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SPEAK Easy Pushes for Authenticity

Mar. 15, 2011
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As a kid, Milwaukee rapper SPEAK Easy inherited a love of hip-hop from his older brother, listening to any rap album that his brother brought home. It wasn't until he discovered Eazy-E, though, that he considered rapping himself.

"I was inspired by the way Eazy-E just captivated people," SPEAK Easy recalls. "Even though he wasn't much of a lyricist, there was this quality to his voice that you couldn't help but respond to."

So in his earliest attempts at rapping, SPEAK Easy tried to mimic that quality. He modeled his flow after Eazy-E and his other early heroes, without much success.

"At the time I was so into Rakim, who tapped into my political side, and N.W.A., which had this really aggressive edge, so I was just pretty much copying the guys I looked up to," SPEAK Easy says. "They were rapping angry, like 'F the police,' so I was trying to do that, too. There was so much machismo in hip-hop that growing up I would change my voice to rap in a deeper voice. Ironically, it wasn't until I dropped that affect and started using my real voice that people started responding to what I was doing. As I've gotten older, I've really started to value authenticity. I can no longer rap about things I don't actually do."

On his new album, So to Speak, SPEAK Easy raps about what he knows: family, fatherhood and social struggles. Some of its songs are deeply personal—he dedicates the closer "Never Be the Same" to his mother, who passed away before he was 6, and the grandmother who raised him—while others draw from his work in social services. He takes pride in that day job, so much so that he's shown up at local rap shows after work still wearing his dress shirt and tie.

"That's not me being gimmicky, that's just me being who I am," SPEAK Easy says of his office attire. "And I think that's what I bring to the local rap scene—the fact that I am genuine. There are so many rappers who take on a character, or who develop a shtick. That's not me. I always tell people that if you listen to my music, you'll actually get a feel of who I am as a person."

SPEAK Easy says that his two daughters have also shaped his music, pushing him in a more socially conscious direction.

"There's a parental advisory sticker on my album, but I want my daughters to be able to hear some of the music I make," he says. "I can't be the father of two girls and raise them to be outstanding students if I'm writing songs that are degrading to women. I have to lead by example, so there are certain songs on the album that my girls can listen to. I'm proud of that."

SPEAK Easy plays an album release show at the Cactus Club Saturday, March 19, with The Hollowz, Raze and Frankie Flowers.


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