Tag Archives: freespace

The future of Milwaukee hip-hop

By Joey Grihalva

For the bulk of its existence, hip-hop has been a culture and a music championed by youth, much to the chagrin of parents. This paradigm is shifting now that hip-hop is nearly a half century old. As I discovered talking with young Milwaukee hip-hop artists, many of their parents love hip-hop and some are even performers themselves.

“When I was young my mom played so much Mos Def, I just wanted to be as smooth as him,” says the magnetic Taj Raiden, 21, during an appearance on 91.7 WMSE’s Those Hip-Hop Guys.

On December 23, 2016, I had the pleasure of organizing a benefit event for Freespace, the monthly, all-ages, (mostly) hip-hop showcase housed at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. There I witnessed powerful performances from artists who have not yet reached legal drinking age.

Taj Raiden who was performing at another benefit event later that night came out to support the young emcees. She even took the mic after some encouragement during the community cypher, blowing the crowd away with her ferocious brand of hip-hop.

On January 18, Taj was a feature performer at Freespace’s annual “Femmespace” event, which takes place the week of Riverwest FemFest. Katie Lafond (Siren of New Age Narcissism) hosted the event. Lafond pointed out that while Taj is a “sweet little angel baby” offstage, her onstage persona couldn’t be any different. As Taj explained, the stage is where she releases her emotions and energy. This need to release is what got Taj started doing poetry, then making music.

Taj is aware of the double standards set on women. She questions the notion that if a woman is confident onstage that means she’s going to be stuck up in person. Taj understands the importance of male support, citing male friends who gave her confidence when she was starting out. But she also says that women should be wary of men who might try to dictate their artistic path.

Taj Raiden [Photo by Elijah Sebastian]

Strength in numbers

While the first hip-hop act to gain national attention was The Sugarhill Gang back in the late 1970s, solo rappers became the norm in the the late 1990s and into the 2000s. The last decade has seen a resurgence of the group dynamic. Though Taj Raiden often performs solo, she is also a part of Team Ugly, which includes members YL64, Wolf tha Man, and Will the Glide.   

Taj Raiden and Josh Jenkins [Photo by Craig Jackson]
The group dynamic was on full display during the Freespace holiday benefit when A.D.H.D. (“Adolescent.Devious.Harmonic.Dominance,” members Josh Jenkins, JalenG, Liv, and G-Gifted) took the stage.

As I spoke with A.D.H.D.’s Josh Jenkins, 19, I learned the group shares core values about hip-hop culture the propagation of lyricism, community activism, and addressing social issues. Though the group is just out of high school, A.D.H.D. already has its own business cards.

“Hip-hop is very universal, so I enjoy performing in front of diverse crowds,” says Jenkins.

Jenkins first rapped onstage at a Juneteenth event when he was just 7-years-old. His father is also a rapper, singer and guitar player.

“It’s an exhilarating feeling to be able to do something I’m passionate about and have loved since I was a kid,” he adds.


While all the members of Phat Nerdz weren’t able to make the Freespace holiday benefit, Marquise Barnes (Young Epic) represented well for the crew, who are also just out of high school. Barnes stage presence and command of the mic showed skills far beyond his years. Like Jenkins, Barnes became involved with hip-hop at an early age.

“We loved how beatboxing and beatin’ on tables sounded, and how all the chaos in the class or lunchroom stopped and people would sit around and listen to us,” says Barnes.

“For me, that was big. Knowing that the vibrations of music and the sounds of instruments and our voice can attract people or at least grab their attention for that moment. After that I was just like, ‘I want to do music,’” he adds.

Thanks to his mother’s penchant for the Fat Boys and Biggie Smalls, Barnes who is related to B.B. King on his father’s side was inspired to incorporate the old school slang term “phat” into his crew’s name. Young Epic is joined by Myndd, S.I.N.P., Vimmy-T, Mayyh3m, and Captain Martian in the Phat Nerdz crew.

Phat Nerdz

Not your average basement party

Phat Nerdz budding career got a boost when they started going to True Skool, an organization in downtown Milwaukee that “uses urban arts as a tool to engage youth in social justice, leadership and workforce development.” In the lower level of the Grand Avenue Mall, Barnes and company learned how to network and meet people outside their circle of friends. This led to a busy 2016 opening for Lorde Fredd33, performing at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and appearing on the radio.

True Skool is a common thread among the younger generation of Milwaukee hip-hop artists. Jenkins and the A.D.H.D. crew, as well as Taj Raiden, have all spent time at True Skool. At the beginning of the year Barnes threw a holiday party at True Skool, inviting Team Ugly, A.D.H.D., and others to perform.

