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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Raze’s Hip-Hop for the Broke and Proud

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Milwaukee is filled with rappers who brag about lavish lifestyles, exotic vacations and expensive rides. Raze isn’t one of them.

On the local rapper-producer’s second album, Living in Technocolor, Raze wears his empty pockets as a badge of honor, making a stand for the average rappers who live paycheck to paycheck, taking the bus to their second job. It may not be glamorous, he reasons, but at least it’s honest.

“Sometimes in hip-hop, we get too caught up categorizing ourselves as one style of rap or another, then cats get into beef debating which type of hip-hop is real and which ones aren’t,” Raze says. “I’ve never been into that. I’m into any style of hip-hop, so long as it’s good. But the only thing I can’t get past is when cats blatantly lie. I’ve been DJing on the scene for years, and I just can’t respect a cat that I see onstage boasting about how big his rims are, when I’m seeing the same cat jump into a cab or pile eight or nine dudes into a Nissan Sentra after the show. It’s like Tupac says, ‘You don’t need to lie to kick it.’”

It was being broke, Raze explains, that inspired him to become a producer.

“I was writing a lot of songs, but I couldn’t afford to buy beats from anybody,” he recalls. “I couldn’t afford $150 or $300 every time I needed a new beat—I was sitting on like 12 notebooks full of songs, so at $150 a beat, I’d go bankrupt. So since I couldn’t afford the beats or the studio time, my uncle and I pooled our money together and bought some modest studio equipment.”

Raze started working with an eight-track sampler before upgrading to better equipment, teaching himself to use it by reading books he borrowed from the library.

“That’s the biggest advice I can give to any up-and-coming engineer or artist who can’t afford to go to school for this,” he says. “Take your ass to the library, and read any book about audio engineering you can.”

Raze is also a member of the eccentric, superhero-obsessed Milwaukee alternative-rap ensemble House of M. Living in Technocolor shares that band’s aesthetic (all boom-bap braggadocio and throwbacks to the soul-jazz of early Pharcyde and Buhloone Mindstate-era De La Soul) as well as its fierce individualism.

“House of M is a group of artistic people who don’t believe in conformity or being placed in a box,” Raze says. “And that’s what Living in Technocolor is all about, the belief that people should be happy with who they are. When people start trying to become someone else, everything becomes so vanilla and boring.

“I’ve got kids now, and these are values that I’m trying to instill in them, too,” he continues. “I’m trying to raise kids where if they think it’s cool to walk around with two different pairs of shoes, I’m going to let them, even if I personally think it’s weird.”

Living in Technocolor is available through iTunes, eMusic and Amazon.com, as well as at houseofmutants.com/living.