I think that it’s safe to say the city of Milwaukee is near the top of the “most underrated cities in the US for Hip-Hop” list. With a bubbling local scene there are few that have ever really made it out of the city to find success. There have been a few over the course of recent history, however, that have taken the name “Milwaukee” with them beyond city and county lines.
Speech of Arrested Development, a truly talented person, found brief commercial success in the early 90’s with his group. Coo Coo Cal jumped into national prominence for the blink of an eye with the song “My Projects” back in the early 2000’s.
With newer artists like Ray Nitti, Streetz N Young Deuces, and Prophetic getting the majority of out of town attention, there is a name that is often over looked…even by Milwaukee’s local media. That name is Stricklin.
For those of you who may not know who Stricklin is, he’s 1/4 of the group EMC (the other members being the living legend Masta Ace, Punchline, and Wordsworth…two guys you should remember from the height of Lyricist Lounge). Stricklin, who was once signed to Tommy Boy before they fell apart, has been navigating his way through the murky waters of Hip-Hop for awhile now and with some new music in the works (potentially a solo record and an EMC album) I thought that it’d be a great time to hit him up for an interview.
JC Poppe: I guess for fun, let’s kick this off in kind of a broad direction. It’s been a couple of years since The Show (EMC’s first album). What have you been up to since then? Are you working on any new solo music as well as a new EMC project, possibly?
Stricklin: Well since the EMC lp came out, I just been touring and trying to create another classic lp for M3 Hip-Hop. We are trying to build the M3 brand, so everything that comes out has to be special. And yes, the new EMC lp will definitely add to the brand!
JC: You are a guy that came well before Milwaukee or anybody else acknowledged that MKE had any talented Hip-Hop artists. Right now, the scene seems to be held in a certain light of favor around local media groups and is starting to catch on in the underground blogosphere. Being a guy who has been there and done that, do you agree with that perspective?
Strick: I think the scene is definitely getting better in Milwaukee. It’s not where it needs to be yet, but definitely an improvement. With the explosion of the Internet, Milwaukee artists are able to compete with the east coast and down south artists. The social networking sites have kinda made the playing fields a little more even. (Speaking of social media, you can hit up Stricklin on Twitter at @mrstricklinEMC)
JC: If you could sit down with a rapper from Milwaukee that you felt had a good amount of talent, what advice would you give them?
Strick: To think big! Stop trying to be a local star!! I understand the importance of gaining the support of the locals, but don’t limit yourself! I love Milwaukee, but realized I had to move around in order to really get my career to blossom.
JC: When you aren’t a Hip-Hop hero, you are a real life hero. How has working as an emergency responder affected the way you approach your career as an artist?
Strick: Hahaha. Well, being that i’m doing this interview as I sit in the firehouse, I think I have learned how to juggle the two. At times, it can be hard to focus on my music career because when i go home after a 24 hour shift, I just want to spend time with the family or rest. The last thing I want to do is go to the studio. But I realize that I am blessed to have people who actually like my music and want to hear more. So that motivates me to keep going and follow my dreams.
JC: I did my damndest to dig up information about you so that I could prepare a decent interview and i noticed that, of all places, Milwaukee media has been extremely slacking in representing you. You are an established international artist and you are a pretty accessible person (I think you responded to my email about doing an interview in like 15 minutes). Why do you think that is?
Strick: No idea! I been wondering the same thing. Can’t really explain why that is. I’m gonna just keep doing what I do and hopefully the Milwaukee media will pay attention!
JC: You’ve been able to work with some pretty fantastic rappers and producers but you mentioned in an interview for Sixshot.com that you’d like to do something similar to a Gangstarr or Foreign Exchange. What producer/musician would you have in mind to be your DJ Premier or Nicolay?
Strick: Great question! Hmmm…I would probably say Kev Brown! I love his production style and his music. And he’s a cool dude! He actually produced what might turn out to be my “leaker” single called “You’ve Got Mail.” If not Kev, then my homie M-Phazes from Australia. He produced a bunch of songs on my lp, and he produced “Little Young” for Masta Ace and Edo. G.
JC: Both you and Coo Coo Cal were signed to Tommy Boy and I tried to do a little digging but I didn’t find anything about the two of you doing any music together. Are there any Coo Coo Cal/Stricklin tracks out there somewhere? Don’t punch me one day for asking that please. Ha!
Strick: I actually did something with Coo Coo recently. It’s a joint for my old rhyme partner Kid Crab’s project. The song is called “Talkin’ Dollas.”
JC: Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Neo-Soul was a successful alternative to the Jiggy Era. In this new era, the Crunk Era, Post-Crunk Era…whatever the hell we are in, not much has come along to really represent the more creative side of Hip-Hop with commercial success. Do you think there’s a possibility for a revival of creativity or are we doomed to be trapped out for the rest of eternity?
Strick: Nah we gonna be alright. As long as we have artists like Masta Ace, like DJ Premier, like Edo. G, we will always have the realness. And those are just a few of the names. There are many more that hold it down and don’t allow the industry to dictate the type of music they make. Ace has never sold his soul. And that’s why he has gotten better with every lp! he leads by example!
JC: The writing process is different for every lyricist. What is the writing process like for you? Do you have any rituals that have to take place for the creative thoughts to hit you or are you somebody who can just turn it on and off whenever you need to?
Strick: Yeah I tend to come up with a lot of stuff while I’m driving. When I’m alone in the car with the music loud, I tend to come up with my best songs! Hahaha.
JC: Finally, you have said that Masta Ace is like the big brother that you’ve never had and acted as your mentor. Do you ever see yourself mentoring a young artist so tha they can do things the right way versus the way that everybody thinks is the right way?
Strick: Yeah man I’m willing to share my experiences with younger artists because Ace did it for me. It takes a team to make things happen in this industry. It’s rough out there without someone in your corner!
So there you have it. If you don’t have EMC’s The Show, go and get it…and follow Stricklin on Twitter at @mrstricklinEMC.
-The Digital One