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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

East Meets North

Prophetic Bridges Milwaukee’s Disparate Hip-Hop Scenes

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  Like just about everything in the city, Milwaukee’s hip-hop scenes are divided by racial and geographical boundaries. Populated largely by college students and graduates, the East Side’s hip-hop scene favors conscious and alternative rap, lionizes Talib Kweli and heralds the ’90s as rap’s golden age. Milwaukee’s grittier North Side scene, on the other hand, is more in the moment, drawn toward contemporary club rap, much of it fashioned after hits from the South. Separated by just a few miles, these two scenes exist with little overlap.

  One of the rare rappers with a foot in both scenes is Prophetic, a North Sider who also gigs on the East Side. Without pandering to either demographic, his upcoming album, Mo Profit, Mo Progress, holds appeal to East Side backpackers and North Side trappers alike. The disc is mostly low-key, dominated by skittering jazz and lush, blunted soul samples—many of them from Milwaukee producers like Haz Solo, who lends his Madlib-like touch—but it’s broken up by a handful of drum-clapping, Mot-popping club cuts.

  “My strength is in being comfortable with myself,” Prophetic explains. “I’m a laid-back guy, and I’m really influenced by jazz rhythms, but that’s not all I do. I also like to do up-tempo club beats, too, because that’s also part of who I am.

  “I feel like a lot of people in Milwaukee cut themselves off, when they need to broaden their style,” he continues. “I understand that it’s cool to make music just for yourself, but if you’re trying to make music your profession, and not just a hobby, then you need to listen to the radio, no matter how much you might hate it. That’s your competition. Right now the South is a musical hotbed, and you can’t just ignore that.”

  Lyrically, Prophetic stakes out a middle ground, succumbing neither to conscious-rap finger waving nor thug-rap exploitation. He plays neutral observer, nonchalantly noting the tenor of the streets but never editorializing—often, he’s too lost in his own thoughts to get too worked up about the action around him.

  “I don’t want to come off like I’m promoting violence, but that’s just the environment I live in,” Prophetic explains. “My stories and my point of view stems from my life on the North Side. I have one song, ‘Driftin,’ where I’m talking about a situation where one of my close friends got into it with somebody in the neighborhood, and it led to a shooting and cops visiting the house. Really, that’s pretty normal on the North Side.”

  Along with rappers Kash and Yo-Dot, Prophetic is one of the core artists on Royal Fam Records, a collective that’s slowly been making a name for itself over the past year through regular live shows and mixtape releases.

  “People compare Royal Fam to—and I’m too modest to ever say this myself—to Roc-A-Fella Records, because we make conscious music with a little more of an urban, street vibe to it,” Prophetic says. “I’ve heard somebody compare us to Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel, but I think we remind them of Roc-A-Fella because of the camaraderie. The people that I play with are my friends; we’re hanging out together outside of making music. I think people will feel that bond listening to us.”

  With Mo Profit, Mo Progress’ upcoming July release, Royal Fam has kept a full live schedule. In addition to appearances in Chicago—where they’re increasing their efforts—the Royal Fam artists will perform a July 5 show at Stonefly Brewery, and host a June 26 Stonefly show spotlighting Royal Fam affiliate artists, including Pacino, Ecko, Ill B and Jon F. James.

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