WebsterX gets confrontational on his meaty new album '1 of 1'
A new WebsterX album would be an event even if he didn't release so few of them. With his inimitable flow and unflinching prose, the rapper has long been one of the most creative and celebrated voices in the city's hip-hop scene. And during an era when artists are encouraged to drop as much content as possible, WebsterX has been extremely selective about the music he shares with the world. Out today, his new album “1 of 1” is just his second full-length, following his 2017 debut “ Daymares” by more than four years.
There's no mistaking that passage of time. Inspired by his struggles with depression and anxiety, “Daymares” was an extremely personal album, its primary concerns internal. “1 of 1,” in contrast, is much more concerned with the external world, because after the last four turbulent years, how could it not be?
Last summer, when the city was in the throes of protests against racial injustice, WebsterX responded by organizing a series of Black is Beautiful bike rides -- peaceful protests that, by bringing together a wide swath of the city, made the situation feel a little more hopeful. The spirit of those rides is captured in the new album's lead single “ Huffy,” where WebsterX finds small comfort in riding his bike, a simple activity that reminds him of his childhood. The woes of the world don't erase its beauty, the song reminds us.
But in many ways that single is an outlier. “1 of 1” doesn't offer false assurances that things are OK, because they are most definitely not. The album opens with fighting words on “8:08PM,” and that song is later followed by one literally titled “Fighting Words.” With its blaring guitars, that track is loud and bracing; it reminds me a little of Public Enemy – and not the group's precision-perfect '80s albums, either. It reminds me of Public Enemy's rawer '90s albums, when the music was a lot messier but the passion and convictions were no less deeply felt.
WebsterX pours his convictions all over these tracks. On “Dreadlock Baby” he assails cultural appropriation and racial double standards. “Riddle me this,” he raps, “when I Google 'dreadlocks' white people pop up on images / On the topic when I Google 'pretty' don't see black women.” And on “Nappy $,” he mocks the commodification of art: “Got some bread that I can blow / What I'm going to cop I don't know / I might just go and buy a double rainbow / I'm staring at the art and at the zeros.”
But even when these songs tackle big issues, they remain rooted in the personal. On that same track, he also notes a contradiction in how society views his very name, Sam Ahmed. “Yes, my last name's Ahmed, so they'll probably think I'm ISIS,” he raps, “but my first name is Sam, that name is totally a white kid's.”
A shared experience
Underscoring what an event the album is, WebsterX unveiled it last night with a listening party at a plant shop in Bronzeville. Radio Milwaukee Music Director Justin Barney was there and shares this report:
WebsterX started his release show getting his beard shorn off while sitting on a Huffy bike in the back room of Maranta Plant Shop. The room was dark spare candle light and an orange light from the back of the shop that shot across the smoke filled room. Maybe 100 of Milwaukee’s best dressed people were gathered in the back for the release of “1 of 1,” WebsterX’s excellent new album. The amount of detail put into making the release show a vibe is the same level of detail that he put into the new album.
“I started having an audience. Then I started writing for that audience instead of myself,” WebsterX said, before playing the penultimate song on the album. “So I stopped giving a fuck. And the whole thing became fun.”
You can stream "1 of 1" below.
Looking for more Milwauke rap coverage?
We've got you covered. This month we wrote about the new Milwaukee hip-hop compilation " Earth is Ghetto;" Milwaukee rappers Diamond Dee and Tankyie's "My Projects"-sampling new single "Going Too Far;" and Lakeyah's memorable appearance on "The Breakfast Club." We also talked to rapper Alan Ward about his new project "BOR: Basket of Raps" and wrote about the beautiful new MT Twins album "Survivor's Guilt."