A divorced millionaire with a penchant for music and fella who used to open for SNOOP DOG and DIGABLE PLANETS join forces to create a hip-hop act that strikes the fancy of VIRGIN CEO SIR RICHARD BRANSON. It all sounds like the plot for an upcoming JUDD APATOW film starring SETH ROGAN, but in fact it is the real life story of CR GRUVE. Entrepreneur CRAIG HANDLEY’s marriage was coming to an end and found that the best way to not “go crazy” from the experience was to get lost in something that he had put aside in favor of a stable (and obviously lucrative) career in marketing – music. He found the perfect partner in RAMONE JONES – a former member of the neo-soul hip-hop act ILL NATURAL. Together, they spilled the trials and tribulations of their personal lives on top of some beats and the result is the dynamic duo’s debut EP ‘THE NAUGHTY & THE NICE’ – a collection of songs that speak to the ups and downs of adult relationships. “There are a lot of great rap artists out there and sometimes what they are talking about doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense.” says CRAIG HANDLEY “There is so much out there where they’ve got the money and they’ve got the girls and they’ve got the car and everybody loves them and that is what the relationship is and that’s great, but that’s not always real.”

ROCKWIRED spoke with CRAIG HANDLEY and RAMONE JONES of CR GRUVE over the phone the morning after a shoe at the EXOTIC EROTIC BALL in San Francisco. Here is how it went.

How was the Exotic Erotic Ball?
CRAIG: It was good! You saw some things that you thought that you would never see. It’s not all pretty but it is certainly interesting. The group that put it together did a really good job. The main stage was awesome and they probably had about twelve thousand people there. It was fun.

The EP is great. How do you guys feel about the finished work.
CRAIG: We’re pleased with the work. We’re excited about what we’ve got out there. From a marketing perspective we think it’s smart. Some of the songs on there are very marketable and the titles scream at people to listen to them but we’re more excited about the second album that we’re working on because I think it takes what we are doing to the next level. I think the lyrics, the beats and the styles of the next album are going to be even more exciting. We’re really proud of THE NAUGHTY & THE NICE and what we’ve been able to do as far as varying the beats and the sounds.

RAMONE: I think we did a really good job of capturing a particular moment if you will. A lot of good music is based off of what people go through and I think we really captured something and are very excited about what we are going to be doing on the next album.

What got the two of you on the same page to want to do this project? How did that begin?
RAMONE: I was in a music group for about five years before this. We did pretty well. It was called ILL NATURAL and we did a lot of East Coast and North East events with big artists but eventually that group had disbanded and I was trying to figure what I was going to do next. At that time, I started working for CRAIG’s company and in doing so he and I started to talk about doing music. It was the right time for both of us. Both of us had been through break ups. He was going through a divorce and I had broken up with a band that I had been with for five years. We got the opportunity to make some songs and get out all of the things that we were feeling and it’s gotten us this far.

CRAIG: We were driving home from a business trip and we started talking about music. I write a lot of acoustic piano stuff and I had wondered if there was any way that we could add some rap. The new styles that you hear more and more on the radio is this rock rap crossover kind of thing - you hear it more and more of it but there are not a lot of people doing it. I wanted to merge my rock type sound with his rap sound and come up with something a little bit more original. RAMONE was doing his own beats for a long time and he had a CD of thirty or forty tracks that he had put together himself. He just popped a couple in and I think that we wrote two songs coming home from a business trip. I listened to what we had written and I was like “This might do something! This might be fun!” That was where it all got started and it was definitely inspired by the break up of my marriage. We started writing some stuff and it went from getting out and having some serious stuff and then getting into the more humorous stuff that you hear on the EP. I started dating women with children and I decided that I was going two write a song for MILFs.

CRAIG, how did music begin for you?
CRAIG: I’ve had a passion for music ever since I could remember. I had always loved music and I dreamed of going to college and being a Music major and I dreamed of being a musician. My family never had any money so I got accepted to the BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC long ago and didn’t have the money to go so I went into the Army Infantry. When I got out I studied music at a local college and it seemed like all they taught you was how to be a school teacher. What I needed to know I felt like I already knew and somebody said that I was a good salesperson and I started working in Marketing. I always had the hobby of writing and playing the piano but what really got me serious about it was going through a divorce. I saw a counselor because I didn’t want to be as messed up as most people are when they are going through a divorce. I wanted to handle the process as best I could because I have kids and the counselor said, “find a hobby that you love and sink yourself into it.” For me it was music. My heart has always pointed in that direction. It was really exciting to be onstage last night with about three, four, or five-thousand people in the audience and dancers on the stage. The sound was better than what you hear in the clubs. It was pretty great. I felt like I belonged there.

How about you RAMONE?
RAMONE: I’m originally from Chicago and I had a lot of friends with a lot of different musical backgrounds and different ethnicities. You name it, I’ve heard it. I actually grew up with one of the hottest DJ’s in Chicago SPINNIN WHEEL BILL. He lived in my building complex and I used to hear a lot of his stuff before it came out. I was learning a little bit at that time and as I kept going on I was writing more. I liked poetry and I liked being creative from that standpoint. It all kind of blossomed by the time I got into college and I just started doing it. . I was on a Basketball Scholarship for the UNIVERSITY OF MAINE and my roommate was from New York and he thought that I should do something with regard to my music. I didn’t really think anything of it. I just enjoyed doing it. After I got out of school and after playing ball, I kind of settled down and came back to MAINE, I hooked up with this other guy and that was the start of IL NATURAL. That was the point at which music became a profession. Up until then, it was always a hobby for me. I love all different types of music because I heard so much of it growing up from house music to techno to hip-hop to R&B and jazz. I heard it all. At this point, it’s easy for me and it just feels right. I was a Communications major and a Theater minor in college so it kind of fits. It’s a part of me. I enjoy what we do. I enjoy getting out on stage.

