There are many things you can say about Milwaukee Hip-Hop, one of them being the MKE scene lacks leadership. There are some artists of the previous generation that blazed some trails through their trials and tribulations that have been closed off to sharing tips and tricks of the trade with the younger generation. One of the few artists open to sharing experiences is D. Ellzey, former member of Black Elephant.
Ellzey has been hard at work for the past few years helping younger artists cultivate their sound and ability, transforming them into people automatically better off due to the fact that they have somebody who has been there and done that.
Associated with Umbrella Music Group, Ellzey is preparing for the release of his new album, graduation from college, and shows, shows, shows.
D. Ellzey is a name that has been around Milwaukee Hip-Hop for a while, but we haven’t heard it as much recently. What have you been up to?
Anybody who knows me knows I value the perception of Milwaukee hip hop. What has always driven me is the need to show the rest of the country and the world that there is talent in Milwaukee. I’ve always wanted to show that it just wasn’t Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Dahmer in Milwaukee. I have always wanted to show, like I said earlier, that there are indeed talented individuals that live, work, and play in this city I love. That fire to prove has been a driving force for all my past endeavors and for the last few years it has been driving me in a new direction, but with the same goal. In order to ensure that the next generation was able to go further than Black Elephant, I, or any other group or artist has ever gone, I formed Bronzeville studio with Adlib. Together we went about trying to provide a place for good music to be produced at a low cost which would free up resources for the artist to do, or get done, all of the other necessities that can often at times go unattended to because the resources just aren’t there for them. All of the new heavy hitters have taken advantage of what was offered by the Bronzeville studio at some point over the last 3 years. During my time out of the light I’ve worked closely with the stud Prophetic, I executive produced the classic Mo Profit Mo Progress, his critically acclaimed debut. I’ve worked with Tay Butler, Misen Lync, Kash, Yo-Dot, Bandanna, Sose, the lil cousin Haz Solo. We’ve had the A Team, SNYD, the Emp crew, and TCS all utilize the Bronzeville studio just to name a few. Most of them call me coach or big bro because when they would come in the studio to record I would purposely get into philosophical conversations about hip hop with them. The goal was to increase their thought and to make them realize that they had to put thought and effort into their art. As they all succeed and moved on to bigger and better things, and get write ups in the paper and in blogs such as yours, I smile knowing I helped in a small way the transition of the next generation get to that next level faster. So, my time has been spent being a mentor. All I’ve ever asked from any of them that I’ve worked with is that when the time comes for them to do the same that they do it without any expectation of strings being attached. Do it for the city.
You are a seasoned performer and have done shows with a band as well as with a DJ. Do you approach a show differently based on who is backing you that night?
The preparation is equal for both. I prepare the same for both. Practice is key. The difference arises on stage. I understand and respect the fact that the DJ and MC tandem is without a doubt the unchallenged backbone of hip hop in its purest form. With that being said I personally prefer rocking with the band. To me there is nothing like the energy you get from having a live band backing you up. I have a musical background so the discipline and mastery of an instrument it takes to make that said instrument do your bidding is astonishing to me. I’m always left in awe by the band when they get open. The band I frequently use, Cigarette Break, is comprised of some of the most talented dudes in this city by far. The guitar player Alex Julien, who is featured heavily on my new project, used to sit in our room while on tour and play his guitar in the dark. That’s not odd but what is, is that the electric guitar was absent of an amp so he would get his ear close to the strings so he could hear all the notes. So, I have to be prepared when I hit that stage or else the crowd won’t remember me, they’ll remember how Ace went fool on that guitar solo. So I like the challenge and freedom provided by a band. With a DJ there is less freedom. So with a DJ you have to make sure you know where everything goes before hand, the same holds true for a band, but with a band you may find while on stage the crowd is really feeling a particular groove so you milk it. The DJ of course can spin it back but a band can add to it or take away, change the groove just a little bit but enough to freak the crowd. So to answer your question which I probably haven’t yet is I prepare the same with both. Attention to detail is the key but I prefer the band. Now when you have the band and the DJ? Now that’s some unforgettable shit live!!
