It’s no secret we love Milwaukee hip-hop, in all it’s glory. This is a scene being built from the ground up, full of incredible music that seems to proliferate from Wisconsin’s biggest city more and more every day now. The unfortunate side effect of all this music, especially as a Chicago publication, is that it’s damn hard to cover all this material. What follows is a list of some under-the-radar Wisconsin projects that you may have missed but absolutely should check out. A very special thanks goes out to WebsterX for putting us onto some of these projects - Open your ears and check it out!
IshDARR • Broken Hearts & Bankrolls
If there's one project you did hear from Milwaukee this year, this is likely the one. IshDARR has been leading the pack during a recent spike of new music coming out of the Wisconsin city. Following up his 2015 release Old Soul Young Spirit featuring the standout track "Too Bad", Ish continues to grow and nurture that old soul in Broken Hearts & Bankrolls. The 12 track project released just this past October has several previously released singles including "Sugar", "Time Shawty" and "Bandits" that have been bridging the gap since IshDARR's last release. In doing so, each release leading up to the project foreshadowed the diversity we'd find on the final product. While the lyrical content seems to stay true to the project's title, telling tales of a young emcee's experiences on the way up the music industry food chain, the production is all over the place. Theres's several name's on Broken Hearts & Bankrolls that we see associated with past Ish project's, but no single person sways the sound of this project except IshDARR himself, and we like it that way. If you haven't even heard this tape yet, the rest of this article is going to special. We're excited for you! - Brent Butcher
Pizzle • Grand De$ign
Pizzle’s mixtape Grand De$ign was a rapid fire free for all, an undeniable statement that he needs to be heard. My first listen through featured multiple head spinning moments and countless rewinds, the album is really just that good. While he’s still flying under the radar, I wouldn’t count on that being the case for long. To get straight to the point like Pizzle does, the MKE rapper has many speeds but his favorite one is at the top of the gauge, moving Twista fast, no hyperbole. - Ray Mestad
Lorde Fredd33 • Dead Man’s View
During These Days' trip up to Milwaukee last year, we got familiar with the New Age Narcissism (NAN) Collective, a diverse group of artists that have a common goal. Something akin to Chicago's Save Money. The members of the collective all have their own thing going on, but their collaborative spirit is evident in nearly everything they do. One of the standouts from the crew this past year is Lorde Fredd33 with his album Dead Man's View, a collaborative effort with producer Q The Sun. The two find a sound that is cohesive throughout the project, but no one song sounds like the other, a feat not easily accomplished. This isn't Fredd33 and Q's first rodeo together. The two have worked together extensively in the past and will likely continue that trend moving forward, adhering to the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" mentality. If there's one commonality among this Milwaukee movement, it's that no one fits the traditional rapper aesthetic. Lorde Fredd33, Q The Sun, and the rest of the NAN collective are uniquely a product of the middle of the map, and we appreciate them greatly for it. - Brent Butcher
Mike Regal • Premonitions
Mike Regal created a wavy, smooth debut that is going to keep fans coming back for the forseeable future. Premonitions is the mixtape, a cohesive and detailed project that’s mysterious, funky and diverse. The story of the project and the artist behind it is an interesting one, as Mike Regal has made a name for himself as one of MKE’s top producers in the last year. He was making beats for other local rappers until Premonitions came about, and the project is all the proof you need to guess that he’ll be saving his beats for himself from now on. Anyways, Regals’ foray into vocals sounds 100% natural, like a rapper who was just waiting to emerge. And since he cut his teeth producing, his song writing is already down. Watch out for Mike Regal in the future, there’s no reason to see him slowing down from here. - Ray Mestad
bliss & alice • Mama Tried
Last year we took a visit up to Milwaukee to spend some time getting to know the talented artists that were residing up north. My favorite part of the trip was a long conversation with the man known as bliss & alice. I had already been into the music, but the talk gave me a deeper appreciation for his perspective. Even then, he was a year removed from his last project, and as that time doubled I wasn’t sure what to expect when his comeback arrived. The hiatus would continue until a minute and forty-five seconds into pressing play on his latest project, Mama Tried. After using the first few words to acknowledge his time away, bliss wastes no time showing he’s better than he’s ever been. While the backdrops dance and dazzle in the distance enough to create a vibe, the first few verses carry a touch of a competitiveness, gently boasting half way through track two “This shit is effortless”. Midway through “Gold Ropes” things take a turn, and the heart of the project begins to reveal itself. As “Bathwater” and the proceeding voicemail interlude arrive, if you succumb to it and allow yourself to connect with it on a human level, it really begins to cut deep. As a whole Mama Tried is a beautiful flurry of emotions, stories of fighting off frustration with the pursuit of growth, combatting loss with understanding over soundscapes that layer sentiment in broad strokes. It is bolstered by its poetics and production, but ultimately defined by its vulnerability. A less patient listener might not uncover the beauty. - Eric Montanez