“I decided to kick it off with an open mic, because the party wasn’t just for us. It was for the city and the fans. It was a way for all the people who supported us in 2016 to come express themselves and enjoy the fact that we’re all coming together for one reason, and that’s to show love,” says Barnes.

Even though he is technically still a teenager, Barnes is already thinking about the kids that will come after him.

“I’ll be honest, I wanted to quit making music so many times. But in my mind I kept reminding myself that I’m putting in work now so the next generation, the kid who is like me and looks up to me, I’m doing it so they won’t give up,” says Barnes.

“I want them to feel like they can do anything in the world. That’s what I represent, the fact that even when the odds are stacked against you, you can become and do whatever you want in life.”


A.D.H.D. performs this Thursday, February 2, at Club 200 in Walker’s Point. They will also play a Valentine’s Bash on Friday, February 17, details forthcoming…

Phat Nerdz will open for The Fatty Acids on Friday, February 24, at Anodyne Coffee Roasters in Walker’s Point. Stay tuned for another show announcement the week of February 13…

Marquise Barnes (Young Epic)

Rhythm Changes quiet evolution

By Joey Grihalva

With year-end “Best Of” lists populating News Feeds and other media spaces, they are being met with equal parts vindication and scorn. Some allege favoritism, while some promote their praises. Others — like Sam Kacala of Rhythm Changes — quietly take note of the underappreciated, the overrated, the justified, and move on. Kacala would rather focus on the music he’s creating with his band.  

Sam Kacala is one of the most understated artists I’ve met in the Milwaukee music scene. It may have something to do with the fact that he works with youth at his day job. Kacala is the Character & Leadership Coordinator-Supervisor at the Don & Sallie Davis Boys and Girls Club.

As a result, I figured Kacala would be an ideal candidate for the in-school performance series I produced as part of the Arte Para Todos festival back in April. Rhythm Changes not only entertained and interacted with a gymnasium full of students at Gaenslen Elementary School, Kacala even assembled a student/teacher band for an on-the-spot jam.

In terms of underrated Wisconsin releases, 2015’s The Message is Real by Three. Stacks. Eliot (TSE) is one of the best examples. Rhythm Changes is the current incarnation of TSE, representing both a lineup and name change. The band continues TSE’s tradition of being a premier hip-hop/R&B backing band, while creating their own jazz-pop sound.

“Three. Stacks was done as a group when Teddy decided he was going to Japan,” says Kacala. “Even though I still speak for the band in terms of press and what not, it’s more of a collaborative project. Three. Stacks was more so me and Teddy’s vision of collaborating with hip-hop artists, specifically Klassik.”

TSE achieved their goal of collaborating with Klassik for a number of memorable performances in 2015, including one at Brady Street Festival and another at the Grain Exchange Building with the Milwaukee Ballet.

“Once that happened and we put out the album it was like, ‘Well, this is it. This is what we set out to do.’ Then we added new members and it became more of a group change than a name change. We have a lot of fun playing together. Our stage presence is like we’re laughing at each other.”

Rhythm Changes added Kyndal Johnson and Curtis Crump to TSE members Cody Steinmann, Calvin Turner, and Kacala. Earlier this year they produced a debut EP — We Had No Choice. Unlike the slew of guest rappers and vocalists on The Message Is Real, We Had No Choice is feature-free.

“It came together really quickly. It took a couple months to develop the music and then we recorded it all in one session. Kyndal’s vocals are somewhat repetitive, so it’s not a huge lyrical project. That helped the process. She’d be in rehearsal scatting, come up with a lyric line, then repeat it,” says Kacala.

Like The Message Is Real, the Rhythm Changes EP was recorded in Kacala’s parents living room.

“It’s so comfortable for me, though I can’t speak for the rest of the band. But we always get stuff done there. I like to have my hands on every part of the project. And I think it’s more of a learning process for me that way,” says Kacala.

Rhythm Changes threw an EP release party in September at Jazale’s Art Studio in the Bronzeville neighborhood. The lineup featured Genesis Renji, a stand-out guest on The Message Is Real. Renji — who recently moved back to Milwaukee after living in Washington, D.C. — is one of the most underrated hip-hop artists around according to Kacala.

“The release show was a great night. Renji is one of the hardest working rappers, but I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. It was a great moment for people to see how raw his material is. It was just him, no mic, nothing but his voice. He did a piece on diabetes and two on gun violence. People started tearing up,” recalls Kacala.

Back in 2013 when TSE was starting out the band produced a showcase series at the Jazz Gallery Center of the Arts. Among those first performers were WebsterX, Vonny Del Fresco, Lex Allen, and Emmitt James. Kacala prefers the art gallery/cafe setting to a traditional bar venue, where he feels people are more concerned with drinking than the music.

