MC Mikal lumbered in the BBC upper room, tall, gangly, vibrating above it all. The scene, relatively modest by hip-hop standards, dropped like an ember that starts a wild brush fire. A performative charge present, highly concentrated energy burned the anticipatory material around it, not caring to be seen.
In a benefit for Men of Tomorrow, one of the older youth programs in Milwaukee, MC Mikal ripped the mic to beats cued by local music producer Moses. Showing mastery of the chambers of emceeing, deviating from prepared material, Mikal enthusiastically took liberty to casually experiment with increasingly poetic streams of mind over rhythm.
Lyrically, MC Mikal readily latches on to various wavelengths, mostly intelligent, conscious of today’s struggles to avoid snares in the web of crap that is American society. In other moments, he gets down right hedonist, encouraging the niceties of life in the moment, social mischief and pleasures of the flesh. Oddly the “Mr. Hyde” MC Mikal, allows you to take his profound lyrical repertoire more seriously, there are no more saints, and he doesn’t pretend to be one. When he’s on, he’s a force on the mic.
Running with Knives
Milwaukee rap conglomerate H.E.R. held the flank, delivering tracks with beats tailor-fit for trunks with subs, riding on rims in their mid-20’s and candy coated paint. Thank Moses, as one of the producers of H.E.R. he brings plenty of heat.
Words peppering the crowd, Jermaine Event led H.E.R, twisting traditional battle style Milwaukee flavored hip-hop banter, an easy combination for people to get lost in. Rarely seen in the contemporary era of hip-hop, H.E.R. prominently featured a hype-man on back-up vocals and 2 guest MC’s. That’s an old formula that usually works, and H.E.R. put it to use rather effectively.
Sean Smart pushed his flows for H.E.R., packing visions of rugged-living, slick talking in a notable mic voice. Expanding on H.E.R.’s lessons, Myke Deezy kept the pace of the show well above resting with his additional vocals and general stage presence.
Quietly, emerging from its chrysalis, we see new hip-hop fauna flashing its oversized moth wings in the likes of MC Mikal, mysterious white dots marking the wings looking like eyes, giving music explorers something new to find. MC Mikal might be considered more appropriately as an artist that emees, so catching a performance from him is a gem.
Some avian raptor varieties of the hip-hop kingdom still stalk the streets, evolving like H.E.R., hanging on resiliently not likely to parish with the Jurassic era of the genre, giving fans from the original depths of the boombap something to vibe to. The subtle reinventions of the street rap style that H.E.R. brings to the stage, although clearly drawing off classic underground gangster rap legends, makes H.E.R. an intriguing example of how each style contributes to the rap picture. All are needed to make the hip-hop eco-system viable, if hip hop is truly to be a voice by which various perspectives on life are amplified through stereo speakers.
Cause for a Cause
In an time when everyone has an idea, notion or feeling of divine right to tell people what to do and how to do it, Anwar Floyd-Pruitt understands that just having a mentor can mean the difference between falling for traps set by bad influences or deciding your own path. He’s the acting Director of Men of Tomorrow, and the proceeds of the MC Mikal with H.E.R show went as a small but meaningful tithe to the Men of Tomorrow youth program. Men of Tomorrow is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit that primarily focuses on providing elementary school aged Black youth with mentors and guided activities to assist their transition to adulthood.
Do experiences ever end as they started? If they end, then I suppose not. JC Poppe became known in Milwaukee’s hip-hop music and media scene, and beyond, as a pretty solid fixture after about two years on the keyboard creating content for his own website Milwaukee UP. Early on, OnMilwaukee added Milwaukee UP as a regular contribution to its online space.
That’s an over simplified synopsis of a voice that grew for many years before that fed on a steady diet of beats, rhyme and general nerve to challenge the commonly accepted. Alongside his unintended journalistic success, JC Poppe released several solo music projects and lent a little industry moxie as manager of a several of talented hip-hop acts, started a family, and in the process laid the foundation for what would become his next chapter.
