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April 1, 2008

B-Sides (Music & Other Ephemera): Spanish speaking

Johnny Spanish“If I don’t hear from you,” the note read, “I’ll assume you think it’s garbage …”It came from Johnny Gross, a 20-year-old East End MC who’s pushing his new mixtape, About Time.Three listens in, the rhymes are far from junk.About Time, a 16-song collection Gross has put out under his alias Johnny Spanish (a Jewish gangster in the 1900s), corrals hip-hop, Latin funk and Bollywood samples into a gritty but tuneful work.“I’m really into Latin music and world music,” he says. “It’s not just for the hip-hop crowd.”Gross was born in New Haven, Conn., and moved to Louisville at age 3. His heritage adds an international, humanitarian perspective to his raps.His father, Fred, and Fred’s two brothers are Holocaust survivors who fled a holding camp in Gurs, France, in the 1940s. Three months after their escape, prisoners in Gurs were transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Fred is in the process of finding a publisher for his book, “One Step Ahead of Hitler.”“It makes me a liberal person,” Gross says. “I don’t see how any Jew could be a Republican, just because of that fact that we were an oppressed people.”Gross’ technique is a combination of straightforward songwriting and freestyle acumen, a tactic that is useful but limited. “You need to be able to freestyle somewhat,” he says. “Most people who are good at freestyling are not good at making cohesive songs and albums.”No local gigs are booked, but Gross landed a show opening for Prince Paul (De La Soul) on April 19 in Austin at The Mohawk, where Gross’ brother bartends.About Time is available at Underground Sounds, ear X-tacy and Better Days West. You can also hear him at www.myspace.com/irockfuckenmics.Mat Herron is LEO’s Music Editor. Harass him at mherron@leoweekly.com