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Milwaukee rap legend Baby Drew taps his soulful side on 'Andrew Green Blues'

Baby Drew has never seen rap as a young man's game. One of the biggest names in Milwaukee rap during the '90s and '00s, Drew rapped with the weight of age and experience even when he was still a kid, and as the decades have passed he's embraced his status as an elder statesmen. He wears his staying power as a badge of honor. Lots of rappers can say they were hot for a while. Few can say their music has been handed down across generations.

“People would play me in the car with their children,” Drew explains. “I hear a lot of people say, 'my dad used to play you. I grew up off of you' And by me steadily continuing to make music throughout their childhood, they became fans. So I was like a tradition in some homes, you know? I was like a story that was passed down.” These days he takes pride in sharing tracks with artists who weren't even born when he began rapping in the '90s.

Baby Drew | youtube.com/watch?v=-m9ESCSwCAg

History tends to remember Milwaukee's early '00s rap scene for just one name, Coo Coo Cal, the lone Milwaukee act to score a national hit. But at the time, Baby Drew was just as popular locally. He worked with the same producer that honed Cal's sound, Bigg Hank, and has collaborated frequently with Cal over the years (to this day, they save some of their best work for each other). He also found a big supporter outside the city in UGK legend Pimp C, who appeared on a few of Drew's tracks and became a friend over the years. Pimp C had at one point planned to put him in a group called the B12 Boys.

Drew had some rare support from Milwaukee's commercial rap station at the time, which helped him score a series of local club hits, including one of the biggest Milwaukee rap hits of its era: “Disco Lady,” a rowdy and randy update of the old Johnnie Taylor hit of the same name, written by Milwaukee great Harvey Scales (it was Drew's dad's favorite song).

That single earned Drew a distribution deal with Universal Records, and to this day it remains a staple at Milwaukee weddings and cookouts. “It seemed like it never got old,” Drew says of the track. “It was almost like a timeless rap song by me. The people never stopped playing it or bringing it to the dance floor, bobbing their heads whenever they heard it.”

Baby Drew | Courtesy of the artist

It was the continued affection for that song that inspired Drew to record his most recent album, “The Andrew Green Blues,” a surprising departure from Drew's usual brutalist, white-knuckled rap. As its name suggests, its Drew's spin on a blues album, recorded with stars and luminaries from the Southern soul scene including Sir Charles Jones, Karen Wolf, J-Wonn, Adrian Bagher and Milwaukee's Chris Crain.

Though it's not necessarily his comfort zone, Drew says the music spoke to him immediately. “I grew up with a lot of rhythm and blues, a lot of blues, BB King, Bobby Rush, Bobby Blue Bland and stuff like that,” he says. “It was a something I was always around because I'm originally from Chicago and my parents are actually from the South, Mississippi and Louisiana, so I was always surrounded by this sound. So when I heard this music and instruments, that reminded me that's what made me want to rap over these types of sounds.”

Drew says the bluesier backdrop let him lean more into his comic personal. “I like talking real real, you know what I'm saying,” he says. “I like being real real, like when it comes down to talking about women and sexual things. Good and bad times, I put a little humor in it … I always say, I can rap over almost anything, but when I hear actual music, that puts me in a mood to actually talk about something. Once I hear something I really like, I don't need no pen.”

For those who aren't into Drew's blues makeover, he's got another new album out called “Doctor Grind” that stays true to the the thick, bottom-heavy club rap he's better known for – after all these years, he can still make some seriously hard tracks. The two albums were recorded within a couple of months of each other, but for as different as they sound, Drew sees them as an extension of each other. To him it's all music, and at this phase of his career he's happy to rap over any style that catches his ear.

“Rap, or hip-hop or whatever you want to call it, and Southern soul, it all really comes from one another,” Drew says. “They're both the children of the blues. So why not combine the two and see what you can get? It's just like a triathlon, you know what I'm saying? Some people could run track and some people can do the hurdles and some people can do all of it.”

You can hear our complete interview with Baby Drew, where he shares his thoughts about Milwaukee's contemporary rap scene and his memories of Pimp C, below.