For the Rhythm Changes EP release at Jazale’s, Kacala and Darren Hill — Jazale’s co-founder  came up with an idea to do an art raffle.

“Vedale Hill is my favorite artist in the city. So we bought four pieces from him and ended up raffling off two of them. Kyndal had an artist that wanted to get her work out there so she had a piece there too. We had them on display at the front and each person got a raffle ticket when they walked in, but you could also buy them for a certain price,” explains Kacala.

“We raffled them off at the end of the night and we didn’t expect people to get into it. But the crowd was so intimate that people ended up bantering back and forth about who wanted what piece. It felt like I was watching a scene from a play.”

Kacala — who taught a free drum camp for kids at the Jazz Gallery in the summer of 2015 — will return to the East Center Street venue on Friday December 23, as Rhythm Changes will be the house band at the Freespace Holiday Fundraiser. Freespace is an all-ages, free, monthly, (mostly) hip-hop showcase featuring youth performers and established artists. It is the brainchild of high school English teacher Vincent Gaa and Sam Ahmed (WebsterX), with production help from designer Janice Vogt and KaneTheRapper. It provides an opportunity for youth to learn from and interact with professional musicians, as well as their peers.

“As a musician, I think it’s important to ask yourself if you are making a positive impact on your community,” says Kacala.

“We’re going to move on someday, whether it’s to a bigger stage or to no longer making music, so it’s important that young musicians have a chance to take our place. Music also kept me out of trouble. I was given so many opportunities and wouldn’t be where I am if not for older musicians taking the time to help me, so I expect that we do the same for the next generation.”

For more information on the Freespace Holiday Fundraiser click here.

To listen to Rhythm Changes’ We Had No Choice click here and Three. Stacks. Eliot’s The Message Is Real click here.

Wisconsin Sound #10

by Joey Grihalva

Freespace inspires the next generation

All-ages venues are a key component to a healthy music scene. While Milwaukee’s music scene is the most vibrant it’s been in decades, a dearth of all-ages venues limits its potential. Much of this is due to our antiquated, restrictive liquor laws, which could be changed. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.)

Last year saw the demise of three important Milwaukee all-ages DIY spaces: the Cocoon Room, Lucky Cat and Borg Ward. However, 2015 also saw the rise of Freespace, a monthly, (mostly) hip-hop showcase and interview series featuring up-and-coming young musicians and established artists. It was recently featured on FOX6, WUWM’s Lake Effect, and in the Journal Sentinel.

Freespace is the brainchild of high school English teacher Vincent Gaa and hip-hop artist WebsterX (Sam Ahmed). It provides an opportunity for youth to learn from and interact with professional musicians, as well as their peers. In its first year Freespace brought in renowned artists like IshDARR, Wave Chappelle, and Lili K., plus youth artists like Vital E$$ence, Riqo, and LeanBeatz.

The Freespace team also includes KaneTheRapper (Darius Briggs) and artist Janice Vogt. In September the organization celebrated its one-year anniversary. The week after the Presidential Election Freespace welcomed Chicago’s Malcolm London, CrashPrez (Minneapolis by way of Madison and Maryland), and 17-year-old local Juxt Dame.

Gaa began the evening by informing the audience that the next few Freespace events would each have a theme. The night’s theme was social justice and the artists were “people who are critical of the world they engage in and promote a positive message.” In his intro Gaa referred to bell hooks, Paulo Freire, as well as the principles, rhetoric and tools he learned from this punk rock roots. He closed his intro by asking the audience, “What compels humans to care?”

High school student Juxt Dame was the first featured artist. Dame has been at almost every Freespace event, including the first one (“Freespace beta”), which he heard about through KaneTheRapper. When Dame brought up his friend X (a teenage girl) and the two traded bars over a lush, laid back track it gave me goosebumps.

“I like to help people. And I like meeting new people. Music ain’t nothing but a connection. And you’re responsible for the connection you make with people,” said Dame during his interview with Gaa.

CrashPrez (Michael Penn II) holds the rare honor of receiving a scholarship to UW-Madison for being a rapper. He is a graduate of UW’s First Wave Hip-Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community program. Originally from a suburb of D.C., Penn is a published writer and critical thinker. After encouraging the crowd to check out the new album  Shade Trees  from Madison based rapper Trapo, Penn said, “Half of the tightest artists from Madison don’t even have projects out yet, so don’t sleep.”

When asked about his overall message to the youth, Penn stumbled for a few seconds before dropping knowledge.

