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Stream the final mixtape from the late, great Milwaukee rapper Big Wan

big wan

Some losses are too big to process all at once. Milwaukee's rap scene is still grieving the death of Big Wan, the fast-rising rapper who was murdered in November. He was just 19 years old -- his life, like his rap career, was only just beginning. Yet in his two brief years on the city's radar, his influence was enormous. In a scene where the biggest names run up huge numbers by staying hyper-focused on the present, Big Wan dared to sound like the future. He was the kind of artist that could have transformed the entire city, if he'd had the time.

Wan had a flow like nobody else's: dry, impervious, scathingly funny. That droll disposition sometimes disguised how intricate and technical his rhymes were. Listening to him rap was like watching a renaissance master paint with one hand while scrolling through their text messages with another. It was rare to hear a lyricist this unimpressed by their own greatness.

This week Wan's collaborators released his final mixtape, "Dog Slayers, Vol. 3," to commemorate what would have been his 20th birthday. The tape is his best project yet, further confirmation that Wan's greatest work was still ahead of him.

Even more than its predecessors, this one matches Wan's tricky wordplay with production that's just as forward-looking, with trope-defying beats from RichieWitDaHitz, Melo and Huncho PunchDatShitIn. Those are some of Milwaukee's defining rap producers, the city's A-team, and yet their best collaborations with Wan somehow still sound like nothing else coming out of Milwaukee. Just listen to the surrealist, elevated slap of the Richie/Huncho co-production "Window Shopper":

That beat is absolutely four-dimensional. And Wan was so good at this. Few rappers were this consistently precise, this consistently different.

In the days after Wan's death, his peers and fans memorialized him with a slogan: "Long Live Wan." It's a sweet sentiment, an affirmation of his lasting imprint on the city. Wan's legacy, ultimately, was raising the bar. Even in death he retains his ability to inspire.

You can stream "Dog Slayers, Vol. 3" below.