Grear had seen war up close long before his tour of duty in Iraq. The son of West African immigrants — a father from Liberia, a mother from Sierra Leone — he was born in Texas, but attended school in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, as a kid. He was forced to flee stateside after bloody unrest erupted there in 1990.
Thirteen years later, he saw more of the same on the banks of the Tigris. “We went to Iraq and saw people suffering,” he says, speaking not just of Iraqi civilians, but of American soldiers. “As a musician, and as a writer, I wanted to be able to focus on those issues. Politics. Religion. Interpersonal and intercultural. Focus on the people that are suffering.”
The Phoenix first wrote about Grear in 2005 when, barely a year back from Iraq, he’d thrown himself headlong into running A Records, the hip-hop label he’d started in Worcester before deployment. Two years later, A Records is still going. But now Grear has a different musical venture — an artistic, poetic, and cinematic one.
Iraqi Chronicles is Grear’s sprawling online multimedia clearinghouse for soldiers’ stories. It’s a way, he hopes, for other GIs to tell their tales through music, video, photography, and writing. A way to “give a better understanding of the emotions of soldiers, the issues faced by soldiers in the war, and after the war.”
At the Iraqi Chronicles Web site, launched June 25, you’ll find the seeds of what could be something big. There are separate pages for writing, photos, and digital videos from Grear’s tour of duty. There are links to his wrenching, inspirational songs, their lyrics steeped in the experience of being a soldier. And there are links to other troops’ work, such as the poetry of Grear’s fellow vet Carlos Westergaard, of Northbridge.
Among the photos of Grear flashing peace signs with turbaned tribesmen, the videos of him busting rhymes with his guys, there are Grear’s written meditations on war and its impacts, personal and political, on Americans and Iraqis. “What are the emotions of the soldiers, citizens and especially the children?” he writes. “What is the truth?”
The project gives Grear’s life here in America more meaning. Sometimes, he says, “I think I’d rather be back in Iraq. I miss Iraq so much, due to the true relationships I had there, with people who were willing to put their lives on the line for me.” At home, “life is boring. The music is boring. People are talking about the wrong things. It’s crazy.”
Through his music, he hopes to change that. “It’s always served as an escape for me,” says Grear. “[It] helped me let the energy and anxiety out. Hip-hop just motivated me, kept me excited. People telling stories, educating. There are things in this world I wouldn’t know about if it wasn’t for music.”
On Grear’s missions in Iraq, music was verboten. “We were supposed to be paying attention to our surroundings.” But they smuggled it in anyway. Otherwise, it was “twelve hours in a vehicle with no music, just listening to the engine. And knowing you could die at any time. It made us happy listening to Biggie Smalls, knowing that you can fade into that music, fade into that story, fade into that beat.”