“It starts with educating yourself and realizing that your activism is literally whatever you are best at. You don’t have to be in the streets. You can be the lawmaker. You can be the police, if that’s what you’re into. You can cook somebody some food that’s down on their luck. You can offer your couch. Activism is a spectrum. Everybody has something that they’re capable of giving other people. Focus on you and when you got the resources help everybody out, because that sh*t really goes a long way. A full stomach goes a long way. A good night’s sleep goes a long way.”

Malcolm London began by praising his Amtrak ride up from Chicago. The train trip gave him an opportunity to write poetry and journal. He was impressed by the Freespace community, which reminded him of the open mic series he runs in Chicago with Chance the Rapper.

London discussed his experience speaking at the United Nations, meeting Angela Davis, being inspired by WebsterX, and how the creative process can also be a healing process. Though London was dealing with strep throat and started his set out low-key, he became increasingly energized, echoing some of his words of wisdom.

“Celebration can be a very political act. Motherf*ckers like Donald Trump, like some of these cops in this city and in my city, they don’t want to see you alive. They don’t want you to be in a space like this, radically re-imagining the world and loving each other. So celebrating can be a very political act.”

Last week Freespace were co-recipients of the Humanitarian Award at the 9th Annual Radio Milwaukee Awards.


Learning to love the Midnight Reruns

At the end of 2015 I wrote a “Best Of” article that included the best Milwaukee releases and live performances of the year. I was derided in the comment section for not including Midnight Reruns’ Force of Nurture. The rock and roll quartet’s fourth release was critically acclaimed, but not by me.

The first and only time I saw the Reruns was opening night of Summerfest 2015. My girlfriend and I were going through a rough patch and I wasn’t in a good headspace. I disregarded the Reruns brand of classic-meets-garage rock because I initially didn’t like frontman Graham Hunt’s voice. I also wasn’t a fan of the band’s cover-heavy Summerfest set. As a result, I never gave the album a chance.

Fast-forward eleven months and the Reruns are playing UWM’s ‘MKE Unplugged’ series at the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts. Accompanying the band’s regular members are Ian Olvera on keys, Sahan Jayasuriya on percussion, and Treccy Marquardt-Thomas providing additional vocals.

“We haven’t played an acoustic show in two to three years,” Hunt admits as he picks up his guitar. “This may be the last one, depending on how it goes.”

Midnight Reruns
Midnight Reruns

Hunt also announces the band has been working on a new record and will preview some of those songs. The Reruns open with a new one and I can dig it. By the third song I’m totally on board. The guitar player is fantastic, the drummer is talented and entertaining, plus the band has great chemistry. The gang choruses are heightened with the extra singers and Hunt’s voice has won me over.

“We’ve been a band for about six years almost to the day. I wrote this next song walking around UWM and here we are,” says Hunt before playing a song off the band’s first EP.

The ‘MKE Unplugged’ series has been around since 2013. It was founded by Randall Trumbull-Holper, Director of Facilities for the Peck School of the Arts.

“I was trying to bring in more community and tap into a new audience,” Trumbull-Holper tells me before the Midnight Reruns performance. “I wanted to bring some of the great local talent to campus so the students wouldn’t have to go far to learn about what Milwaukee has to offer.”

‘MKE Unplugged’ is free to the public, thanks in part to Trumbull-Holper’s ability to generate revenue by renting certain UWM properties. At ‘MKE Unplugged’ there is a bar that serves wine and beer. 91.7 WMSE has broadcast each session live since the beginning. The series started with Trapper Schoepp and has featured the likes of Lex Allen, Soul Low, Buffalo Gospel and more.

“We do have a group of core followers but for the most part seeing different people in our building every month is great,” says Trumbull-Holper.

There are three ‘MKE Unplugged’ performances per semester. Trumbull-Holper also has a partnership with UWM’s finger-style guitar program that does two or three dates a year, bringing in international finger-style guitarists.

Later that week Midnight Reruns were the surprise headliner at a Club Timbuktu show that also featured The Fatty Acids, Sat. Nite Duets, and Antilia Raid. While the additional vocals, percussion and keys were somewhat missed, Hunt’s electric guitar sounded fantastic, their choice of covers were awesome, and the four-piece was as tight as any band I’ve seen in a long time.

Wisconsin Sound #5


Official MKE Film Fest 2016 poster.
Official MKE Film Fest 2016 poster.

Returning for its 8th installment, the Milwaukee Film Festival is simply one of Wisconsin’s finest cultural institutions. This year 282 films will be screened between September 22 and October 6, plus a number of panels, speakers, guest appearances, post-film conversations, education screenings, and happy hours. In the spirit of this column I’ve compiled a guide for the best of the festival’s music-related films.