JC Poppe recently closed Milwaukee UP to focus on family, new projects and endeavors. Graciously, Poppe obliged to do a cyber-curtain call with Local Trolley to share a few past, present and futuristic thoughts on music, politics and life.
So you recently retired your very popular online music outlet Milwaukee UP. It’s been a couple of months, how has the process of moving on been? Its almost like the music scene lost a friend.
Surprising, moving on has been very easy. I was ready to be done with it. This is not because of my feelings about the Milwaukee music scene, but more a reflection of the change in interests that has taken me to a whole new place intellectually. Since March, I’ve hardly listened to music on any consistant basis. Occasionally, I get an idea for an article that I just file away for later. I’ve mainly been focusing on family, preparing myself for going to get another Bachelors degree, and enjoying ESPN radio.
There are members and consumers of the hip-hop scene that are immersed almost on a religious level, where the this and that opinion of the who’s and the what is’s get really passionate. It’s interesting to hear you be able to separate yourself out intellectually so easily, even more so because you’ve got a couple of hip-hop music projects of your own. How has your outlook changed over time?
There are a multitude of opinions within the Milwaukee hip-hop scene. That passion and competition is crucial to the growth of the talent of the city.
The intellectual schizm is something that just happened recently. Music was my life for over two decades. I was never the type that was dedicated enough to sit down and learn how to play [instruments] even though I desperately wanted to. This is why I focused on words. With zero talent of voice, and a strong love for rap, rapping is the way that I displayed my passion. All of that passion is gone, or nearly gone now. I was writing about music and culture in a very simple way and couldn’t paint the pictures that I wanted to paint. It was at that point that I knew that I had to move on and pursue the new path I was beginning.
I know a lot of artists and music lovers appreciated your efforts to say something about the Milwaukee music scene, myself included. What were some of your fondest moments/sub-eras of that 20 year obsession with the music, I mean when the glamour had you most captivated. I know there are some obvious periods that come to mind, but what were yours.
The first moment I heard hip-hop and new jack swing when I was still in the single digits age-wise, I was hooked. I just loved it. At that time most kids around me were listening to Guns N’ Roses or pop music, but I was all about Hot 102 and V100 when that popped up. That’s not to say that I didn’t listen to New Kids on the Block and Madonna, because I did, but artists like LL Cool J, Bel Biv Devoe, Bobby Brown, Public Enemy…and of course MC Hammer…were what I was really into.
When I stopped going to Edward A. McDowell on 19th and Highland and went Brown Deer School District, grunge was in full swing and so I learned about rock music and came to love that sound too. I was in 6th grade when Kurt Cobain died and I can still remember the 7th and 8th graders walking about the halls, crying. Little did I know that that would be me when I was 14 and Tupac died. He was me and my friend’s Kurt Cobain or John Lennon. I will stop there because I could write a book about my musical progression.
That’s great, JC you had Hammer pants?
Unfortunately, I didn’t have Hammer pants. I wish I had though. Those pictures and memories would be priceless.
I remember at Robinson Middle School DJ Quick and Geto Boys couldn’t get played enough. By ’94 though, I can remember thinking I was real cool at about that same age going to a Digable Planets and Gumbo (they were local) show at the Marquette Annex. Are there any projects from local artists you came across in the Milwaukee UP years that you really thought were interesting that were kind of unsung locally? Not asking you to play favorites or anything.
Local project or artist that is kind of unsung, without playing favorites… I’m going to say something that is going to sound crazy: Prophetic. My reason for saying this, speaking about it locally of course, is that it seems like people only pay attention to him because of his name and not because of his talent. The guy is talented and deserves more than just name recognition.
I like that pick. I really only credit him with the Green and Yellow track, but then again I don’t stay purposefully current with music anymore either. That may be one worth giving more of a chance.
So even though the blog is retired that doesn’t mean your stepping away from music does it? I thought you put out a couple of intense solo projects with Sleep Therapy/Tea Party, etc… Then you’ve got the projects with The Hollowz. You also got political around this time last year just snatching the covers off of Scott Walker in a way you can’t even understand unless you’ve seen the video collaboration you did vocals for. I think it’s high time that video resurface by the way.
