gritty 4



I met a few of the guys from GRITTY CITY RECORDS at their destination of choice, Sidewalk Café, in the heart of Richmond’s Fan district. Little did I know they’d be the most OG group of guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. They’re down-to-earth and relaxed, while simultaneously being serious and business savvy. They never strayed from the topic at hand (their music, obviously) but were never overzealous or pretentious. The interactions between the three members I met with — Jono aka Johnny Ciggs, Fan Ran, and Skweeky Watahfawlz, who is responsible for all of the group’s art and design work — would lead one to believe that they’ve known each other for years. The rest of the GRITTY CITY RECORDS crew includes Delta Automatik, Seap da One, Pandemic, Sirus the Virus, and Joe Threat. It’s clear how they work so well together, effortlessly bouncing ideas and relaying memories off one another, during casual conversation. To sum them up in a single word — REAL. However, as real as they may be, they are also hilarious. By the end of the interview, my cheeks hurt from laughter.

Where did it all start?

Fan Ran: Other than my parents R&B records, I grew up listening to rap. [Ages] 12 through17, I started getting into hip hop and punk heavy. People who do drugs have different taste in music. First, you start listening to the music because these people sell you drugs [and they listen to it], then you’re like, ‘That’s my shit!’ Now, unless I’m making beats, I don’t really listen to [rap].

Johnny Ciggs: I listened to a lot of hair metal, old soul, classic rock, but always hip-hop — no matter what.

Skweeky Watahfawlz: I’m a grunge kid, but listened to [A] TRIBE [CALLED QUEST], WU TANG [CLAN]. What I listened mainly was grunge, hair metal —DINOSAUR JR., NIRVANA—hip-hop came when I was too depressed to listen to depressing music. But hip-hop got me out of the bed.

How did GRITTY CITY RECORDS get started?

Johnny Ciggs: We started by putting out a Delta Automatik project. I started rappin’ for fun, kept doing it for fun, then we made a little group sort of by fun. We met [Fan] Ran from a show with DIVINE PROFITZ; Squeaks came to town and got on the track for fun. He never wanted to be part of it, but now he’s stuck under contract. Fan Ran came over hit us with a bunch of beats, started doing tracks, and it just kind of kept going. Same with Joe Threat, rest in peace, he just came through and started rapping with us. Then Danny [aka Seap da One] got out of jail and dropped his album. Most honest hip hop album I’ve ever heard in my life, he used to tell me that album sucked.

Fan Ran: Jono, you were having a staycation, and the rest of us were at Sidewalk. It got over 600 hits the first night it dropped.

Johnny Ciggs: It’s tripled everything else.

Fan Ran: And it’s not because he passed away.

Skweeky Watahfawlz: He was very happy with it, but he felt like that was something old. He felt like it wasn’t new for the times; I feel like that was why he was over it.

Johnny Ciggs: He wrote most of it in jail.

Skweeky Watahfawlz: Danny said he saw a dude get hit on a motorcycle and got a whole new perspective on life.

Fan Ran: He never cheated a song. I’m the two verse king; I don’t even want a hook. I just want a minute thirty, that’s how lazy I am. Almost every record though … god damn, he wrote quick. That’s the one thing I miss about working with him the most. Dudes and girls do this… there’s a lot of captain save-a-hoes out there, some people benefit, some people don’t want to be saved. I miss him every day. That’s my own prince of darkness.



I love the combination of rawness, while still managing to have cohesive flow in your work. How would you describe your style?

Fan Ran: Gutter Magic — two words to describe Jono’s style. Jono has that queen’s bridge that…that if you don’t catch it, it’s gone. It’s like listening to WU TANG [CLAN]. Jono’s delivery is so flawless because he’s a drummer.

