An unorthodox interview w/ Klassik (because only we could write it this way)
88Nine Radio Milwaukee is proud to announce our partnership with the Milwaukee urban magazine CopyWrite. Founded by Lexi Brunson and Carsyn Taylor, CopyWrite takes a unique look at Milwaukee's culture, art, fashion, and music. We will be sharing their stories here on radiomilwaukee.wpengine.com. We also invite you to visit their website and read their magazines. Read their feature story on Milwaukee's Klassik below.
...there’s a lot of scary things that are going on in the world, so you can either be scared or make your own positive energy.”
He picked a small table upstairs in front of the window for us to sit at. As we made ourselves comfortable and destructive (spilling Chai all over), CopyWrite’s Carsyn Taylor noticed a woman outside, “This lady is a pro…”. As we looked at her confused, “I don’t know if she is doing a selfie or what”. Thinking she meant like a Pro-Pro (Prostitute) we asserted, that it was too early in the day for that form of behavior. But once again Klassik questioned, “Is it? Is it though?” Slipping on his spiked drink.
As the chain reaction from a random woman taking a selfie turned to the improbable act of prostitution on Brady Street at 12 o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday, we opened up our interview with a very unorthodox question:
“How do you feel about sex trafficking in Wisconsin?”
Without flinching he replied, “It’s pretty f**ked up! I actually did a workshop on it a few years back when I was doing some after school poetry classes. It was one of the first topics we touched on, so to see that it actually show up in the headlines this year; realizing how close to home that is, is kind of scary. But then again there’s a lot of scary things that are going on in the world, so you can either be scared or make your own positive energy.”
“I was just always around people who were artistically inclined.”
CW: “Do you still teach classes?”
K: “I don’t, but I would. It’s something I want to get back into.”
With the guidance of Dasha Kelly, a very skilled poet in our city, Klassik taught at a different school each semester. The contrast like night and day between each school, due to the cultural differences. Where one would want to use the time to battle rap, the other was more receptive to the thematic topics and would create performance poetry.
K: “I did some stuff with True Skool, too. The past couple years obviously...so yeah in like the long distance I see myself working with kids. It’s something that’s important to me.”
Awww, Klassik loves the kids!
Even though his creative expertise can be applied to expressive writing or poetry, he claims to be neither. (He doesn’t actually write down any of his lyrics.)
K: “...I first and foremost consider myself, uhhh this is tricky actually”, He paused. “a musician, performer or no a Performing Artist I guess would be the succinct term. Those two terms cover for the most part what I do. And how I identify as a creative.”
We would agree, Klassik is known to put on a great show, his energy as a Performing Artist and his creative execution has had his name buzzing through the scene for a while now. If you’re mentioning MKE music movement it’s hard to leave his name out. But his flame hasn’t just been kindled by an overnight spark.
K: “I was just always around people who were artistically inclined.”
He grew up around the arts and people who appreciated music. His father played the violin and some guitar before he was born. But his thing was mainly theater. He danced and sung, where his mother was a big lover of music.
K: “From her, I got Prince and Michael Jackson and all the 80’s stuff and the early 90’s...SWV. That was very current for me, with my mom playing it. It wasn’t like, ‘Ow yeah, I love 90’s R&B’. No that’s like the stuff that was playing in the house. It was Marvin Gaye, then New Edition. Then it was Parliament and then Tchaikovsky.”
By the time he was old enough to pick an instrument, Klassik had already been exposed to so much music it was hard to decide. In the 3rd grade he wanted to play the double base, but of course, that was way too big for him. He also considered the piano (which he later taught himself to play) but instead tried the saxophone to start.
K: “I picked up Sax in the 4th grade. I struggled for the first 3 weeks of it. Like I was way behind everyone else. But then it clicked. The next day I came back like ‘Hey I’m done with this book’ and then I had to take separate classes. By the next year, I was being trained by local Jazz legend, Berkley Fudge.”
Klassik had shown his gifts and skills so early in life, that people began to take notice and offered their guidance. But we wondered if anyone ever tried to steer him away from a more creative future.
CW: “Any nay sayers?”
(He paused for a minute as he looked contemplative about the question.)
