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Monday, Nov. 22, 2010

Malicious Is Done With Milwaukee, Mostly

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Rapper T.R.E. of the Milwaukee group Malicious stresses that people can interpret the cover image of his group’s new album For Whatever It’s Worth however they’d like, though when pressed if there’s any way to interpret it aside from the obvious one, he laughs and admits, “I suppose there isn’t.” The cover shows the inside of a car driving down the highway, while in its rearview mirror the Milwaukee skyline is engulfed by flames. It’s not exactly an ambiguous image, especially coming from a group that has never been shy about voicing its criticism of the Milwaukee hip-hop scene.

“To be honest, we feel like we’ve given our all to the city, and we feel like it’s time to do something for ourselves, which means doing things outside the city,” T.R.E. says. “We’re not moving from Milwaukee, though, and we’re not breaking up, even if you might hear we are. So we’re not going to be total strangers. Will we ever do another album, though? Who knows.”

Malicious has long felt disconnected from Milwaukee’s hip-hop scene. The group—which T.R.E. began as a teenager in the mid-’90s and in its current incarnation includes fellow lyricist Kimma, producer Kid Krossova and DJ Ya Boi Pep—has seen the rap scene grow extensively, though not always to its benefit, T.R.E. says.

“Originally, there were just a few of us, and we would all get together, then branch off and rotate between shows to keep everything sustainable,” T.R.E. says. “It’s not like that anymore. Now you see the same people play three, four, even five nights a week. It’s oversaturation; the city can’t support that many shows.”

On the surface, Malicious seems in sync with Milwaukee’s hip-hop scene, with which it shares an obvious admiration for ’90s rap—the influence of Camp Lo, Brand Nubian and Gang Starr runs thick through For Whatever It’s Worth. But T.R.E. and Kimma aren’t strict traditionalists, by any means. They also touch on current sounds that can seem taboo in a scene that sometimes worships classic hip-hop to the exclusion of modern music.

“On this album we’ve got a lot of different moods: easy-listening stuff, dance stuff; you’ve got your deep-thought songs, your wild-out, crazy hip-hop songs, and even a couple R&B joints on there with the singer Elle Razberry,” T.R.E. says. “I think some people can look at that as being commercial, but I don’t think it sounds overly commercial. This is just the type of music we like to do. We don’t want to stay in just one box and say, ‘This is the only kind of music we’re going to make.’ As hip-hop has grown, we’ve grown with it.”

That philosophy puts Malicious at odds with some of the hip-hop scene. As fans of independent and underground rap age, they often reach a point where they feel that modern rap music has left them behind or lost its ideals, or simply is no longer as good as it once was. T.R.E. never hit that wall.

“I feel that hip-hop has evolved in so many ways, and not everybody is going to like all of them, but I don’t understand people who feel such hate for current rap,” he says. “If you like a certain genre of music, than that’s what you roll with, but at the same time, you shouldn’t be knocking anybody else, because that’s just their own rendition of hip-hop. It doesn’t matter if it comes off as commercial, underground, indie or whatever; if it’s universal music, there’s always going to be something to like: a beat, a melody, a groove. It’s all just music.”

Malicious releases
For Whatever It’s Worth at a 10 p.m. show at Stonefly Brewery on Saturday, Nov. 27, with KingHellBastard and The Acolytes. It will be the 22nd and final installment of the group’s long-running Drunk’N Cipher showcase series.

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