Fivy • Dreamscape EP
Fivy’s Dreamscape EP is a lo-fi hit, establishing a sound and style of her own with a project that’s confident and creative. It’s five tracks long but incredibly satisfying, diverse but once again cohesive. While I had not heard of Fivy before listening to Dreamscape, it’s the kind of project where you listen and know that it’s only the beginning. Very excited to see where Fivy goes from here, and in the meantime throw on Dreamscape and get lost in the wavy, vibrant world she’s created for us. - Ray Mestad
BoodahDARR • Almighty EP
BoodahDARR has a very similar name to another performer on this list, and there's good reason for that. Blood brother of IshDARR, one of the leading forces in the current Milwaukee music scene, Boodah has some big shoes to fill. While he may not have the recognition that his brother enjoys at this stage in his career, his recent release doesn't disappoint a previously unfamiliar ear. The dark and dreary soundscape sets the EP's tone throughout, allowing listeners to really absorb what Boodah is saying. If you enjoyed the production on IshDARR's project above, you'll likely enjoy the beat selection here as well, Almighty shares some common themes and as taps fellow Cream City Motion member Canis Major. Simple yet effective, the 8 track EP is the perfect introduction to the new artist if you're currently unfamiliar. - Brent Butcher
B-Free • Ode To Luv Affair
We're all familiar with what a good love song constitutes. Typically, it appeals to the listener's (com)passion - allowing the opportunity to reminisce. Sometimes, we're presented with the alternatives: remorse and regret. Almost always, the strongest tracks are a tangible mix of both. Relationships are highly complicated, and the mess tends to spill over into ensuing composition.
There are a million "Love is..." cliches that attempt to explain, denounce, or justify these sentiments appropriately. Few come close to what B~Free shares with us on her Sophomore LP, "Ode 2 A Luv Affair". Three years in the making, this compilation was tenuously interrupted by a vocal trauma which left Ms. Free unable to sing, or even speak, for months. On behalf of Jill Scott and J Dilla fans everywhere, it's a blessing that she's found her voice again.
Luv Affair's 13-track offering demonstrates a range of influence from R&B and Neo-Soul that does exactly what such a record is meant to do: take the listener down their own personal avenues of love, loss, and ultimately - triumph. These ideas are cemented softly yet succinctly with the closing track, "The Vow". Among beautiful piano flourishes and falsetto backing trills, B~Free depicts how a deeper love is meant to look and feel with nearly flawless resonance. This track puts the bow on a continuous back-and-forth journey between moving forward in love and waiting for the past to wash away completely. "Come Back", "Slow It Down", and "By The Phone" come highly recommended if you've recently lost your better half, whereas "With U" and "Thinkin' Bout U" make for excellent background serenades by the fireside.
- Grant Lindburg
Renz Young • It Was Nice Knowing You
There are many ways to pursue the craft of music, and the way Renz Young has decided to go after it is one of my favorites. You can hear it in his voice, Young is the type to relentlessly work towards improvement and breaking through to the next level. It’s only a few words into his album It Was Nice Knowing You that the Milwaukee emcee adds testament to this, explaining he’s put in his 10,000 hours - a reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that claims racking up ten racks worth of practice in a skill will make you a master in it. The grind and hustle are evident everywhere in this project. With a few celebratory moments to add some wind to its sails, this album sounds like hard work paid off. - Eric Montanez
Kenny Hoopla • Beneath the Willow Tree (EP)
Starting off with a tasteful nod to Tele/Visions song “Nervous”, it’s clear Kenny Hoopla’s EP Beneath the Willow Tree is simply on some other shit. I haven’t been able to grasp the words to explain it yet & I think it might be better that way, but in an weird musical nostalgic mixup, these songs strike a cord that I haven’t felt since listening to certain Blink 182 songs in middle school. Honestly, I don’t think there is a higher compliment. Throughout the EP, Hoopla wears his heart on his sleeve. If he doesn’t reveal exactly how he is feeling in his words, his voice transmits enough emotion to paint a picture in itself alone. It’s effortless in the sense, there is no energy given to putting up a false front or hiding any sadness. I really enjoyed this one, and after hearing his latest track "Mess" I think I'm going to really like where Kenny is heading as well. - Eric Montanez