The generation of Milwaukee artists that came before this new front of Hip-Hoppers really helped to establish a bar for what it’d take to be quality. You’re part of that generation so the scene now is really your legacy, among others like the P’s. What do you think of the new class?
I touched on this a little bit in the response I gave to your first question. I personally think this new generation is on track to be the generation that takes the city scene global. What I mean by that is they will be the generation that brings the focus of the world to Milwaukee. They understand as a whole the importance of professionalism. When I speak with any of them on what it takes to get audiences outside this city to notice them, I always start with professionalism. I owe that reliance or belief in the power of professionalism to Geraud Blanks. As the manager of BE (Black Elephant) he stressed professionalism. We practiced our stage show every week like clockwork. We practiced interviews. We worked on carrying ourselves as good reps for the city when we toured. By doing that we were almost guaranteed that we would hit that city again. Whether it was 5 or 5005 we hit the stage ready. That’s professionalism. So I tell the next generation make sure you respect yourself as well as the scene you represent in all that you do. The only issue I have with the next generation is the same issue I had with my generation which is the lack of an adult mind state at times. As professional as they can be, that youth still shows its head sometimes. Men, carry yourselves like a man and women carry yourselves like a woman. You’re grown, you may have kids, you may have a job, have fun, but be on your shit when the time calls. All those little beefs are cool because it spurs competition which forces people to excel but honestly we are all starving artist so there’s only so much beefing you can do. I also make sure those of the next generation that I work with respect every fan because that fan may know 100 people, and that fan will tell 100 people how you were either an ass or cool as hell when they met you. So you can have 100 more fans or 100 people who hate your guts but have never met you. You decide. Milwaukee has always had talent but that talent lacked the professionalism it takes to get to the top. Talent without professionalism is a waste of a blessing. This generation may be the first to get that across the board so that’s a good sign of things to come.
I’ve gone from being in a group to being a solo artist for the first time in my career. That’s a big shift. The crutches are gone, I stand or fall now because of what I do or don’t do. I think that has come across on this project. As far as other rappers on the CD it’s just the lil cousin Haz Solo. A man stands on his own two so that’s what I did on this one. That plays into the theme of “A Shift in The Wind” which is a man rapping like a man. I wanted to make it ok for truth to be present in the music again. Rappers have become characterizations, exaggerations, of themselves editing their images leaving the realest parts of themselves as debris on the cutting room floor…leaving donut rappers who are as sweet as they are hollow. With this project you get all of me, the good, the bad, the ugly. I analyze the world by analyzing myself first. The listener will assuredly feel as if they know me at the conclusion of song 11 entitled “The Huxtables”. I talk about the trials and tribulations of a man, from fatherhood to paying bills to dealing with women, it’s the same issues we all deal with just from my point of view. I’ve got a lot of singing on the CD. One of the singers, named Swaylo, is from Chicago and has worked with Stevie Wonder so it was an honor to have her sing and write for my project. The man John Frost laced me with some vocals as well. You’ll find a lot of live instrumentation mixed with high energy lyrics on this project. It’s backed by production from s7nlee who did most of the Black Elephant stuff, Reason, and Eddie Cayce. I wanted to keep the feel of the project cohesive so the producers all had to fit what it was that I was trying to do. So I sat and held long conversations with all of them to try to explain my end goal with this CD, so we could be on the same page. Adlib was working on the classic Wade Wilson project at the same time that I was working on this, so he’s the most glaring omission. The project as a whole though is different, different feel, different sounds, different style, different voices, but I think different may be coming back in style a little bit.
If rap and poetry were outlawed today, what would you do to exercise the creative side of your brain?
I would play the piano. I played until the 6th grade but being cool became more important so I stopped. I wish I hadn’t though. Hindsight is 20/20.
