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Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009

Milwaukee Rapper Panic Tells His Story

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­­Josh Williams, who raps under the name Panic, knew he wanted to be a rapper when he first heard the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die. That's the official version of the story, at least-Panic concedes that the actual album might have been Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise.

"Laugh all you want, but you can't deny that album was hot back in the day," Panic says. "I was actually going to audition for a production of Annie by singing 'Gangsta's Paradise.' It's probably good that I didn't go through with it."

This week, Panic releases his first album, Product Of, the culmination of seven years of recording and a long-time drive to perform that dates back to when he was a child in a community production of Snow White. "I was in the chorus line," the Milwaukee rapper recalls. "I think I played a rat."
Product Of showcases Panic's detailed storytelling and his juiced, full-lunged flow. Though he describes the album as a "rock your car, rattle your neighborhood" hip-hop record, the jovial beats often belie his grim, autobiographical stories.

"I've got a song about a friend who was raped, and a friend who died in the streets," Panic explains. "And I've got a lot of stories about hustling."

Though he's hesitant to bring up his own brushes with the law early in the decade, he's far more open about them on the album.

"I had DUIs and I got into drugs, began selling them and eventually I was investigated for it, wiretapped and everything-it was stupid; I shouldn't have done it," he says. "In my songs, I don't glorify the hustling life, because it's really not a fun life. Well, it was fun to a certain extent, but when you're spending all your money in the bar, you've always got a headache, you've got to worry about the police all the time and you've got people parking in front of your mom's house trying to start trouble, it's a miserable way to live.

"So all I'm trying to do is tell my story," he continues. "Basically, 'this is my life, this is what I've done, and I didn't make millions of dollars from it.' I mean, the only people I know who made millions of dollars are dead. Or they're locked up forever. Or they never come outside. Either way, they're not happy."

Panic insists the record isn't all so serious, though. He points to lighter cuts like "MKE," a tribute to Milwaukee he recorded with the Rusty Ps, and "Birth Canal," a song about a part of the female anatomy rappers usually celebrate in more explicit terms. Panic says the vernacular was inspired by his mother, who is a midwife, but it's one of many songs he probably won't let her hear.

"I don't think I'll give her the whole album, I'll just download a couple of tracks for her to listen to-just the tasteful ones, nothing racy," he laughs. "She'll probably be like, 'what do you mean, your album is only two songs long?'"

Panic releases Product Of with a 9 p.m. show at Stonefly Brewery on Saturday, Aug. 15 also featuring Kid Millions, Raze, Speak Easy and Blkman.