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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dana Coppafeel and SPEAK Easy, Milwaukee’s Hip-Hop Odd Couple

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You’d be hard pressed to find a pair of local rappers more mismatched than Dana Coppafeel and SPEAK Easy. The living embodiment of an early Beastie Boys single, Coppafeel is one of the Milwaukee rap scene’s great misfits, a shit-talking goofball who raps for the sheer fun of rapping. SPEAK Easy, on the other hand, prides himself as a thinking man’s rapper. He rhymes about responsibilities—to himself, to his daughter, to hip-hop as a whole—and doesn’t shy from important themes and social issues. He’s so unabashedly serious, in fact, that he’s been known to arrive at his shows straight from work, still wearing his office shirt and tie. It’s not that much of a stretch to imagine these two rappers in the same room together—it is a small rap scene, after all—but it’s hard to picture them talking to each other.

And indeed, for years their relationship (to the extent that it could even be called that) was cordial yet distant. The two occasionally crossed paths at shows, and even appeared on a few of the same records, but they never forged much of a connection. It was Dima Pochtarev, head of the Milwaukee label Uni-Fi Records, who suggested the two try recording a project together, perhaps to each other’s surprise, they were both into the idea. For all their stylistic differences, the two share a similar work ethic, and a similar commitment to hip-hop at a time when many of the Milwaukee rap acts they’d come up with in the 2000s were throwing in the towel. As two of the last rappers standing on Uni-Fi’s once-crowded roster, it made a certain kind of sense for them to team up. “SPEAK’s a hard worker,” Coppafeel explains. “I was familiar with the work he’d done by himself, and I thought that it’d be cool to concentrate efforts with somebody who is on the same path as me, and had the same drive.”

The two bring out the best in each other. In Coppafeel, SPEAK Easy has an excuse to indulge his playful side. And in SPEAK Easy, Coppafeel has found the sparring partner he’s been looking for since his road-warrior rap group KingHellBastard quietly disbanded some time ago. By his own admission, Coppafeel works best in collaboration with others, which is why he’s spent so much time bouncing between groups like KingHellBastard and House of M; he was also a founding member of the earliest incarnation of The Rusty P’s.

On the eve of their first release together, Uni-Fi Records Presents…Dana Coppafeel and SPEAK Easy, the two are feeling pretty damn good about their new partnership. “For this effort, we both agreed to not limit ourselves to a specific process,” SPEAK Easy says. “We went with whatever moved us. We’d start a song with a sample, then add ideas to it until suddenly we’d have three producers on one song. We just wanted to keep pushing ourselves.”

The duo has been encouraged by the early response to some of the songs they’ve teased from the EP, including opener “This Is Us,” which RollingStone.com premiered as its song of the day. There’s a sense between them that this could be the most high profile project they’ve ever been a part of, which is doubly encouraging since they went into it with so few expectations. “For me, I accomplished everything I wanted to as an artist with my first album, so at this point it’s all a bonus,” SPEAK Easy says. “I have nothing to lose making music at this point.”

Coppafeel echoes those sentiments. “Everything that’s happening right now is just a plus,” he says. “When everything you’ve wanted to achieve is already done, everything else is just a bonus. We’re just happy to see all that work we’ve put in pay off. For me, it’s like a ‘I’m glad I stuck around to watch the credits’ sort of thing.”

Dana Coppafeel and SPEAK Easy play an EP release show at 10 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, at Mad Planet with Da Ricanstruckta, Streetz-n-Young Deuces, Klassik and Mammyth.