Do you still have the same excitement for the musical process as you did when you started out or is it more exciting now?
I started out doing talent shows when I was around 14. Me and my homies @Jrold and T had a group called GI which stood for Ghetto Intellect. LOL corny. But man, that was so long ago. I remember making beats doing the pause tape action, and actually recording to them by putting the tape recorder close to the speaker and then I would rap over the beat and record it all at once. We would pass the tapes out at school and cats would actually like that shit so that was the ultimate level of excitement. The first time I went to a real studio I couldn’t sleep the night before like it was Christmas. Nothing compares to the first time you realize people actually enjoy listening to you rap. Now I more appreciate it. Every time I hit the stage it’s appreciated. I still get nervous, I still get the butterflies right before I go on stage, and I’m still excited to a certain degree because somebody in that audience is seeing and/or hearing me for the first time and I don’t want to disappoint them.
Recently, Def Harmonic got back together and did a gig. Is there any chance of seeing a Black Elephant reunion show or has that ship completely sailed?
That ship is still in the dock homie. I think it may happen. If I had my way it would. Time heals all wounds. Give it some more time we’ll see. But if not we went out on top like Jordan. The 1st and 2nd time he retired not the old, could barely get off the ground Jordan that retired from the Wizards. We walked off that Summerfest stage and went our separate ways. The band is very successful. Verbal High is a Professor at UWM. Element is still doing her thing. Maybe when the stars align properly we’ll hit the stage again. Who knows? But, what I do know is this, if it did happen BE would be a problem. That’s a fact. We had 3 people who loved music deeply and a manager and band that loved it just as much, plus a whole team of cats who worked hard for us. We fought like brothers and sisters sometimes, but we always came home. One day we’ll all come home.
You as a member of your former group were given the great honor of making it into The Source’s “Unsigned Hype” section. Over the 2000’s the majority of Hip-Hop writing has transferred to the blogosphere. Magazines can’t seem to keep up with blogs that are able to update you by the second if need be, rather than by the month or quarter. How do you feel about the “hustle” going digital?
I’m all for the “hustle” going digital. By going digital it has taken the control out of the hands of the corporate giants and returned it to the finger tips of the people. The consumer now can determine once again what’s hot and what’s not instead of something being forced down our throats because the corporate monster has decided something or someone is the new greatest blip on the radar. Here’s a little known fact. Do you know what prominent political figure has an ownership stake in Clear Channel? Mitt Romney. His holding company Bain Capital owned Clear Channel. The right wing Republican and his corporation Bain Capital is dictating to us what we should listen to and think is hot. The digital age has provided for blogs like yours to showcase artists that before would have to fight tooth and nail to get exposure. We made it to The Source after years of touring and a million submissions, but blogs like yours kept us a float. The future of hip hop is digital. That’s why I’m going straight to download cards for this project. Not many people still buy physical CDs anymore. They download most of the music they listen too. So I’m going with the cards.
You are graduating on the 16th, the day after your album release/ graduation party at Stonefly. Are you excited for that few seconds in which you can walk across the stage? It does’t seem quite right, does it? A few seconds in exchange for a few years. What is your degree in and what are you planning to do with it?
Man I am ecstatic about graduating finally!! It’s been a long haul bro. I read the interview you did with Maal and you asked him, I’m paraphrasing here, basically you asked him why don’t rappers and entertainers with higher education under their belt speak on it. The reality is most of these rappers and entertainers do have some form of extended education. Most of these dubbed down rappers are very intelligent and have made a conscious decision to wear the mask of the buffoon in order to obtain economic success. I don’t fault them at all. They’re using their best skill to get them what they feel they need to survive. I couldn’t do it though. I love hip hop too much to pimp her. I guess I’m a sucka for love.
D. Ellzey is celebrating the release of his new album at Stonefly Brewery on May 15th. Here’s the flier for it and an mp3 of a track from the record, “Old Records” featuring Haz Solo, can be found at the bottom.
“Old Records” featuring Haz Solo