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Dana Coppafeel, Team Player

Mar. 10, 2010
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Dana Coppafeel estimates that he’s spent 15 years, about half his life, in the Milwaukee rap scene. He’s been one of the city’s most ubiquitous rappers for so long it’s a bit surprising that until this month he had never released a solo album, but he says he never saw the need for one.

“To be honest, I’m a team player,” Coppafeel says. “I’ve always felt more comfortable working within groups. That’s the dynamic I feel stronger in.”

Coppafeel currently does double duty in two of Milwaukee’s more visible rap groups, KingHellBastard and the House of M, but his roots in the city’s rap scene go way back to the mid-’90s, when he co-founded the city’s flagship hip-hop group The Rusty Ps, then called The Rusty Pelicans. When Coppafeel briefly lived in Madison, he started a group there, too, The Intel Agents. Even his new solo debut, Coppa’s Welfare Foods, he views as something of a group effort. It’s loaded with guest spots from Coppafeel’s band mates past and present, and was compiled with extensive input from his peers.

“The whole process of making the album was collaborative,” Coppafeel says. “I think that’s why the title Welfare Foods was fitting, because all these other people chipped in.”

Welfare Foods leans heavily on the sounds of golden-era hip-hop, particularly the smooth, easy loops that preponderated around ’94 and ’95, around the time Coppafeel was in high school and beginning to take rapping seriously.

“A lot of what draws me to that time is it was when you would really anticipate new music,” Coppafeel says. “You’d read articles and interviews about this new music, then have to wait to hear the new Nas album. Nowadays, though, you don’t have to wait to hear anything; you just log in and it’s there. That anticipation is gone.”

That isn’t to say that things were better back then. In the early days of The Rusty Pelicans, Coppafeel recalls, there wasn’t much of a support system for rap music.

“There were only one or two venues booking hip-hop, so if you wanted to perform you had to pay to play,” he says. “There weren’t any producers making beats either, so that’s why we were making out our beats. Recording was hard, too. It wasn’t like now, where all you need is a computer and a mic, and you can record at your homie’s house and hang out. You had to pay to be in the studio, so you were always watching the clock.”

Though Coppafeel sometimes describes himself like an old veteran, Welfare Foods is decidedly youthful. On record Coppafeel is a permanent adolescent, rapping in his daffy, boyish voice about matters of girls and partying. He fits right in with the 20-somethings that now dominate Milwaukee’s hip-hop scene, and he’s enjoying the scene’s recent renaissance with them, even if he doesn’t always share their conquer-the-world optimism.

“This is the first time in Milwaukee there’s been a huge uproar around hip-hop, with so many rappers really taking it seriously and a lot of hungry talent,” he says. “A lot of them talk big about putting Milwaukee on the map and how they’re going to blow and they want to seize their opportunity, but at the end of the day, I think you’re still in Milwaukee and there’s no industry here.

“If you’re making music just with hopes of making it big, then your music is going to miss the mark,” he continues. “That’s why I treat making music like playing a video game—it ain’t going to do anything for anybody except me. If you don’t have that type of mind frame, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.”

Dana Coppafeel plays a CD release show at The Highbury Pub on Saturday, March 13. The album is streaming online at danacoppafeel.bandcamp.com.


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