Tag Archives: taj raiden

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.

A.D.H.D.

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.”

ON STAGE

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)

Wisconsin Sound #7

 

Tenement at Panther Arena. [PHOTO - Joe Kirschling]
Tenement at Panther Arena. [PHOTO – Joe Kirschling]
PUNK ROCK AT PANTHER ARENA

“They’re America’s greatest rock and roll band,” Joe Kirschling told me as we stood in the lobby of the UWM Panther Arena in downtown Milwaukee. The photographer and SIN BAD drummer was referring to Tenement, a cult punk band from Appleton. “I used to think I was the only one saying that, but they’ve been written about in The New York Times and Grantland.”

Indeed, Kirschling’s words weren’t mere hyperbole. And yet there we were, hanging out in the lobby of the UWM Panther Arena before a motorcycle race, waiting to see “America’s greatest rock and roll band.” It was an odd affair to be sure, with (free) music starting at 5:30 p.m. from Platinum Boys, Milwaukee’s premier power-pop party band.

Tenement at Panther Arena. [PHOTO - Joe Kirschling]
Tenement at Panther Arena. [PHOTO – Joe Kirschling]
Arena employees were seen complaining about the volume being too loud. Luckily most kids came prepared with ear muffs for the motorcycles. There wasn’t a big crowd hanging around to see the bands. Most people just walked on by. But for about 15 minutes or so that lobby got an unanticipated performance from one of the best bands in Wisconsin, if not America.

The traditional Tenement trio was joined by an endearing tambourine/vocal duo for a fiery three-song set. Frontman Amos Pitsch is a fantastic guitar player, even when tucked into what my girlfriend described as “a public bathroom.” Tenement’s brief set made us regret missing the band at Eaux Claires and Mile of Music.

Milwaukee hardcore group Midwives finished off the lobby lineup, eliciting some “rock on” hands and air drumming from the crowd making their way to the motorcycle event. Free pre-game lobby rock (or rap/folk/jazz/electronic/etc) would be more than welcome during the Admirals debut season in the Arena.

THE ECLECTIC BACK ROOM @ COLECTIVO

Siren at The Back Room @ Colectivo [PHOTO - David Szymanski]
Siren at The Back Room @ Colectivo [PHOTO – David Szymanski]
The Pabst Theater Group began revitalizing Milwaukee’s live music scene in 2002. Renowned artists who once skipped Milwaukee on tour now find themselves playing sold-out shows at The Riverside, The Pabst, and Turner Hall Ballroom. Last year the Pabst Group extended their reach by adding The Back Room at the Colectivo on Prospect to their roster of venues.

The Back Room debuted last summer and in just over a year has established itself as one of the best (albeit only) intimate all-ages venues in town for national touring acts. While it has stuck mostly to folk and acoustic-leaning indie rock acts, The Back Room has expanded its jazz programming and began featuring harder rocking bands.

Gosh Pith at The Back Room @ Colectivo [PHOTO - David Szymanski]
Gosh Pith at The Back Room @ Colectivo [PHOTO – David Szymanski]
Local bands have been added to a few Back Room shows, but on October 7, Detroit’s electro-rock duo Gosh Pith were joined by three of the finest and most eclectic local artists. The lineup was curated by Sam Ahmedbetter known as experimental hip-hop artist WebsterXand included his New Age Narcissism collaborator Siren, synth wave rockers NO/NO, and electronic artist Liquid City Motors.

While you might not think the back room of a coffeehouse can fit that many people, the capacity in The Back Room is 297. It’s a warm space with wood floors, plants, brick, and a quality sound and lighting system. The Gosh Pith show did not reach capacity, but those who made it out were attentive and engaged. It was an early start and early finish, ideal for the all-ages crowd. It was also my first time seeing Gosh Pith and they impressed with a unique blend of electronic, rock, and hip-hop.

HALLOWEEN CONCERT PREVIEW

Madison Halloween 2005. [PHOTO - Joey Grihalva]
Madison Halloween 2005. [PHOTO – Joey Grihalva]
The highlight of my one semester at UW-Madison was the chaotic, riotous, entertaining, and momentarily scary Halloween. The night did not become frightening because of some spooky holiday vibes, but because riot police eventually marched down State Street, blanketing the thoroughfare with pepper spray and making mass arrests.

After bar close State Street got out of control, with huge piles of costumes set ablaze, storefront windows being broken, and all kinds of drunken revelry. I went to visit Madison for Halloween the next year and the situation got worse. That year police used sound bombs, rubber bullets, floodlights, pepper spray and a brigade of police horses. That was 2005.

