes and Young Missy and Dream Warriors and stuff like that. So that was kind of the foundation — that's my earliest memory around that of listening to the tapes that she had — playing Heavy D and Kish.

You had another group called Sleeping Giants, what did that group sound like, or what was the vibe of that group? Was it like a punk band?

Sleeping Giants was just another hip-hop group. It was very shortlived, but sometimes it's like that.

So back in October, you announced that you would join Next Door Records, and that news came alongside a track called "First Strike." Was there any significance in releasing that particular song in conjunction with the announcement?

So "First Strike" is on our upcoming record [Paradigm Shift]. And I mean, with albums and releases and stuff, it's always about the schedule and being strategic, etc. So, you know, we kept having issues with different things: what music's going to be on the record, the mixing, the mastering, the graphics, all this stuff. So I'm not going to say we weren't always meeting deadlines, but we were feeling that it might be better to be changing deadlines and release dates and that sort of thing. And I mean, so it just happened to kind of all come together at that time, I guess. So that's how that single came [to be].

This interview has been edited for clarity and lengthTo hear the full interview, listen to The Block on CBC Music.