How does the songwriting process work between the two of you?
RAMONE: Either one of us will get an idea about a song and throw ‘em off each other and we decide what sticks and what doesn’t. If we agree on something that sounds pretty cool, we’ll start writing it. We’ll each do our own parts and we’ll probably overwrite it just like any first draft. You go as far as you can go and you pull back from there and decide what stays in and what stays out. Normally, we get things out there pretty fast.

CRAIG: Sometimes it starts with something that I wrote on the piano or it’s a track that RAMONE has come up with. We do a lot of work with BOOMBAT PRODUCTIONS. They just helped NELLY with is BRASS KNUCKLES album. They’ve also done some tracks for TONI BRAXTON. They actually missed our show last night because DR. DRE hired them to do some tracks. They are a very good group. They create their own beats and everything is made from real instrumentation. There is no garage band stuff going on. Sometimes, I’ll come up with something and I’ll drag RAMONE into it or RAMONE will come up with something and he’ll drag me into it. For the track FILFY - the beat was completely different when we started it. I had written it to one track and RAMONE had written it to another and we both had about four verses each. Eventually we peeled it back into what would fit into the song and we took my track and his track, changed the tempo of the song and voila, we had a cool song about fathers with kids who are still hot.

What tracks from the EP stand out for you the most and why?
CRAIG: MILF SONG is the song that stands out the most. It comes from the real life experience of finding out that there are a lot of single women out there with kids that are absolutely beautiful people. FILFY stands out because it is very persona. After the divorce, I was dating and anytime you go start dating again after a divorce you’re looking to build up your confidence again and hoping that there is still something there. It was a personal song and it was a challenge to throw it out there and say ‘I am still what I used to be- maybe just a little bit different.’ LUNAR DANCE was an interesting concept. It’s like asking who your favorite child is. You love them all for different reasons because everything we do is based on life experience. We’ve got a song on this new album called HOME LATE. In the first verse, it is a man who is concerned that his partner –his wife or his girlfriend - isn’t home. It’s late, he’s made dinner and he’s waiting up. In the second verse he’s going ‘What’s going on?’ He’s plays the role of knowing that something’s up and is asking her to come clean. In the third verse, he’s throwing the gloves off because he knows what’s going on and knows that she’s been running around. That song is a real great emotional song for me. The next album is going to be fantastic.

RAMONE: MILF SONG really stands out to me because it’s got a good R&B feel and it’s something that people can really get into. It’s really marketable. The whole track felt really good. To talk about a subject like that – I really feel like we made it classy rather than turn it into raunchy-type situation. I’m proud of how we captured that moment. They all stand out for me. LUNAR DANCE stands out for me because it was kind of written as a MICHAEL JACKSON tribute if you will. It sets a visual for me-


RAMONE: Yeah, there is that THRILLER element to it. I enjoy performing that because I can see that in this track very vividly. Those two stand out for me.

In listening to this EP, I think you guys really talk about relationships in a very adult way in a way that a lot hip-hop or any modern music does.
CRAIG: There are a lot of great rap artists out there and sometimes what they are talking about doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense. There is so much out there where they’ve got the money and they’ve got the girls and they’ve got the car and everybody loves them and that is what the relationship is and that’s great, but that’s not always real.

You guys have a fan in RICHARD BRANSON, how did you guys come to know that?
CRAIG: Since the time I got out college and started going down the marketing path, the business that we own has grown substantially and RICHARD BRANSON – through a few other business relationships – invited about forty marketers to his island. The first twenty to respond were able to spend an entire week with RICHARD and talk about VIRGIN UNITE and teaching entrepreneurs about social responsibility. I was invited there with my business partner. When I was there, I took his cell phone and I put FILFY on his ringtone. That whole week he and I talked about music and of course RICHARD BRANSON’s background in music is unparalleled. As a result of that visit, he has really enjoyed the CD. It’s been great. I’m actually going to be seeing RICHARD tomorrow. I saw him three weeks ago in Calgary at an event. Were going to ROCK THE CASBAH tomorrow to support his mother’s charity. We’ve developed a nice friendship with him and he has offered to help. My goal was never to get him to try to sign us. I’m a good marketer and RAMONE knows a lot about marketing as well. The business deal that is offered by a major label isn’t always the best deal. We’re driving this thing on our own and hoping we can make the best of it.

What would you like someone to come away with after they’ve heard this EP?
RAMONE: That’s a good question! I hope that they enjoy the tracks and can see some real life experience behind them but also see some humor and some personality throughout our tracks. With the next album, things are going to be different. As I’ve said before, we captured a moment with these tracks and I also hope people are able to get the lightness of the work but also the seriousness of it.

CRAIG: I’d like for people to come away thinking that life is fun. No matter what you’re coming up against, life should be fun. Anything you do in your life, you can look at the bright side of it. This first album is about making sure that people look at the funny side of life but some of the other is about helping people through some of the emotional stuff that they are dealing with too. I’m hoping that it talks to people.