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Milwaukee's Shontrail trades hip-hop for guitars on 'Drive Slow'

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Several years ago, I talked to Shontrail Scott, a then-20-year-old Milwaukee rapper who had just released quite possibly the cheapest EP I've ever enjoyed. It was called "Blue Boy," and he recorded it on a phone. It wasn't even an iPhone -- all he had was an old Samsung with a cracked screen. Previously, Shontrail told me, he'd been recording on a friend's MacBook, but his friend was getting sick of letting him borrow it ("it was causing issues, so he took it back," he said). Hence the phone recordings.

You'll have to take my word that "Blue Boy" was surprisingly good, since it's no longer online to stream. There was something effective about the raw, no-fidelity sound of the project, which matched the blunt emotions of Shontrail's lyrics. At the time he was inspired by moody emo rap and artists like XXXTentacion, a sound I don't particularly love and an artist I definitely don't love, but Shontrail made the muse work for him. There was a purity to the music. He wasn't hiding anything.

Shontrail | shontrail.com

"Blue Boy" eventually disappeared from streaming services, and I went several years without hearing from Shontrail. I just assumed he'd move on. And in a sense he has. This month, he reached out to me and let me know what he was readying on a new project, one very different from the brooding rap that spoke to him in his late teens and early 20s. "I’m a whole new artist since the last time we spoke," he told me.

This week his dropped his reintroduction single, a rock track called "Drive Slow," which largely leaves hip-hop behind in favor of hazy, buzzy indie rock with pop-punk shadings -- sort of a cross between KennyHoopla and Bartees Strange. It's a catchy, hooky little thing, softer around the edges than the bitingly angsty rap of his first project, but it shares a similar intimacy and vulnerability. The backdrop may be different, but he's still putting himself out there.

You can stream "Drive Slow" below ahead of his new EP "Silver Star," which will be out March 21.

Here's a trailer for the EP.