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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

UMG Forms Milwaukee Rap Coalition

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Prophetic didn't actually expect to hear back from Pharrell Williams after he ran into him at a N.E.R.D. concert last fall and attempted to pass on his new CD, but against the odds a month later Prophetic received a call from Pharrell's people and, soon after, Pharrell himself. The Neptunes hit-maker has taken an active interest in the Milwaukee rapper, staying in touch and passing on his music to potential collaborators. Prophetic is now being sent beats from producers who have worked with Asher Roth and Kanye West's protege Big Sean.

All this is potentially good news not only for Prophetic, but also his peers in the Umbrella Music Group (UMG), a collective of Milwaukee rap artists assembled with hopes of forming a record label. From its core trio of Royal Fam (Prophetic and fellow rappers Ka$h and Yo-Dot), UMG has swelled to include another trio, Misen Lync (Toine Jay, TKS and Maal Himself), the duo United Nations (rapper Meccah Maloh and producer Adlib), Tay Butler and former Black Elephant rapper Dameon Ellzey.

In a rap scene that has historically been more competitive than collaborative, the UMG roster is sharing shows and serving as each other's street team, promoting, for instance, Tay Butler's latest album for him while he's away, sidelined by service in Iraq. They also share a Web site, Umbrellasup.com, where they host their latest mix tapes, like this March's The Leak, a free download that compiled a daily track from UMG affiliates for three weeks. Though the UMG rappers are wide-ranging, the mix reveals their shared vision for smart hip-hop without the didactic grandstanding that sours so much conscious rap.

Prophetic's debut album, Mo Profit, Mo Progress, was the first release given UMG's full promotional push, and with sweeping flashes of jazz and soul and Prophetic's voracious flow, which suggests both Jay-Z's calm poise and Lupe Fiasco's wide-eyed warmth, it made quick waves in Milwaukee, where it was greeted with widespread accolades and welcome radio play. UMG is running with the album's momentum, with hopes that it opens doors for the rest of the crew.

"Right now we're pushing Prophetic, because he's hot right now and making waves outside the city," Ka$h explains. "As they say in basketball, he's the front man, so we're going to keep giving him the spotlight."

Prophetic continues the basketball analogy.

"It's like with the Lakers, where Kobe may be the one who scores 30 points a game, but if we win the championship, everybody gets the ring," he says. "A win is a win for all of us."

A scheduled write-up in The Source this summer could further increase Prophetic's profile, but by far the biggest pot on his stove is Pharrell's interest, though it presents a potential quandary for the Milwaukee rapper. Should Pharrell's connections somehow lead to a record deal-a big if, to be sure-Prophetic isn't sure he'd even be interested.

"If the talk ever came to them offering me a deal, there'd have to be something in my contract that let me continue what I'm doing with UMG, since owning a business to me is almost as important to me as making music," he says. "It's really part of who I am."

UMG plays a 10 p.m. show at the Stonefly Brewery on Friday, May 1, with Streetz & Young Deuces and Born Brothers.

For more local music coverage, visit ExpressMilwaukee.com.