Milwaukee Hip-Hop Round-Up: Genesis Renji, El-Shareef, Zed Kenzo, Nate Brady, Von Alexander, IshDARR

Also: new music from Renz Young, Lean Beatz, Kane, First Class Music and Job Jetson

Oct. 4, 2016
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Milwaukee's rap scene has been in overdrive for the last couple of years, but we do our best to keep up with it. Once again we've rounded up our favorite singles, mixtapes, videos and odds and ends from the last few weeks for our periodic Milwaukee Hip-Hop Round-Up.

Genesis Renji – I Might Be Home EP


Like Black Hippy rappers Kendrick Lamar and Isaiah Rashad, Milwaukee’s Genesis Renji makes music that takes a while to sink in. Where some of contemporary rappers can go into the studio and crank out several tracks in a day, Renji’s latest EP I Might Be Home is clearly the world of a guy who took his time. It’s jazzy, profound, poetic and, above all, dense—a veritable Jenga tower of social and political commentary and personal reflections on home and identity. And like so much of the best rap of the Internet era, it seems to make up its own rules as it goes along. These eight songs are constantly expanding and contracting, clearing room for outside voices and perspectives then abruptly returning to Renji’s internal monologue. This is an EP worth savoring.



El-Shareef – Uniform Souls


One of Milwaukee’s slyest, most chameleon-esque rappers, El-Shareef is at work on his debut album, with eyes on a January release. In the meantime, he’s teased a tantalizing lead single, the Derelle Rideout produced “Uniform Souls,” a sunny dose of electro-soul with shades of early Jungle Brothers. And now’s as good a time as any to plug El-Shareef’s latest EP, this summer's Ninety-Three Expedition, another set of bright, personable hip-hop that is very much worth your time. You can stream it at his Soundcloud page.



Zed Kenzo – “Scary Spice”


Few Milwaukee rappers are more overdue for an album than Zed Kenzo, a once somewhat mysterious recording presence who with each new release has revealed herself to be wilder, more surprising performer than we ever could have expected. Her recent tracks have been completely gonzo and utterly thrilling, and her latest track “Scary Spice” continues to run with that witchy, Missy-Elliott-by-way-of-Kool-Keith vibe. “Pull out my tourniquet / I finna get turned on,” she spits, in one of at least a half a dozen lines worthy of the Gravediggaz. This one gets bonus points because it's perfectly timed for Halloween, too.



Nate Brady – “Isolated”


By all accounts, rappers have so thoroughly run the ’90s New York sound into the ground by now that there shouldn’t be any life left in it. And yet every now and then a rapper comes around who does the whole street-stalking, Timbs and hoodie thing so well that it sounds nearly as fresh as it did the first time around. Case in point: Nate Brady, a Milwaukee rapper whose Soundcloud page features a handful of tantalizing tracks that sound like lost relics from the 36 Chambers. They’re all pretty impressive, but the best of them is “Isolated,” a cold-as-fuck head-nodder that imagines if the last 20 years of hip-hop had played out very, very differently.



Von Alexander – Hard To Tell


Vonny Del Fresco is now Von Alexander. The name is new, but his standard of craftsmanship remains as high as ever. His latest single “Hard To Tell” is another impeccably tight number with a hook that slowly but surely works its way into your brain. It’s also a showcase for just how much character Von’s voice has taken on over just the last year or two. He now raps in a wizened rasp, the voice of a guy who’s experienced some things.



Renz Young – “Proud of Me”


Positive rap is one of the more difficult styles to pull off—the line between “inspiring” and “tacky” is almost impossibly thin. But Renz Young capably walks it on his latest single “Proud of Me.” Like so much of the most successful happy rap of the last decade, the track has a whiff of Chicago to it, nodding to Kanye’s soulful early output and his masterful work on Common’s Be (just check out that outro).



Lean Beatz - #FreeCheapskate EP


It’s a safe bet that many of the artists in this round-up have smoked their share of weed. But it’s hard to imagine any of them smoking more than Lean Beatz, the Milwaukee producer/rapper whose new EP #FreeCheapskate is about as blazed as you can get. It’s as if after discovering that his hero Gucci Mane had gone sober, Lean Beatz vowed to smoke extra hard to make up the deficit. “Low key smoking dope with this bitch that do the most,” he boasts, “Feel like Trap God Gucci, get this weed from cross the coast!”



Kane – “Arizona (ft. Lean)”


Speaking of Lean Beatz, he produced and guested on the latest single from Kane, a teenager rapper who sounds far older than his 17-years-old on this Future-esque head trip. The song is called “Arizona” but the sound is pure Atlanta.



First Class Music – Peace to the Gods


Accompanied by producer New Kid Beats, rappers Skyy Phreshh and Scottie Phresh cover a whole lot of stylistic ground on their debut as First Class Music. Peace to the Gods touches on Houston screw, Migos-style triplets, Rae Sremmurd-esque party rap and Souls of Mischief-era throwbacks. This is an album for people who love rap in all of its many forms.



Job Jetson – “New Wave (ft. Pizzle)”


I’ve said it before about a Job Jetson track, and I’ll say it again: Damn, that’s smooth.



IshDARR – “Locals,” “Mucho Mango” and “Bad Four You”


And finally, we’ll end where so many of these round-ups have ended before: with new music from IshDARR. The fast-rising rapper has a new project due later this week, Broken Hearts & Bankrolls, and in the run-up he’s been releasing new tracks at a good clip, most of which run with the vaguely EDM-esque college party-rap style he’s been trafficking in for the last year or so. Audiences are hungry for this stuff. Two of these tracks, “Locals” and “Mucho Mango” have already cracked 65,000 streams on Soundcloud.





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