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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

KingHellBastard Blows Off Steam

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For months, KingHellBastard rapper DNA traveled with a video camera, compiling footage for a project he intended to call This Is Spinal Rap, a documentary about the travails and indignities of being a touring hip-hop group. It's unlikely he'll ever finish the film, but the footage hasn't gone to waste. Audio from some of it made its way onto the group's new album, The War Room.

The album opens with a recording of the group cruising in DNA's car, listening to Smif-N-Wessun's "Wrektime," and alternatingly fuming over and mocking a Riverwest crew that had been bad-mouthing them. The specifics of the years-old, mostly forgotten beef are inconsequential, but the frustration behind the group's rants speaks wonders about KingHellBastard's mind-set. In these interludes the group is almost always complaining about something: shady promoters, ill-fitting openers, lousy audiences, sometimes each other. They have a lot of steam to blow off.

"The idea with this album was to let people get a more unfiltered look at how we make our music, and our thought processes," says rapper Dana Coppafeel, who's behind some of the album's most heated rants. "We spend so much time together and we're so comfortable around each other that we're like family, but when you're on the road, and you have long nights and short days, you start to nitpick. You're practically living in each other's farts, so to speak. So we vent a lot."

The War Room
follows 2010's Remember the Name, a guest-centric EP built around features from Sadat X, Akrobatik, Raashan Ahmad and Stricklin. As the group hoped, the EP broadened their audience outside of Milwaukee, earning praise from Okayplayer.com, cracking the CMJ charts, and selling surprisingly well in Germany and Japan. For The War Room, the group—which also includes rapper Shemp, DJ 1L, and producers The White Russian and Reason—dialed back the features to keep the focus on themselves. It's a much more personal album, and, as the album cover of a candle literally burning at both ends makes clear, it's the work of a group under constant pressure.

"The title of the album comes from the nickname for this room in my house where we go to hang out, plan what we're doing as a group and assess our next moves," DNA says. "It's really a place where we go to escape the pressures a lot of us are feeling between touring, our full-time jobs, and making music that lives up to a slightly heightened sense of public expectation. Honestly, life can feel like it's just one stressor after the other, so much that it can start to feel like you're getting erased almost. That's why sometimes you've got to go back to the bunker with the rest of your platoon, so to speak, and figure out what's next."

Though The War Room's sound isn't a departure for the group, which has always gravitated toward crisp, direct hip-hop in the spirit of the '90s golden era, the album's subject matter strikes a decidedly more serious tone than some of the party anthems for which the group is best known.

"Since we've been a very active live group for six or seven years, we've often written songs with an ear toward what would kill in a live setting, but I feel that now that we're a little older, and we already have a lot of those party-rocking songs in our repertoire, we have the freedom to try new things," DNA says. "This album has a lot of character sketches, some narrative songs, and some more conceptual tracks than we've done before. It was really liberating, being able to make an album that gets pretty deep and really talks about some things."

KingHellBastard plays an album release party Saturday, Jan. 28, at Mad Planet with Prophetic, SPEAK Easy, Dope Sandwich, Villa Rosa and DJ Jank One. The $10 cover includes a copy of the CD. The album is also posted for free download at www.kinghellbastard.com.
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