I must admit that my adoration for the Film Fest is colored by the fact that I met my girlfriend on the red carpet walking out of the Opening Night party two years ago. As such, the Opening Night party is a can’t miss event. This year Milwaukee’s premier music collective—New Age Narcissism (NAN)will perform at the party on September 22 in the Kenilworth Building.

The next night—September 23—you can catch three videos from NAN members at the Milwaukee Music Video Show (9:45 p.m., Oriental). There will be 16 entries in total, from the likes of Canopies, Busdriver, Group of the Altos, WC Tank, Devil Met Contention, Fox Face, Rio Turbo, and more, plus a video premier from Maritime.

A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story
A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story

The centerpiece of the fest’s music movies is the much beloved Sound Vision program, which features eight films his year. They include subjects such as the blues (I Am The Blues), a legendary writer and producer (Bang! The Bert Berns Story), a soul singer’s triumph over cancer (Miss Sharon Jones!), a viral sensation (Presenting Princess Shaw), PBS’ long-running concert program (A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story), an Afghan girl rapper (Sonita), a notorious Madison alternative recording house (The Smart Studios Story), plus the dance party tradition that is Jonathan Demme’s seminal Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense.

Speaking of film fest traditions, the Alloy Orchestra will accompany the classic 1927 sci-fi silent film Metropolis. Alloy Orchestra’s performance will be inspired by the Milwaukee Art Museum’s upcoming “Haunted Screens” exhibit.

Two Trains Runnin’ is not the first documentary about the summer of 1964 to play at the Film Fest. Rather than focus on the Freedom Riders who bused into the segregated south to register voters, Two Trains Runnin’ tells the story of a group of young blues fans who also head into unfriendly territory in search of mysterious blues musicians, with hopes of bringing their music out of obscurity.

The Violin Teacher
The Violin Teacher

An aspiring classical musician blows his audition for the Sao Paulo Orchestra and finds his calling teaching the youth of Brazil’s largest favela in The Violin Teacher. This film is part of one of the fest’s newest programs, Cine Sin Fronteras, which showcases the rich and vibrant Latinx diaspora.

Christopher Darling is a Milwaukee-made dark comedy tracking the escapades of a self-destructive leader of a modestly popular rock band. Local actor John Glowacki takes on one of his most interesting roles in Scott Cary and Martin Kaszubowski’s feature debut.

Afghanistan’s first rock band are scheduled to play with Metallica on a San Francisco-based Iranian radio station in Radio Dreams. Things don’t go as planned in this droll comedy as the staff waits for a jam session that may never happen.

Carmin Tropical
Carmin Tropical

Carmin Tropical is an edge-of-your-seat murder mystery noir centering on a Mexican transgender nightclub singer investigating her best friend’s death.

Closing Night film, Morris from America, centers on an American boy living with his dad in Germany who relies on his love of hip-hop to cope with his outsider status.

Apart from the music-minded films, there are many excellent features and shorts to see. For theater locations and showtimes pick up a Film Fest program or visit their website. The box office is now open and located inside the Oriental Theatre.

Think of the MKE Film Fest as the first part of a double feature, considering the (31st) Milwaukee LGBT Film Fest follows right after from October 12 to the 23. In the next issue of WiG I’ll have a guide for its music-related films and events.  

And though it’s not officially part of the Film Fest, members of the Ruby Yacht label will be performing in the Moon Room at nearby Landmark Lanes on September 22.


During my first visit to our nation’s capital my friend took me to the Bohemian Caverns, a renowned jazz club. We arrived in time for the late set by a trio from Paris. The plates had long been cleared, but the (now-closed) Bohemian Caverns featured dinner as part of their entertainment experience.

miles-davisCompany Brewing in Milwaukee has brought this time-honored tradition to the Riverwest neighborhood. Their Supper Club Jazz series features a free performance and an exclusive menu on Wednesday nights. They also have special editions of Supper Club Jazz every so often on the weekend.

While jazz has been relegated to background music in hotel lobbies and restaurants around the country, Company’s series is reminiscent of jazz’s heyday. The performance is the main attraction, along with an artful meal prepared by head Chef Rosy Rodriguez.  

“We wanted to have live jazz be a part of what we do at Company Brewing, but we wanted to do it the right way,” owner George Bregar tells me.

“We reached out to Jamie Breiwick to pick his brain. He was very helpful in that he knows the jazz scene really well and knows what it needs. Then we brought in Jay Anderson for some extra positive energy. Personally, I like it so much that we schedule our brew nights around it,” adds Bregar.

