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With Reason, Rapper Dana Coppafeel Modernizes His Sound

May. 2, 2011
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Thirty is the age at which rappers traditionally begin to feel disconnected from hip-hop, often either because of the call of adult responsibilities or out of disillusionment over the genre's current state. Veteran Milwaukee rapper Dana Coppafeel, however, is proving an exception to that rule. At 34, he's as engaged in hip-hop as he's ever been. His new gig as a stay-at-home dad has given him time daily to download new rap music and record his own, so he's had no trouble keeping pace with the rapid record-and-release schedule now required of independent rappers to stay visible in the Internet age. Last year he was a part of several releases, including an EP with his group KingHellBastard and his first solo album, and he's readied a tide of new material for this year.

"I'm hungry again," Coppafeel says. "I feel I haven't made the album I want to make or reached my peak yet. So I feel like I'm like a high-school junior and I've only got one more year to graduate. Do I drop out or just stop, or give it my best when I'm a year away? I want to give it my all now, because who knows how much longer I'll be doing this, and when it's all over I want to be happy with what I've done. I don't want to regret missing opportunities."

Coppafeel's latest project is an eight-song EP with local producer Reason called Know Flight Zone, a collaboration that marks a real progression for a rapper who has been defined by his reverence for golden-age hip-hop almost as much as by his feisty, adenoidal flow. On tracks like "88" and on KingHellBastard's A Tribe Called Quest homage mixtape last year, On the BLVD Of Layton, Coppafeel has celebrated the hip-hop of the past, but Reason's modern beats on Know Flight Zone place him solidly in the present.

"Reason's production is really different from what I'm used to," Coppafeel says. "For lack of a better term, his work is a little more current. I was drawn to that because people always say the same thing about my work—they always say I make this backpacker, throwback kind of rap, but I don't want to be pigeonholed. I was really drawn to Reason because he can do traditional, sample-based beats, but he freaks them with synthesizers and these big drum hits."

Coppafeel and Reason met years ago at one of the Miltown Beat Down producer battles, where Reason was a competitor. They discovered their chemistry when Reason produced some tracks for KingHellBastard, which spurred the duo's side collaboration. Their styles flatter each other, Reason says.

"Dana has a very distinct voice, and that voice really shines through on these tracks," Reason says. "His voice is on the higher end and my beats tend toward the lower ends, so they really work well together."

The duo has planned a departure from the usual emcee/DJ setup for their EP release show on Friday, May 6. For their set, Reason will be cueing beats live on an MPC machine, while Kiran Vee of Fresh Cut Collective plays drums, keyboards and other instruments. Reason notes with some reservation that the show will be his first time performing onstage ("I'm a producer, not a rapper," he says. "I'm more comfortable behind the scenes"), but Coppafeel says he's learned it's necessary to take risks.

"Hip-hop shows in general have just become a little bit boring," Coppafeel says. "In Milwaukee, it can be hard to keep people coming out to shows, so you have to keep reinventing yourself."

Dana Coppafeel and Reason share an EP release show Friday, May 6, at the Cactus Club with Fresco Clean, E.S.S.B. and Lucha Libre.


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