As of right now, my work as a rapper is on an indefinite hiatus. I was working on a project with DJ Pain 1 out of Madison and my brain just stopped giving me lyrics. I was also working on an EP with Madden Miles (formerly Mark V.) but the situation is the same there; my brain just isn’t giving me any words to put down rhythmically. I feel that releasing one EP and three albums is really good enough to capture myself as an artist and I won’t force words onto a page. So if I’m suddenly inspired again, I’ll record. I am still managing The Hollowz, as well as Logic & Raze and AUTOMatic. They have a fantastic talent as a producer in Ed Cayce.
Ears will probably still be ready when you are JC.
I’m glad that you haven’t forgotten about that video. Zeti (formerly Pezzettino) worked her ass off on that video and was also behind the collaboration of the musicians on the track. The song was initially written to a beat by a Milwaukee producer that at the last minute pulled the track back because s/he didn’t want to enter their name into the political arena in such a way as Maggie and I were willing to do. One of the most fun and insane things about the track itself is that the percussion was provided by Allen Cote playing one of his sinks.
An actual sink?
Yes, he was playing a sink.
Good old artist ingenuity…
via Pezzintino Official Music Videos, YouTube
I’m not typically one to be crass in my music, but the anger I felt over Walker’s tyrannical approach to our State was real so I allowed myself to exhibit that through some off colour humor. Are you looking forward to this coming Tuesday?
Christopher Hitchens (more on Hitchens)would definitely be proud. One of my guilty pleasures is politics, which has largely been lost in the music, so that made my day from the standpoint of someone taking the time to blend the creativity with commentary locally. Yeah, definitely looking forward to election day, part of me wishes Dave Obey was running instead of Barrett, we really cannot afford a vacuum in Milwaukee right now. At this point I suppose getting some leadership in the capitol is most important.
Speaking of Madden Miles he was one of the producers that I got pretty hyped on last year for Miltown BeatDown, which I had a lot of fun covering last year if you couldn’t tell. He’s coming off the recent release of the Candace Bailey Beat Tape which was getting heavy download action last week. He was beating out Kanye for number one download on AudioMack. Any tweaks to the this year’s MTBD format we can get excited about, guest appearances?
Jordan has a lot of stuff in the works for this year’s MTBD and I’d love to blab the 411 about what I know, but I only speak on it when Jordan tells me to. Being a husband, father, carrying a 12-18 credit course load, and managing several artists is really all that I feel I will be able to handle in the near future. This is a sobering thought to me because I spent so much time getting to know people and elbowing my way onto my own square inch of Milwaukee music real estate, and now I’ve pretty much relinquished every molecule I fought to get, back to jungle. At one time I wanted to be THEE guy, and not as a rapper, but as a resource and advocate and now I’m perfectly happy with being forgotten. I just have a new focus now.
This past year for me with Local Trolley has been a honeymoon of sorts the whole meeting new people, finding little niches things like that. I can imagine the pressure builds as you become more recognizable as a media outlet and an artist. Hip-hop kind of welcomes that in a way other genres don’t, my cynical side says its almost become the point of the music itself. It’s an interesting bit of contrary-ness that you achieve a level of visibility before deciding to step-out of the lime light. Interesting choice of words too, disappear is a pretty strong verb.
Disappear is a very strong word, I agree, and I used it for a reason. I crave no attention for anything that I may have contributed during the time that I was active. I’m proud that I did take the bait and took the time to cover the Milwaukee hip-hop scene, but that was yesterday and tomorrow will be a continuation on the new path that I’m on. I anticipate that sometime in the near future, be it later this year or sometime next year, that I’ll become a complete stranger to the Milwaukee music scene and I know that it will continue to rock-on and get better and that my absence will have zero affect on anybody or anything. It was a moment in time. It was a great moment in time.
I’m stepping on a thousand cigarette butts on the way in, it’s not dark and smokey in the Cactus Club anymore, but still a little dank on the music side. Someone on staff managed to keep a VHS tape of an old Arsenio Hall episode featuring N.W.A from being magnetized after all these years and its playing on wall-mounted t.v. monitors, nice.