K: “You know now that I think of it, I really can’t honestly recall a moment when someone heard what I was doing or saw me and didn’t recognize the passion I have…Only time I can say there were naysayers, is when I dropped out of college. And that was more about me not doing the safe thing, not about the music.”
Klassik left college because he wasn’t passionate about anything there. Music was his passion and his venture to college had side swept his dream. He suggested that you ultimately go to college to figure out a path to your purpose, or develop your skills to be useful in society. College, in turn, confronted him with the opposite. He had received a full ride to UW-Madison, where he planned to declare a major in secondary English education.
CW: “Klassik the English Teacher!?!”
K: “I’m still not against it. Just not right now.”
We tossed up the idea of him teaching Shakespeare, where again Klassik renounced his ability and use of words.
K: “It’s hard for me to just follow writing and language which is weird. But I’m such a Musician that I feel like I speak better through music, like if I’m in a messed up relationship, or something is going wrong, there have been times in the past, and I have gotten better at this, where there were things I could not say or couldn’t articulate.”
CW: “So what do you do just break out in song?”
K: “No no no, it would just be like awkward, okay this is done. There is nothing really left to be said. But then I’d go home and be like no, this is how I would say it if I could say it.”
How beautifully tragic.
CW: Give us an example of where something happened where you couldn’t find the words to say it and then it turned into a song.
He hesitated, try to come up with an “eventually all my situations turn into a song” line, then eventually left the real answer.
K: “I guess in the moment the song ‘Anything’ that I wrote. I said a lot more about this person than I would in the awkward breakup moments, even though we were not officially dating.”
He mentioned how she was a photographer (Oooo... artsy), and she wanted to take pictures by the lake. She thought they were going to hang out but since he just got out of a major relationship, he had come to a point where he found himself not ready for that type of interaction.
K: “She turned around and cried. It was like one of those things out of a movie. I went home and immediately wrote that song. Saying in a more articulate way what was going on instead of, ‘Oh I just can’t do this.”
Ouch, well at least she made it to the playlist, and probably many more.
Klassik indeed has appeal. His music has outstretched beyond the confines of the city and those who have heard and like his tunes come from many walks of life. With his talent and great entertainment skills, Klassik could have long ago banished to a major city like Cali, New York or even the nearby metropolis of Chicago, to pursue his musical career.
Klassik - Anything from Dopamine on Vimeo.
CW: “You know a lot of people run from this city (MKE), but you’re here... Why are you here?”
K: “It’s definitely very deliberately…. I do see excitement and I think of it as people being excited about everything that is going on here. I can say I have a part in that... And I just like the fact that me and artists like Webster X, that we all share the same train of thought. That we all want to stay here and cultivate this.”
He says just like the other artist from our city he had thought about leaving to Chicago where he has a network of associates and where his manager lives. He also had considered L.A. but the concept of leaving redirected Klassik in a way that should be symbolic for all that dwell in MKE.K: “I want that for here. I want other people to come here from Green Bay, or somewhere small-time Minnesota or somewhere from North Illinois to want to come here...After going down to Austin for SXSW the last couple of years... every year it intensifies and they
have a great art culture when it’s not SXSW… after seeing that going out (there) the first time that really planted the definitive seed for wanting to stay here. If they can do that…”
So can we!
Don’t get it twisted though, Klassik does note that there are some issues that need improvement on the scene confiding in us about “concert etiquette” and the mass of “passive listeners” who attend local shows. He hopes to use the “misplaced energy” to build a more in tune concert experience that will appeal to more national acts and hence support a movement and culture. The concept in itself is not far-fetched. Some seem to forget that Milwaukee is home to one of the largest music festivals in the world, Summerfest.
We also had the opportunity to talk Milwaukee musical politics. In such a divided city there is no surprise that music taste as well can be divided. So we asked Klassik to speak on his perspective of the cultural stigma that Milwaukee is known for its “Jack it down” music and not its various forms of musical expression.K: “I guess the only thing that bothers me about that is not people identifying that type of music is here, it’s the lack of that balance. We want people to know about all the things that are going on here. Because granted we are separated but what that has bred are different sub-pockets, sub-genres. But there are a lot of us that are cross-pollinating. You know there will be a public house show where there is SAFS Crew or Higher Education and North Side hood dudes and it’s weird. But it’s becoming less weird because now names are becoming more familiar
Klassik says that as a producer, (note, Klassik began producing, making beats long before he began to release his own solo music), he takes pride in working with as many different people, so these lines eventually become blurred.
