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RichieWitDaHitz envisions Milwaukee rap's blockbuster era on his 'Vibes' EP

RichieWitDaHitz animates parts of his beats that other producers ignore. His beats slap, yes. But they also twitch and pulse. They're driven less by a raw engine of bass and drums than by an intricate schematic of a dozen fluttering components. Listening closely to some of his beats is a bit like observing an ant farm.

Until recently, Richie was mostly known as a producer, thanks to his work with Milwaukee rap mainstays like Big Wan, Spanish Rice and Mari Boys, among countless others. But for the last year or so, he's been dropping singles as an artist, and he's more than capable behind the microphone, too. He's got a fearless wail, with shades of Lil Uzi Vert. He really goes for it.

RichieWitDaHitz |

On Christmas Eve, Richie dropped an EP called " Vibes" with fellow Milwaukee rap beatmaker Melo that showcases both sides of himself as an artist: Richie the emerging solo force, and Richie the veteran producer and backbone of the Milwaukee rap scene. It's a quick listen -- just five songs and 11 minutes -- yet it teases a distinct new vision for Milwaukee rap, pairing the city's gutteral slap with poppier, clubbier sounds. There's even a whiff of bottle service on the opener "P.T.S.D."

I'm not sure many Milwaukee rap producers could pull that off. One of the great ironies of Milwaukee's rap scene is that the more a song or artist attempts to crossover, the less successful they are. Slick doesn't sell here. The songs that reliably run up the most streams are the ones that present Milwaukee street rap at its most concentrated and uncompromised. The biggest rappers in Milwaukee right now aren't club acts. They're rappers to the core.

But Richie doesn't want to be a niche regional artist. He wants hits -- the word is right there in his name -- and so at times on "Vibes" he gambles slickness. Whether that will work out for him career-wise isn't for me to guess, but the music itself is an absolute delight. On the EP closer "4 AM," for instance, he sets loose Mari Boy Mula Mar over a beaming, almost tropically luminous beat that plays up Mula Mar's demented pop instincts. It's so, so catchy.

Of course, there's plenty of red meat for Milwaukee street rap fans here, too. The big attraction is two astoundingly good tracks with Big Wan, including one that pairs the late rapper with one of the city's other all-time-great punchline rappers: Gwapo Chapo (unsurprisingly they have great chemistry). Every unreleased Big Wan verse is a gift, and Richie has given us some great ones. Another gift: a vicious feature from 3hirtyk, one of the hardest, most consistently underrated rappers in the city. 3hirtyk sounds good over any beat, but Richie's beats always have a way of making his verses pop.

You can stream RichieWitDaHitz's "Vibes" EP below.