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Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010

Rappers KingHellBastard Get Recognized

(Though Not Always Paid)

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Much like the actual act of rapping, the business of rap music is trickier than it sometimes appears to outsiders. That’s in part why the attrition rate for rappers is even higher than that of musicians as a whole. Overzealous entrepreneurs begin rapping with unrealistic visions of easy money, but once they realize that big breaks are nearly impossible to come by, they quickly move on.

“A lot of people think they’ll be able to pay their rent and eat and pay their bills off of just hip-hop,” says DNA, one-fourth of the Milwaukee rap crew KingHellBastard. “But the truth is those people are few and far between, and at a local level it’s almost impossible to make a living from rap alone.”

DNA says that for the rappers who stick with it and keep their financial expectations in check, however, there are smaller successes to enjoy. After six years together, doors continue to open for KingHellBastard.

“Every year, we get to experience more cool things than we ever could have planned on,” DNA says. “We played to 5,000 people opening for Cypress Hill at Summerfest this year. We got some recognition from 88Nine, having been chosen for artist of the year and video of the year in their listeners’ choice awards. On Monday night, we sold 30 copies of our record to a store in Germany—I have no idea how that happened. So we never feel stagnant. There are always new cities for us to play on tour that we’ve never been to, and bigger venues around town that keep asking us to play. Just this year, after having played the Rave probably 15 times before, we were on the main stage opening for RJD2. Like probably every music fan in the city, I’ve been going to that venue for as long as I can remember, so to see your group’s name on the marquee out front is really amazing.”

This week KingHellBastard—rappers DNA, Dana Coppafeel and Clark Beez and DJ 1L—release their latest EP, Remember the Name. Showcasing the more party-friendly side of underground hip-hop, it nods to the beat-heavy ’90s output of The Native Tongues and Rawkus Records, and features production from Reason, the White Russian and LMNtlyst, all of who had worked with KingHellBastard on previous projects.

“It’s always been a comfort issue for us,” DNA says of working with familiar faces. “There’s plenty of people who can make dope beats, but not a lot of people that I want to sit in a studio with for hours and hours on end, since we like to have a good time. Nobody who has ever been in the studio with us has ever left sober. I remember when Reason came over to work with us for the first time; he came with a bottle of Crown Royal and a couple of bottles of Coke, and I thought, ‘I can work with this guy.’”

The band struck up similar camaraderie with the guest rappers featured on the EP: Brand Nubian’s Sadat X, underground icon Akrobatik and Oakland’s Raashan Ahmad, as well as Milwaukee’s Stricklin—all artists the group has met through touring or booking local shows.

“We didn’t want to make tracks with people that we just contacted through the Internet, paying them for a verse through PayPal without even sitting in the studio with them,” DNA says. “I see so many albums that play up the names of all these big guests featured on them, and I’m like, ‘Man, I know for a fact you don’t know this rapper, and that you’ve never even hung out with him.’ It’s inauthentic. We want to work with people we know. We’re not into hiring mercenaries.”

Backed by the live band Fly Neurotic (whose members also make up Fresh Cut Collective), KingHellBastard plays a release show at Mad Planet on Saturday, Aug. 21, at 9 p.m. with Raashan Ahmad. The show will also be a video shoot for the song “I Believe,” and the $10 cover will include a vinyl copy of the Remember the Name EP.