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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Streetz and Young Deuces’ Milwaukee Pride

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Though it spotlights less prosperous neighborhoods than the Milwaukee tourism bureau undoubtedly would, Streetz and Young Deuces' "Welcome 2 Da Mil" is one of the most spirited tributes ever recorded to the city, a cavalcade of loving shout-outs to 66th, Burleigh, Capitol Drive and North Avenue. A reliable set-closer, the song doubles as Streetz and Young Deuces' mission statement.

"We rep the Midwest, we rep Milwaukee," says Young Deuces, half of the cousin-cousin rap duo. "We yell 'Milwaukee' the way rappers from New York yell 'New York.' When we're out of town, all people see are 'M' hats and Brewers logos. We make sure it's known that we're from Milwaukee."

Midwest rap in general has an image problem-the region has never branded itself as aggressively as its coastal counterparts-but the problem is particularly pronounced in Milwaukee, which is undefined nationally.

"Everybody always tells me they think our city is nothing but beer and cheese and cows and farms, but when they see us and we aren't wearing overalls, they usually go, 'Ok, we'll see what you've got," Young Deuces explains.

"A city is only as famous as the most famous person in the city. When people outside Milwaukee think of the city, the only person they know is Coo Coo Cal, because he made it all the way to BET," he continues. "But we sound nothing like Coo Coo Cal. Milwaukee music is kind of like a gumbo pot. We have so many different types of music, but people don't know that."

Ironically for a group with such hometown pride, Streetz and Young Deuces have spent much of their career networking outside the city, a necessity given the dearth of opportunities in a market where there's only one FM rap and R&B station and it's owned by Clear Channel.

Since they came to national attention in a 2006 profile in The Source, they've focused particular attention on the South, scouting producers, trading mixtape appearances with DJs and scoring the kind of radio play that's out of reach at home. In signs of how effectively they've infiltrated the region, the Lil Jon-touted Crunk Energy Drink signed them as the Midwestern face of the product, and the duo will spend this weekend in Mississippi for the Southern Entertainment Awards, where they're arguably the only actual independent act nominated for the independent group of the year honor (the rest of the competition is backed by established labels or name DJs).

The South has inevitably bled into Streetz and Young Deuce's output. The strident, hooky synths of crunk and snap music rip through "Everybody Know Me," while the single "Shawty So Strapped" follows in the more debonair tradition of Jim Jonsin-produced radio hits like "Whatever You Like" and "Lollipop." It's the type of song that would make waves on local radio, if it weren't completely impossible for any Milwaukee rap song to make waves on local radio.

"Right now we're trying to gain the attention of the labels, and they want to hear club and radio songs," Deuces explains. "So we're definitely pushing club-friendly songs right now, but we're not just a club act. When you buy our album or our mixtapes, you get more than that. We're artists. We make concept songs. We make songs with meaning."

Streetz and Young Deuces celebrate their return home from the Southern Entertainment Awards with a March 28 performance at Club Rain, which will double as the release party for their latest mixtape, Straight Drop Muzik.

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