“Basement Crew” DJ Launches His Own Rap Career
As the youngest of the DJs on Jammin’ 98.3’s “Basement Crew” program, the only show on the station that plays hip-hop, Antonio Criss is always looking to update the playlist.
“We do old-school hip-hop, ’90s and ’80s,” says Criss, who DJs under the name 2 Tight Tony. “I’m always pushing for more ’90s—more Death Row.”
Lately, though, he’s also been pushing to give airplay to music he’s even more invested in: his own.
Criss has long been rapping under the moniker Immortal, opening for acts like T.I., Ludacris and Slick Rick and co-recording a rally song for the Green Bay Packers, “Bringing the Pain.” As his first album, Shook Up My World, nears completion in time for a 2008 release, Criss has begun to promote his latest single, “Real Woman,” on “The Basement Crew.”
“It’s a come-on, but it’s about real women, not B’s and H’s,” Criss says of the song. “Tupac always said that you rap for the women, because women are the ones that buy your records. Men will follow suit, but women are the target. So when I played the song and women started calling in and saying, ‘Hey, that’s hot,’ I knew I was on to something.”
Like many local rappers, Criss views rap as a competitive sport. The rewards are particularly high in Milwaukee, he argues, because unlike other major cities, Milwaukee’s rap scene never produced a signature talent. In his view, Milwaukee’s rap scene is malleable, eager to distinguish itself and crown a star. “The gate is there,” he says, “and it’s a race to be the first one out of it.”
Criss thinks he’s drawn the perfect template for Milwaukee hip-hop: relentlessly modern, with flourishes borrowed from the South, but a grounded, no-frills mentality, an emphasis on smooth hooks and an understated cordial streak. “Real Woman,” for instance, is auto-tuned to mirror the latest Lil Wayne hits, but distinguishes itself with its unexpected chivalry.
Criss also knows that Milwaukee’s playing field is tilted gently in his favor. He has access to the airwaves, while radio play is all too elusive for most rappers.
“It’s a hard city to make a name for yourself in, and nobody wants to open the door for you,” he says. “At 98.3, we try to expose local talent when we can, but at V100 [FM 100.7], they don’t support local artists. I’ve heard stories about local artists calling V100 and saying they’re from Atlanta, just to get some airplay. That’s horrible.”
In the coming weeks, Criss will be building on the interest piqued by the radio exposure of “Real Woman.” He’ll perform at the Six Degrees Club on Nov. 21, then at Quarters the following night. In December he hopes to do a “Storytellers”-styled concert, where he’ll talk about the meaning of his songs, then an official CD-release show.
In the meantime, he’s put out a mixtape, Tale of the Tape, which he’s giving away through his “Basement Crew” program. Just call the Friday and Saturday evening program at (414) 799-9830, he says, and he’ll set you up with a copy.