Pharaoh Mac Goes It Alone, For Now At Least
Milwaukee rapper Pharaoh Mac has followed a simple plan for
growing his audience: Make popular music. That approach may sound intuitive,
but it’s kind of remarkable how few rappers follow it. For all the local
rappers longing to make their mark inside the city and beyond, surprisingly few
do so by patterning their music after rap’s most marketable, mass-appeal
incarnations—think Top 40 radio, not rap radio—and that’s left a wide opening
for Pharaoh Mac, whose inclusive, feel-good singles have received regular
rotation on Radio Milwaukee.
Until now Pharaoh Mac has released most of his output as half of the rapper/producer duo Pharaoh Mac and DMT, but for his latest album he branches out on his own. Uppin’ On 11 was recorded during a period when DMT was living in California, leaving Pharaoh Mac to work with a rotating cast of local producers, including scene staples like Mike Regal, CAMEone and Lex Luther, who lend a little bit of grit to the rapper’s polished sound.
“I was actually pretty excited; we had a whole different process for this one,” Pharaoh Mac says of the album. “I think there’s shock value in hearing all those different producers. I was freed to do something completely different from my previous albums, so I wanted this one to be a little more mainstream and radio-friendly, something upbeat that you’d hear and want to play over and over again.”
The album also features production from DMT on its bookending tracks, “John Cage” and “Eye Am.” With DMT back in Milwaukee, Pharaoh Mac says it’s probably only a matter of time until he starts performing with his old collaborator again.
In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether local radio will take to his new record the way it did to his last one, but history is in his favor. Radio Milwaukee spun several singles from the Pharaoh Mac and DMT album SYMBOLS, and program director Jordan Lee cited “Drift,” the album’s collaboration with the band Greatest Lakes, as one of his favorite tracks of 2015, likening it to “DJ Shadow, Jay-Z and the Fleet Foxes making a song together.”
Despite that warm reception, and several positive write-ups from the local press, Pharaoh Mac says he still feels like an outsider in the local rap scene. “I feel out of place a lot of times,” he says. “It seems like in Milwaukee, it’s all about the cool crowd. Everybody in this city is all about their cliques and they like it to stay that way. It’s there comfort zone. Being that I’m not originally from Milwaukee, I don’t have that in the city.
“It’s funny,” he continues, “because in some ways I’m finding a lot of success, getting played on Radio Milwaukee and even V100.7, but it’s happening without the support from other artists in the city. I feel like the things in my career that are supposed to be the hardest, like finding radio play, are happening the easiest, but it’s the other stuff that’s difficult.”
Even if Pharaoh Mac doesn’t crack the rap scene’s inner circle, though, he says he’s OK with that. “I feel as though I’m bringing something new, something vibrant for the city to listen to,” he says. “It’s a much needed switch up from what’s out there.”