Milwaukee Hip-Hop Round-Up: Bliss & Alice, Renz Young, Zed Kenzo, Emaad

Also: Dee Phresh, AWillThaGreat and SNYD

Jan. 3, 2017
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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 recent singles, mixtapes, videos and odds and ends for our periodic Milwaukee Hip-Hop Round-Up.

Bliss & Alice – Mama Tried

It’s been two years since the oddly monikered Milwaukee rapper Bliss & Alice quietly released Poetry Volume One – The Shit Talker Tape, a stunning display of impressionist beat poetry that established him, alongside Milo, as one of the most individualistic lyricists of the local hip-hop scene. Hearing such concentrated raw talent, it was hard not to get excited about Bliss’s prospects—even in a city this flushed with talent, rappers this good don’t come around often. He seemed like a safe bet for national attention, at least from some of the niche hip-hop blogs that have lately grown fascinated by Milwaukee’s ascendant rap scene, but to judge by his long awaited sophomore project Mama Tried, Bliss doesn’t harbor anything resembling careerist intentions. This is not the work of an artist trying to crossover. If anything, it’s even bleaker and more muted than The Shit Talker Tape, with even more chilling depictions of addiction, loss and isolation. It’s the work of an artist in retreat; he rhymes in a defeated rasp that seems to convey a reluctance to even make these thoughts public, but despite the understated feel, his wordplay remains as dense and unrelenting as ever. If it takes him another two years to drop a third project, so be it, because this is an album that demands some time to unpack.

Renz Young – It Was Nice Knowing You

Along with his frequent collaborator D. Bridge, Renz Young is one of the great hidden treasures of the Milwaukee rap scene, one of those acts that doesn’t garner too much press but reliably surprises you away with just how good their output is. His latest full length project draws all the right takeaways from the Chicago rap scene just to our south, drawing equally from Chance The Rapper’s uptempo soul pop and G Herbo’s grimy street rap. Like so many of the best rappers right now, he’s hard to pigeonhole. Renz has been consistently good for a few years now, but this is the fiercest, most memorable project he’s released yet.

Zed Kenzo – “Cygne Noir”

Every month Zed Kenzo seems to hone in a little more tightly on a witchy horror vibe that’s unlike anything else in the Milwaukee rap scene right now. It’s been a thrill charting her evolution through the various songs she posts to her Soundcloud page—she’s now reached that elite strata of local rap where every single track she drops feels like a significant event. Her latest, which once again teams her with producer Nedarb Nagrom, is as exhilaratingly gloomy as ever. Zed doesn’t try to overwhelm you with fire power on “Cygne Noir.” Instead she approaches like the apparition from It Follows, in a steady but unrelenting gait that suggests even if you outrun her, you can’t escape her spell.

Emaad – “Maad Man”

Though he runs in the same CCM collective as IshDARR, Emaad’s cold hip-hop often treads into far darker territory than IshDARR’s more affable spin on party rap. His latest track plays like a sinister flip of something Wiz Khalifa might write.

Dee Phresh – “Alive”

On his latest track, Dee Phresh mines the same syrupy, late-night vibe that’s driven so many recent Drake and Future projects. He puts a decidedly personal spin on the sound, though. He stacks his latest track “Alive” tall with tiny autobiographical details and hyper-specific local references. Lots of acts are running with this sound right now, but Dee Phresh brings real personality to the table.

SNYD – 80z Soul

Late last decade, Streetz-n-Young Deuces positioned themselves as Milwaukee’s foremost crunk enthusiasts at a time when there wasn’t all that much appetite for crunk here. As a result they seemed to gain more traction in the south than they did at home, where they always seemed a little disconnected from the greater hip-hop scene. Released quite a while ago although I’m just discovering it this week, their 80z Soul EP is an interesting change of pace from the duo, which now goes by the streamlined moniker SNYD. Instead of trying to keep pace with the changing sounds of Atlanta, they’ve gone a more traditionalist route, celebrating the more soulful side of late ’90s/early-’00s East Coast rap. Apparently there was some money behind the project, because it received online plugs from Raekwon and Joel Ortiz, both of whom are as good of references as any for the project. Like almost everything these guys do, it’s extremely spirited and just a little bit out of step with current trends.

AWillThaGreat – “On My Own”

Here’s a feel good one to end on. AWillThaGreat teams with producer Hits By Jude and R&B crooner Camb for this marble-smooth slab of soul. It’s the first single from the rapper’s upcoming EP Do It Yourself, which he’s looking to release next month, and the beat offers a bit of welcome sunshine during these dog days of winter.


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