Beyond the Lyrics of Milwaukee Artists
He’s been there for hours now. Just over five minutes ago, the clock struck 6 PM, and he’s still at it. He’s standing in the booth with his pen and pad in hand, preparing to go over the track just once more. “I gotta get this right,” he repeats to himself before recording the track.
“It’s never right the first time,” he says.
He positions himself in front of the USB mic so that as his words came out, they’d be caught by the reflection filters to result in the best sound. In the small recording room, it’s just him and his lyrics.
Outside the booth is a medium-sized room where the sound engineer and producer are sitting. The room, dim-lit and cozy, is filled with all sorts of recording equipment. The workstation consists of the desktop computer, speakers and a large mixer. The walls are covered in bass traps and acoustic panels. This is where the hits are made.
Big Bank Booda, 28, a native of Milwaukee, is prepared and knows exactly what he wants to say and how he wants to sound through his music.
“When I’m recording in the studio, all I really think about is the response I’ll receive from the song,” he said.
From the streets to the studio, Booda set out to make a name for himself as a rap artist from Milwaukee. A few years ago, he decided to pursue his passion of music with the hopes of using his gift to generate enough money to make an honest living. However, Booda’s dreams were put on hold once he was jailed for three years after illegally possessing a firearm in 2012. In jail, he began to write his feelings in the form of music. After being released just a few months ago, he picked up where left off and began recording the songs he had written behind bars.
Booda said his life experiences inspired him to do music. At the age of 15, he learned that it took to hustle and make money on the streets by “trapping” and living the street life which he reflects in his music.
“I rap about what every other guy raps about: money, drugs, women, etc.,” he said. “But I word it differently, and I talk about my truth. I don’t rap like others; I just sound like me.”
Booda’s first mixtape, “Microwave Muzik” was put out in 2016. Often times, his relatives and friends are shocked by his music because they never knew he had the talent, he said. His first performance was at Don’s Jazz Café on Fond du Lac and Cypress, a local café where the owner was recently murdered by his employee and found in the basement of the building. Booda has since developed a huge social media following, gaining over 6,000 views on YouTube on one of his most well-known songs “Grindin Hard.”
Milwaukee has received much negative attention and publicity for its largest most recent riot following the police involved shooting of Sylville Smith. In addition, many residents have also followed the news of the shootings of Jay Anderson, Dontre Hamilton and Jermaine Claybrooks. A docu-video has also been released on the area: 53206, focusing on the high incarceration and poverty rates.
Due to the pessimism being perpetuated in news media, the underground yet thriving hip-hop music scene has gone unnoticed. However, several local artists have set out to use their voices and music talent to diminish the negative stigma being attached to the city. Some are even using their struggles with extreme poverty, incarceration and violence as scenes for their music.
Chico Manolo, 27, is another upcoming artist from the north side of Milwaukee who has opened for several well-known Hip-Hop artists such as DoughBoyz Cashout, Machine Gun Kelly and Tech N9ne.
Manolo has seen his friend get shot, experienced gang violence and lost his child in 2013. He’s even gone without food and lived in a home with no lights for two month; yet, he calls himself “blessed” and reveals his worst experiences in his music.
“I’m probably one of the most personal artists of all time,” he said. “I talk about everything from how much money I have in my pocket to how I feel in current situations.”
Manolo began promoting his music by posting videos and songs on social media, then a year later, promoting himself on the streets.
“When people hear my music, I want them to get the feeling that they know me; I want them to love me,” he said. “I want them to feel like I’m their cousin, feel confident and good about themselves, gain knowledge and convey talent.”
Manolo said that the scene for upcoming artists in Milwaukee is finally picking up with constant promoting not only locally but in other places as well. However, no matter the progress, Manolo still remembers when “a girl’s [jealous] boyfriend” threw out one of his CDs after the boyfriend witnessed the girl listening to his music.
In addition, Manolo said that after going on I Discover Stars, his lyrics with references to government aid, gangs and violence were misconstrued and put under public scrutiny by others who didn’t fully understand his message. “I’ve gotten bashed a lot, and I’ll be bashed again, but that comes with the territory.”
Though he has received some negative feedback via social media, Manolo said that he has received even more support as his music career and fan base is steadily rising.
Over the years, Manolo has performed over 100 shows around the Midwest, with his performance at Chicago’s Hard Rock Café in 2013 being one that he is most proud of.
Manolo said he was a finalist (top 11) in the Regional Hard Rock Rising Tour which landed him the performance. “I was the only black person to perform, and I was the only Hip-Hop artist,” he said. Manolo said that the overall experience and response he received confirmed that music is what he’s destined to do.
After gaining over 1200 followers on his Facebook fan page and receiving much recognition for his music, Manolo aspires to become “successful with millions of fans” in the next five to 10 years.
Similarly, Booda said that his ultimate goal is to be a successful artist as well. However, he fears not generating enough profit to keep the music going.
“Right now in Milwaukee, it’s hard,” Booda said. “If you’re not rapping a certain way or saying the same things that other artists are saying, you’re really not going to get much play.”
Artist Munch Lauren, 25, may be showing that there’s room for Milwaukee rap artists in the rap game after all. Munch Lauren grew up in a music-loving family and began music at the age of 11; he recorded his first song at 15.
“At first, it was just something I liked to do,” he said. Since then, it’s turned into a career. He’s opened for well-known rap artists like Rae Sremmurd and Young Dolph and performed in Chicago and Indianapolis.
Like Booda and Manolo, Munch Lauren is also a personal lyricist who writes about the things he’s witnessed and gone through. He’s been arrested multiple times for things like disorderly conduct and the illegal possession of a firearm. He has also been shot at which has encouraged him to stay away from the streets and turn to his music. However, Munch Lauren said that he sees the struggles of other aspiring performers.
“I think it’s a lot of young people grinding, but I think they need more knowledge and guidance like I had,” he said. “But I had to learn the hard way.”
Munch Lauren believes some Milwaukeeans fear supporting certain upcoming artists due to ego and competition. But, Munch Lauren is confident that his rap style of “glazing” – the combination of his lyrics with a commercial sound – sets him apart from others. He has received over two million views on YouTube and over 23,000 followers on Facebook.
Above everything else, Munch Lauren said that he just wants people to enjoy his music; therefore, he makes a lot of club hits. While one of his most popular songs “The Blue” was created for fun and entertainment, his most recent hit “Big Money” was actually dedicated to a close friend and supporter who was killed in a car crash. The friend called him Big Money Munch.
In early 2016, Munch Lauren’s first song, “I Be Stunting” was played on radio for about a month on V100.7. Following that, “Big Money” was broadcasted on the same station.
Driving one day with his girlfriend and daughter, Munch Lauren heard himself on the radio for the first time.
“I felt like I had finally accomplished something.”
(The photos used are courtesy of each artist.)