The first Supper Club Jazz special edition took place in April. It was a tribute to Miles Davis featuring the illustrious Russ Johnson on trumpet, easily one of my favorite concerts of the year.

“The Miles Davis show was the archetype of what the series can be,” says Bregar. “We had a full dining room of people eating, but there was also this jazz show happening that definitely delivered.”

The second special edition performance took place on September 10. It was a tribute to saxophonist Ornette Coleman, an innovator of the free jazz movement of the 1960s. Lenard Simpson played saxophone along with Jamie Breiwick on trumpet, Tim Ibsen on bass, and Devin Drobka on drums.

A Tribute to Ornette Coleman (PHOTO - Mahdi Gransberry)
Lenard Simpson (left) and Jamie Breiwick (right) perform at A Tribute to Ornette Coleman (PHOTO – Mahdi Gransberry)

For the Ornette Coleman show my girlfriend and I made dinner reservations. The entree for the Supper Club menu was lake trout. Since we had gone to Seven Seas on Nagawicka Lake for fish fry the night before, we ordered off Company’s standard dinner menu. The roasted pork shoulder with Puerto Rican rice and plantains was incredible.

Our delicious meal was matched with a fantastic live performance. As the band took the stage host Jay Anderson brought a painting of Coleman and hung it onstage. The painting was done by an Iowa artist named Wayne Deutsch and brought by Kevin Lynch, former jazz writer for the Journal Sentinel. The band, dubbed The Century Quartet, performed Coleman tunes including “Dee Dee,” “The Blessing,” “Broadway Blues,” and an original arrangement by Breiwick dedicated to trumpeter Don Cherry.

img_7259This Friday—September 23—will be the third Supper Club Jazz special edition. Though it is being presented on the day of John Coltrane’s birth, rather than pay tribute to the jazz icon, 88Nine’s Tarik Moody (producer of the Unlooped series) presents “Jazzmatazz 414 – Hip Hop to Bebop,” a tribute to hip-hop classics performed by Milwaukee jazz musicians.

Other upcoming Supper Club Jazz performances at Company Brewing will feature MRS. FUN, Rick Aaron, Caroline Davis (NYC), Eric Jacobson, Neil Davis, Stomata, and Mitch Shiner. Special editions will be led by Cecilio Negron Jr., Reel Feels (NYC), and Andrew Neesly. Plus, Jamie Breiwick’s Lesser Lakes Trio will do two live recordings, the first of which is tonight—September 21.


Two issues back I wrote about the closing of the Hotel Foster (or “HoFo” as it is lovingly referred to). For five years HoFo was one of the best bars and occasional music venues on Milwaukee’s East Side. It hosted many unforgettable performances, especially during the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival.

John Revord’s AM/FM.

John Revord, owner of Boone & Crockett and one of the original owners of HoFo, will reopen 2o28 East North Avenue for one night on September 24. It turns out HoFo’s liquor license doesn’t expire until the end of the month. Revord reached out to his old business partner Doug Williams and they came to an agreement that will bring one night of live music, specialty cocktails, tap beers, DJs, and projected art to the space.

The night is being called “AM/FM.” When I first saw the event I was suspicious about its resemblance to the online magazine “amfm” produced by Milwaukee-native Ciera McKissick, to which I have contributed. I wondered if it might be one of McKissick’s events. When McKissick stumbled upon a Milwaukee Record article about the event she actually thought they were writing about her project.

Ciera McKIssick's amfm magazine logo.
Ciera McKissick’s amfm.

Initially McKissick was perturbed and started a Facebook conversation about it on a friend’s wall. As the feed grew Revord became aware of it and reached out to McKissick. Revord says he felt bad and was unaware of McKissick’s project, which has been based in Chicago for about two years. They talked and decided to work together.

“The event aligns with the things I do, so it was no question to collaborate,” McKissick wrote me in an email. “It actually turned into a dope opportunity. And I have been saying for quite some time that I wanted to do an event back home since it had been so long. I think this was the universe’s way of making that a reality.”

The bar is currently empty, stripped of the decor that defined the Hotel Foster. McKissick will be curating a pop-up art gallery in the downstairs space, with a live painting element on large canvas upstairs. She has reached out to some of her former Milwaukee artist friends including Mikal Floyd-Pruitt, CK Ledesma, and the From Here to Her collective.

The music lineup for the event includes DJs Asher Gray, Why-B, and Slim Brit, with performances by Whips, Rusty Pelicans, and a secret band. Video Villains will project visuals. Revord and Chef Mitch Ciohon’s Gypsy Taco truck will become Weezy Burger for the night and will be parked out front. All told, it will be another eclectic and electric night at 2028 East North Avenue.