Playing Devil’s advocate, we also had to counter that question with the “hipster takeover perspective.” With there being a musical influx in Milwaukee Culture some people have noted that most acts that receive recognition on a larger and more promoted scale are shown in linkage with Caucasian or alternative artist.
K: “It’s f**ked up that we have to think of it as a privilege, to be cultured…”
He marks ignorance (and not in a negative term), but simply the lack of knowledge to be the culprit of such opinions.
K: “If what you see around you, you’re content with that and you want that to be your life, your representation, that’s fine speak your truth… that’s what I tell people. You can’t live your life worrying about someone else’s truth or someone else’s lies. You can only speak yours. So to those people, we just keep doing what we are doing…Because the music we are doing is meant to be all inclusive.”
Somewhere near here we ventured into the workings of mainstream music, lyrical artists not having lyrics, shout-outs to Future, Justin Bieber getting a “Black Pass” and the social uproar that might become of a star like Kelly Clarkson if she ever said she was sipping Lean in a song. Real cultural ponders.
CW: So Klassik is this it for you?
K: “Is what it?”
CW: (Rephrase) “Are are you content with this shit? Whatever you are doing right now is this how you want to do it for the rest of your life?”
K: “No, people become so content and comfortable with their surroundings that they allow that to dictate what they received and what they are able to intake. Either consciously or subconsciously they limit themselves and then me being a perfectionist to a fault, the word content to me just sends shivers, and makes me uneasy. I’m scared of that point. I don’t ever want to be at that point.”
He notes that trying new things and being uncomfortable has gotten him to where he is today.
Even mentioned as 1 of 11, “Milwaukee Rappers”, listed in Shepherds Express cover story “The New Face of Milwaukee Rap.”
K: “They didn’t put in my full answers to this but it was a two part question. They ask what is your favorite thing about being a Milwaukee rapper and then what is your least favorite thing? For my favorite thing, I said something about being a part of something new, on the up and up and very much alive. And my answer to what my least favorite thing about being a Milwaukee rapper was still being called a Milwaukee rapper. But they didn’t put that part in the paper.”
Vocalizing how he is not just a rapper we noted how his true identity didn’t fit the needs of the article. The media censorship stamp is not shocking.
K: “Not that there’s anything wrong with being a Milwaukee rapper... I know people who rap really well. When I think of Milwaukee rappers, I think of people who rap their ass off like Blizz (Blizz McFly). Blizz was one of the reasons I started rapping in the first place or any of my homies in SAFS Crew. Like I don’t have it tatted but everyone knows that’s my people and that’s fam because they were there from the beginning. Or Adam from UW-Madison, aka Def C, who was the first person I ever spit a rhyme for. Those are people I think of as really talented MCs. So I was fortunate enough to pick up from them and learn from them. So even though I’m confident they would say I can spit that’s not my end goal. I want to make music for as many people as possible... And rap can do that but that’s not my whole truth. So why would I speak the half-truth?”
Inquisitive about his perspective on most Milwaukee media with CopyWrite being one of the closest outlets to the movement, we ask about other medias contributions to documenting the “renaissance” of the city.
CW: “How do you feel about them presenting this cultural information?”
K: “No shade at the work that has been done. We appreciate any effort to shine the light, but even with the Shepherd Express thing that was nice, but it just seems to come from a very distant outsider place. And we don’t see these people at shows like they write about us... But then when they see me, they don’t know who I am.”
We want all of our readers to recognize perspective versus fact, as Klassik hits an unspoken truth right on the head.
K: “I just want what’s happening now to not stop and I just feel like there have been moments in our cities artistic history where we had shining moments and opportunities to do so many great things, but we just do it to ourselves (stop), I’m just hoping that this is not one of those times. I don’t think it will be. It’s happening.”
As he talked about breathing life into the community you can see tattooed across his hand the markings of the Milwaukee Home brand. The permanent etchings on his microphone hand are a constant reminder that no matter where he goes there is a purpose to his journey. Milwaukee is the place. Milwaukee is the now.Klassik believes. What about you?