These rappers are carrying the torch for Milwaukee, even from outside of the city

These rappers are carrying the torch for Milwaukee, even from outside of the city

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Every Thursday on Radio Milwaukee we — the Journal Sentinel’s Piet Levy and 88Nine’s Evan Rytlewski — talk about the music coming into Milwaukee and the music coming out of Milwaukee on Tap’d In.

This week on Tap’d In, we’re discussing a trend we’ve noticed in the Milwaukee rap scene this year: A few of the most exciting new Milwaukee rappers don’t actually live in Milwaukee right now. There have always been Milwaukee rappers who have moved away, of course, often either to pursue music in larger markets or career opportunities elsewhere. But in the past rappers rappers who moved away all but ghosted the city when they left, cutting most of their ties with the rap scene. These days it seems like Milwaukee rappers who move are a lot more likely to continue to identify as Milwaukee artists to continue carrying the torch for the city.

Here are three Milwaukee expats who have been releasing great music this year.

Lil Aaron Japan, Lakeyah and Alan Ward | Photos courtesy of the artists

Lakeyah

The most prominent example, of course, is Lakeyah, who since signing to Quality Control and moving to Atlanta has reinvented herself as a Milwaukee ambassador. On the cover of her third mixtape for the label, “My Time,” she poses in Bucks gear while hoisting a championship trophy, and for the mixtape’s first single “313-414,” she takes Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley on a tour of Milwaukee, introducing him to the city and its culture. She’s sending a powerful example to other artists: You don’t have to downplay your Milwaukee roots in order to make it big in this industry — if anything, it helps to embrace them.

Lil Aaron Japan

Lil Aaron Japan has one of the most striking flows I’ve heard in a long time, a faint murmur that makes you lean in if you want to hear anything he’s saying. And his sound is striking, too. His new EP “Who Would Ever Thought” blurs the aesthetic of his hometown Milwaukee with the syrupy thump of his new home Houston — a really unique cross between two distinct regional styles. His primary producer is his brother, who makes beats under the moniker Twan414, and he’s worked with Milwaukee director TeeGlazedIt, who filmed his music video for “Lemonade.” Aaron may not live in Milwaukee anymore, but he still considers himself an Evangelist for what’s going on in the city, he told me this summer. ā€œIā€™m very in tune with the Midwest sound; I try to put as many people on it down here as possible,ā€ he said.

Alan Ward

Regular Radio Milwaukee listeners have probably heard us spin “Picasso,” a standout from Alan Ward and his new EP “BOR: Basket of Raps,” a really entertaining hip-hop project in the lineage of spitters like MF DOOM and Earl Sweatshirt. Ward lives in Baltimore now, after losing a couple of jobs in Milwaukee during the pandemic (he’d worked for the Bucks and Summerfest, lest anybody doubt his Milwaukee bona fides). And yes, he still keeps a 414 in his bio.

Hear us talk about all those acts and more on this week’s episode of Tap’d In, which you can stream below.

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