All-ages venues are a key component to a healthy music scene. While Milwaukee’s music scene is the most vibrant it has been in decades, a dearth of all-ages venues limits its potential. Much of this is due to our antiquated, restrictive liquor laws, which could be changed. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.)


Last year saw the demise of three important all-ages DIY spaces: the Cocoon Room, Lucky Cat and Borg Ward. However, 2015 also saw the rise of FREESPACE, a monthly (mostly) hip-hop showcase and interview series featuring up-and-coming youth musicians and established artists. It was recently featured on FOX6 and WUWM’s Lake Effect.

FREESPACE is the brainchild of high school English teacher Vincent Gaa and hip-hop artist WebsterX (Sam Ahmed). It provides an opportunity for youth to learn from and interact with professional musicians, as well as their peers. In its first year FREESPACE brought in renowned artists like IshDARR, Wave Chappelle, and Lili K., plus youth artists like Vital E$$ence, Riqo, and LeanBeatz.

The FREESPACE team also includes KaneTheRapper (Darius Briggs) and artist Janice Vogt. I emailed Vogt about what stood out for her from the first year of FREESPACE and what she is looking forward to in year two.

freespace“What amazes me the most about FREESPACE is the community. We’re all a huge team – Kane has referred to it as family, which I like – and we support each other, appreciate each other and hold one another accountable. I never thought FREESPACE would become so tight knit. It’s a blessing!”

“We are looking forward to pushing more limits and breaking more barriers! There is so much to tackle. At the same time, we’ve been taking opportunities and learning lessons as they come, so while we have visions for the coming months, I think we will leave more than enough room for surprises,” wrote Vogt.

FREESPACE returns tonight—September 21—with Von Alexander, Ar Wesley, and Wayward. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. inside the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood.


Back in April the second annual Arte Para Todos festival took over four Milwaukee neighborhoods over a four-day weekend, bringing almost 100 music acts and artists to 24 venues. The festival began in 2015 as a way to raise awareness and resources for struggling art and music programs in Milwaukee schools.

As one of the organizers of Arte Para Todos 2016 my primary responsibility was coordinating our in-school performance series—six concerts and Q&As with local musicians just for students. We originally had an in-school lined up at Golda Meir but it fell through. Administration asked if we could reschedule for the beginning of this school year. Assistant Principal Deb Causey even put in an artist request—her former 6th grade math student Vincent Wallace-Haygood, better known as hip-hop producer/rapper Vincent VanGREAT.

Vincent VanGREAT performs at Golda Meir School.
Vincent VanGREAT performs at Golda Meir School.

In my first feature for WiG I wrote about Queen Tut and six of the best Wisconsin hip-hop releases of 2016 so far. VanGREAT’s long-awaited album UnGREATful sits squarely among the six. The SAFS Crew member’s joyful spirit and hunger for success can be heard throughout the 15-track project, which includes well-crafted live instrumentation. For his performance at Golda Meir on September 16 VanGREAT brought his drummer and keyboard player.

Before he addressed the middle and high school students VanGREAT was greeted by his former teacher backstage. It was beautiful to see a teacher embrace her former student and hear VanGREAT share his journey with the students at Golda. They responded with tons of enthusiasm. One aspiring rapper was even invited onstage to freestyle.

“That was awesome. The kids had a lot of energy. Honestly, we never had musicians come to our school and perform for us. I’m very grateful that they had me here and this auditorium is beautiful,” said VanGREAT after the performance.

Vincent VanGREAT and Eric Andre.
Vincent VanGREAT and Eric Andre.

A few days before the Golda Meir in-school performance VanGREAT was invited to appear on Eric Andre Live! Originally tapped to be a guest on the Milwaukee stop of Adult Swim’s wildly subversive and hilarious anti-talk show The Eric Andre Show, VanGREAT had a scheduling conflict and was instead added to their show in Pontiac, Michigan.

“I had a ten minute segment up there with him. He was asking all types of crazy ass questions and doing a bunch of crazy stuff. Then he started crowd surfing and I just used that time to steal the show and get the crowd turned up. It was an epic experience,” said VanGREAT.

VanGREAT will perform at Cactus Club on September 29 as part of their hip-hop showcase series “MKE Live,” and again at Cactus Club on November 11 in support of AUTOMatic’s album release show.



WiG favorite Lex Allen released a new song entitled “Keep It Movin” last week. The track is produced by Q the Sun and engineered by Daniel Holter from Wire & Vice. It has more of a deep, dance club feel than previous soul-pop offerings from Allen. The song was written as Allen was coming out of the depression he fell into following his mother’s passing. Allen says about the song, “The message is to tell people to push through any situation and see the brighter things to come, while shaking their ass happily.” Listen to it here.