In 2006 the City of Madison decided to finally do something to curtail the violence and vandalism associated with Halloween. They began charging a small admission fee to enter State Street, which was gated and contained. Arrests were cut in half. In 2007 the city partnered with Frank Productions to bring live music to what is now called Freakfest. The event has grown into the region’s largest Halloween party and music festival, having featured headliners such as OK GO, Matt and Kim, Mac Miller, and Atmosphere. The city reported only 9 arrests in 2015, down from 334 in 2005.

Freakfest 2016.
Freakfest 2016.

The 2016 edition of Freakfest has arguably the best lineup to date, with one of hip-hop’s hottest stars headlining. Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals delivered my favorite set at the Soundset music festival this year and that was early in the afternoon. The rest of the State Street mainstage lineup includes Minneapolis dance-pop rocker Har Mar Superstar, ex-Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming’s solo project Diane Coffee, Sweet Spirit, and St. Paul and The Broken Bones.

Freakfest 2016 will also have a country stage on Gilman Street headlined by Kip Moore, plus Jon Pardi, Wheelhouse, Greta Van Fleet, and Adam Bartels Band. There will be a third stage on Frances Street featuring regional talent including Madison’s own rap phenom Trapo, Milwaukee-based/Madison-born hip-hop producer/rapper Mic Kellog, Chicago indie rockers The Kickback, Minneapolis rapper Lucien Parker, and Chicago rapper Rich Robbins.

img_7729Milwaukee will have a number of options for Halloween weekend concerts. Gloss Records is hosting a two-night Spooktacular. Friday will feature Sex Scenes, Surgeons in Heat, Rio Turbo, and Soul Low at Cactus Club. Saturday will feature Moon Rats, Piles, Soup Moat, and NO/NO at Riverwest Public House.

In 2015 Company Brewing held their first annual Nightmare on Center Street, which was a sold-out affair featuring Chicago’s Kweku Collins, Minneapolis’ MaLLy, Soul Low (in full KISS costume), Klassik, Foreign Goods, and New Age Narcissism. This year the event has expanded to include nearby Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts (all-ages), Club Timbuktu and High Dive. You can buy a $15 wristband for entry to all venues and gets you a free beer at High Dive.

There will be a wide array of musical talent at this year’s Nightmare on Center Street. Carl Nichols (guitar player for New Age Narcissism, De La Buena, Painted Caves, RAS Movement) will debut a new hardcore punk band at the Jazz Gallery that includes Bo Triplex, Taj Raiden, and Jake Diaz. Funky reggae, hip-hop influenced jam band Recalcitrant will headline Club Timbuktu, while High Dive will feature the No Stress DJs and performances by Kyndal J. and Chakara Blu.

Company Brewing will host a “Dinner and a Movie” at 7 p.m. featuring the Joshua Backes (New Boyz Club) led DIY Chamber Music ensemble accompanying the 1915 silent film Alice in Wonderland with a soundtrack written by four local composers. Beloved local psych-pop rockers The Fatty Acids will headline Company Brewing. There will be a special late night menu and drummer/dancer extraordinaire Christopher Gilbert will host a costume contest.

nightmareoncenter

NEW MUSIC FROM SEX SCENES, FIVY, AR WESLEY, CHAKARA BLU, AND ZED KENZO.

Back in the fourth installment of this column I mentioned running into Connor LaMue of Bad Wig at High Dive in Milwaukee. He told me about a new hardcore band he was in with Harrison Colby (Gloss Records, NO/NO), Zach Otto, and Chelsea Hayes. It didn’t take long for the band to release a fast and dirty demo, which you can listen to by clicking here. They hope to put out a record before the year is up.

fivyOur friends at Explain News premiered a new EP from Milwaukee songstress Fivy last week. The 5-track release is entitled “Dreamscape” and is definitely worth a listen. For more head over to Explain News.

Explain News also wrote up the new release from Milwaukee rapper AR Wesley. Check that out by clicking here.

Two Milwaukee femcees, Chakara Blu and Zed Kenzo, each put out a new track recently. Chakara’s is a woozy, bass-heavy track produced by Mr. Kou that you can listen by clicking here. In anticipation of her first project since moving back home to Milwaukee from Los Angeles, Zed Kenzo has released a single, “Scary Spice.” Listen to it by clicking here.

NEW VIDEOS FROM HEAR HERE PRESENTS

Last night Hear Here Presents celebrated one year of capturing live music performances from Wisconsin and touring musicians by doing what they do best, video recording new performances by the Rusty P’s and Klassik. In the fourth installment of this column I wrote about an experience attending a Hear Here Presents shoot in their new studio space. In the last month they’ve released four new videos from Lex Allen, King Courteen, New Boyz Club, and Chicago’s Grood. Watch them all below.