Skweeky Watahfawlz: in a group, we have different people. Ran, he’ll set it up and knock it down, it just grabs ya ass and knocks you down….levels you. Pandemic, he’s one of those dudes who can double time like BONE THUGS [-N-HARMONRY]. Sirus the Virus is on some south shit.. With Delta [Automatik], he’s just rapid fire. He’s got50 different styles running. Joe [Threat], and Danny, may they rest in peace; they had their own styles, too. Joe was about kick-flip, Chad Muska references that all the skate kids could appreciate, but he was deep.

Fan Ran: The books this dude read. You’d never know it, because this motherfucker smoked like ten L’s a day.

Johnny Ciggs: “I’m Harvard material, but I’d rather smoke weed” –Joe Threat

Fan Ran: “I was born on the hill, but I’d rolled in the gutter” –Joe Threat

Skweeky Watahfawlz: Danny was a product of his environment.

Johnny Ciggs: I got a call that he OD’d and actually died (but was revived), was looking at 20 years, but he beat the charges. [I called him] and told him straighten life out. He came to RVA, got all that shit done, by April we were throwing his CD release party for The Sickness of Seap at Emilio’s, and by May we’re throwing his rest-in-peace party at the same venue.

Skweeky Watahfawlz: The rest of our collective, we just work…with me, these two are my favorite rappers (Johnny Ciggs and Ran). I like to make sure everything I do when I’m not drunk is perfect. We all come together as a collective; we all have our own style but it works…that’s the secret weapon.

Fan Ran: It always works.

Johnny Ciggs: Nothing that comes out of that studio isn’t a classic.

Skweeky Watahfawlz: Every time we get together, we may not record, but we freestyle or party and build.

Fan Ran: We’ve all seen some shit. Shout out to Jono; he’s a grown man that takes care of that money shit. We’re just a group of maniacs. I saw Jono’s drive to succeed.

Skweeky Watahfawlz: I’ve been in two or three rap groups in my life, but I’ve never been this comfortable.

Fan Ran: How long I been rappin? I’m older than Jono, and he’s influencing me.

Two words: Toilet wine. Go!

Skweeky Watahfawlz: Toxic funk. We actually drank and made toilet wine. We used Seap da One’s recipe when he was locked up. It actually rang out to 7 percent ABV. We’re not bad people; we’re just fucking crazy. Anybody that voluntarily makes toilet wine is not running on all cylinders.

Johnny Ciggs: Basically Toilet Wine was us just come off doing a bunch of releases—I like to lead by example. I decided I’m going to show these motherfuckers I can do a whole other mixtape, and that’s what I did. I did this whole CD in two months, and it would have been done quicker if my studio didn’t break down.



What’s your opinion on where hip hop is today?

Johnny Ciggs: One thing that’s missing today is not reppin’ your crew. That’s an era I come from. You just gotta be the best.

Skweeky Watahfawlz: I just started rappin’ because I saw some stupid ass white kid rapping about how much coke he sells … I personally was like, ‘Fuck it.’ Those kids need to be dealt with.

Johnny Ciggs: A lot of kids are talking about shit that they don’t know about. We’re just trying to make fun of ourselves. We know a whole lot about that.

Skweeky Watahfawlz: It’s a disposable art. Simple fact of the matter, rap is pop music. I won’t play it in my car; I won’t play in my house,. If my girl wants to hear it, so be it.

Johnny Ciggs: Hip hop nowadays, the fundamentals is lost … People forget about the OG four elements: 1. Rapping, 2. Djing, 3. Break dancing, 4. Graffiti.

Johnny Ciggs: If you don’t like rapping over a boom bap beat then … (shakes his head) Dubstep and trap [have been] eating off TIMBALAND and THREE SIX MAFIA; they came way before. People don’t understand the difference all those dudes made in hip hop.


How do you feel about Nas’ infamous “hip hop’s dead” quote?

Johnny Ciggs: All the legends that are still in it are still just going with the flow. Other than that it’s just a bunch of recyclable flows … top 40 status.

Skweeky Watahfawlz: It is dead, and I ain’t trying to save that bitch.

For more information on Gritty City Records, please be sure to “like their Facebook page, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and check out their Bandcamp page.

Marianna Campano

Marianna Campano

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