Among the sippers, a sturdily built dude stands-out reviving shades of Trugoy during the Daisy Age crossed with Starski. If any one has a license Busdriver does, his pops wrote Krush Groove. Plus looks can be deceiving, Busdriver’s styles on the mic don’t need image to generate uniqueness.
The Un- to Fame
A musical dervish, Busdriver worked whatever electronic synth-instrument he was hovered over like a steering wheel to jerk the crowd through audio turns, unbelievably speeding up a Scott Joplin riff and ripping it on Me Time and, on Imaginary Places, annihilating a track that sounded familiar to the classic Beasties‘ Floop Loops sample, right after swinging out of a dub Reggae toast.
Busdriver himself is an unsung classic, notably contributing to the Aceyalone-led Project Blowed, way back then, and completed a better know collaboration with Daedalus, worth checking out even if you’re behind the indie-hop scene.
Check out this 10 year-old baby
Something newer for your knew
Milwaukee’s got the Catus
Busdriver did it up setting the Cactus Club stage for Astronautalis, an indie-fun-twirl group that mashes up the music spectrum really well, while highlighting how formulated mainstream hip-hop as a sound has become. Digital music producer Jel was scheduled on the undercard, didn’t her him live, however fluid, harmonic, ambient beats deserve a mention anyway. Milwaukee got a real treat before Busdriver and Astronautalis make their way to SXSW.
Making a few waves only takes one big ripple. Marty McDoom gradually builds his repertoire of music, adding tracks to his under-the- surface hip-hop playlists regularly. Marty McDoom recently dropped a EP demo online called Super, Ultra. Hey… McDoom might be on to something, Local Trolley got a chance to exchange a few words about his progress towards breaking his sound out.
Fuck it, I’m Depressed, Marty McDoom
L.S. Trolley: What best describes your style… hot water on a hot day or cold water on a cold day?
Marty McDoom: I’m Like….uh…uh…cold water on a hot day (laughing), Perfectly slightly colder than room temp water on a hot day..(laughing).
LT: You put out some EPs recently, dark themes, but still listenable, were you surprised by how they were received?
MM: Yeah they did pretty good for completely random projects. I tried to really capture my thoughts and what was going on in my life at the time and people responded pretty good to it all. I knew that i couldn’t be the only person who has those thoughts or has those feelings. I made them to be an accurate depiction of myself at the time, and relate-able.
LT: Yeah, in hip-hop emotions are basically to be avoided, even truth, I was listening to the Mad Kids on WMSE tonight and they were getting on Rick Ross, joking that he was a probation officer at one time or something, [quite] opposite of his persona. Rick Ross is one of the biggest out there, do you feel pressure to make music that responds to this tendency?
MM: I’m totally against this pressure…I think this “pressure” is whats killing Hip-Hop, no one feels free to be themselves, everyone is trying to live up to these expectations and normalities of what a hip-hop artist is suppose to be and represent, its all wrong…completely f*cked. If you ask me, instead of being an expression of real life , real thoughts and feelings, and real issues, its become a big advertisement. One huge show and tell of everything your suppose to want and want to be, but its all bullshit…f*ck a chain, f*ck a nice car, f*ck money. I mean that’s all nice, and should be a by-product of your success but it shouldn’t come as a replacement for reality.
LT: What was the hip-hop moment that pissed you off the most in this era… the one that gave you the, “man this is #$% ##%% #%…”
MM: It sounds cliche…but when they turned Kanye into a social villain for being spontaneous at that award show, at Taylor Swift’s expense… that’s the [real] reality and the flare we need back in not only hip-hop…but the world…everything is becoming so scripted, its lame.
LT: Oh ok it was the act of spontaneity, I’m surprised they didn’t tackle him [on stage]. Obama called him an ass for that, what was your take? Did you agree that Beyonce’s song was really better? or [fill in the blank]…
MM: Nah…he wasn’t an ass…He was just out of place..and drunk [laughing]. I never saw Beyonce’s video… Could care less to be honest. Think about it, who let him up there? A huge award show and no security? Fuck that..they let him up there… They just didn’t know what he was gonna do. He shocked all their asses [laughing]. Personally, I laughed for days.