Milwaukee hip-hop duo AUTOMatic recently announced they will be putting out their first full-length album in four years. Marathon will be out November 11, with a release show at Cactus Club featuring Vincent VanGREAT, El Shareef, and DJ Optimist. The first single, “Talkin Bout Love,” is out now. The track “identifies the need for more love in this world and takes time to express love for people of all walks of life.” Listen to it here.

Okay, electro-pop luminaries Sylvan Esso are not technically a Wisconsin band. The duo is based in North Carolina. However, producer Nick Sanborn is a Middleton-native who cut his teeth in beloved Milwaukee band Decibully. Not to mention, Sanborn first met singer Amelia Meath when they were sharing a bill at Cactus Club. For those reasons we will continue to hold Sylvan Esso as one of our own. Their incredible debut album remains one of the best records of the last decade. During their live performances last summer they introduced a badass new song entitled “Radio.” A year later a recorded version is out and it is fan-fucking-tastic. Listen below.


September 15 saw the release of two Milwaukee hip-hop music videos. One is for the song “We Like” from local hip-hop legends the Rusty Pelicans, off their recently released album Apartment 7, which is another one of the six best Wisconsin hip-hop projects of the year so far. The video is directed by Kelly Anderson.

The other hip-hop video released on September 15 is the first visual offering from one of Milwaukee’s most intriguing new characters, Dad. The lovable father figure crashes a Civil War reenacted for his Mammyth produced track “17th Century.” The video is directed by Dad and edited by Cellar Dweller.

Underground electronic mastermind Lorn—who relocated from Milwaukee to the woods somewhere outside Eau Claire a few years ago—released a new video for his song “Anvil,” off his 2015 album Vessel. The animated video is set in the year 2100 and fuses Japanese and Belgian comic influences, providing haunting visuals for Lorn’s visceral sound.

The video is directed by Hélène Jeudy and Antoine Caëcke (aka Geriko), with design and animation by Antoine Caëcke and Hélène Jeudy, plus character animation by Anthony Lejeune and Manddy Wyckens.


The pride of Eau Claire, Bon Iver, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on September 14 to perform the song “8 (Circle).” Watch the performance here. The song is off Bon Iver’s forthcoming third album 22, A Million, which was debuted in its entirety last month at the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival

WiG RECOMMENDED EVENTS [click hyperlinks for more info]

SEPT 21: Freespace (all ages) with Von Alexander, Ar Wesley, and Wayward at Jazz Gallery Center of the Arts.

SEPT 21: Supper Club Jazz at Company Brewing with Lesser Lakes Trio (live recording).

SEPT 21: NO/NO + Fire Retarded + The Rashida Joneses at Bremen Cafe.

14352078_10210898853177170_5166804781792231411_oSEPT 22: Milwaukee Film Festival Opening Night party featuring New Age Narcissism and Rio Turbo at the Kenilworth Building.

SEPT 22: Ruby Yacht label night featuring Scallops Hotel, Antilia Raid and s.al in the Moon Room at Landmark Lanes.

SEPT 23: Jazzmatazz 414 – Hip Hop to Bebop featuring Klassik, Mike Regal, Ar Wesley, Olen Franklin, Afton Johnson, Quinten Farr, B-Free, and Jay Anderson at Company Brewing.

SEPT 24: AM/FM pop-up night at former Hotel Foster site with amfm Magazine, Video Villains, Whips, Rusty Pelicans, a secret band, plus DJs Asher Gray, Why-B, Slim Brit.

SEPT 24: WebsterX’s Golden Gala birthday bash at secret all-ages location.

SEPT 24: Tacocat w/ Dude York + The Pukes at Cactus Club.

SEPT 25: CHVRCHES at The Riverside Theater.

SEPT 25: Count Bass D // Q the Sun // Jay Anderson at Bremen Cafe.

SEPT 29: MKE Live ft. Mike Regal, Vincent VanGREAT, 3rd Dimension, Camb Music, Cleo Fox II, Sam Rothstein, DJ Markus X.

SEPT 30: Sat. Nite Duets record release at Villa Terrace with Negative/Positive.

SEPT 30: New Boyz Club EP release at Company Brewing with Hello Death, Fox Face, and Sista Strings. (More on New Boyz Club in my upcoming feature in this issue of WiG.)

SEPT 30: Bremenhain: DEEP DARK DANCE at Bremen Cafe.

OCT 1: B-Free album release at Company Brewing with Abby Jeanne, D’Amato, Kyndal J., Klassik, and DJ Moses.