LT: Do you see any hope for Milwaukee harboring scenes friendly for your flavor of music. Right now it’s really street or really traditional style battle rap.
MM: Not really no….but I love Milwaukee enough to know that it’s not all about Milwaukee. People are really receptive to my music in other places, other States to other countries. Once everyone else loves you…then Milwaukee will.
LT: Good getting a chance to hear some words from the mind for a few, any parting words for the fans?
MM: Stay tuned…Got a lot of cool music in the works, a lot of big things happening…No spoilers as of yet, but improvised sound is definitely in the works…!
Summerfest 2011 ignites an already raucous solstice season, in its 43rd year of jamming, the local tradition of traditions since 1968. Wasn’t there some other fest in upstate New York around that time? Oh yeah, August 1969…
Last year was no slouch, and will be hard to top. Black Sabbath and Public Enemy played simultaneously last year on the side stages, still hard to fathom.
Solstice Season Part 1: Summerfest Shows – Public Enemy
Summerfest is the biggest thing going, in the world they say. The Milwaukee masses come together and do what they can to forget about the winter that past and the one that’s coming.
I covered the PE concerts as a guest writer on MKE Wired.
Finally I’m back in the sphere… follow the link Public Enemy Wrap: Not out of the cross hairs yet.
Public Enemy Wrap: Not out of the cross hairs yet
I’m bleacher surfing and tunneling through the aisles like a mere cat trying to get closer to the front of the stage. I pop up on an open bleacher and this faux hip-hop teapot statured dude with a chinstrap beard is jibber jabbering something about “if you get up, you gotta get down”. I tell this dude “Bro, you been listening to too much 88-9.” The look on my face is saying, fool don’t you know we at a Public Enemy concert and you can get a smack for that. For pushing twenty-five years in the art of boom-bap, Chuck D, a second generation patron rebel of rap, and trusty entourage lead by the antic laden Flavor Flav, still can rock a crowd at any coordinate on the world map. From the looks of the turn out Friday night, you would have thought Drake had just parachuted on to the US Cellular arena stage.
Stuck in the main walk way of the festival grounds, I peer over frocky banged girls, spike mohawk haired guys and nodd with old school players, enjoying a deep remix groove version of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos, simultaneously urging my Madisonian friends to venture into the fray. Just then PE broke into Anti N**GA Machine. Exhorting every lyric that still comes to my mind, the abrupt fade into Burn Hollywood Burn confirmed the set recapped, in sequence, several tracks from each of PE’s albums, which suited the tracks from PE’s third album Fear of a Black Planet particularly well.
By the time, I excavate my way into the center stage area with surprising ease, Power to the People rhythmically churns and I double back to the outskirts of the masses, to find my feeble Madisonians had already sought refuge from the exuberance. I grab college co-eds at will that chirp about trying to get a better look at Flav, in the spirit of Harriet Tubman, and guide them through the canals of seating to a better vantage point.
The vintage hits Bring the Noise, Terminator X to the Edge of Panic, Can’t Trust It and Fight the Power played, but the show’s highlight was Flavor Flav’s rendition of I Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man, which I recited in time, miming the patented Flav dance, only to notice those around looking at me like I had the holy ghost and was speaking in tongues. I was truly possessed and so was everybody else. Possessed enough to chant “f*nk separatism” and “f*ck racism” on Flav’s cue after he improved a verse of Sly Stone’s Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again. Some visual irony could be witnessed if you scanned the audience. For being in Milwaukee that showed how good of sports we are.
It wasn’t the headlining flashing red X-shaped DJ table show of the glory days, noticeably absent was Terminator X who left the group in ‘99, but well worthy of a Friday night. The sea of people was probably more of a testament to Flavor Flav’s new found pop appeal than their love for the PE message, but an overall worthy effort on the part of Milwaukee’s party goers to do justice to the music legends.