Milwaukee’s own MC Klassik has undoubtedly accumulated a decent amount of critical acclaim over the last few years including “Rap/Hip Hop Artist of the Year”at the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Awards, not to mention opening for the likes of Talib Kwei, Kendrick Lamar and The Cool Kids.
A Jazz Guru, Klassik has recently unveiled his latest EP dubbed “Winter” which is a perfect blend of hip-hop and soul with some gentle jazz undertones.
We chat to Klassik about the concepts for a future album, as well as the inspiration behind his latest compositions. Bree Stewart writes.
You’ve recently released your ‘Winter’ EP online. It’s been said for you these tracks represent a period of the artistic journey that is marked by “depression, isolation, and frustration,” were these songs an outlet for you emotionally more than anything?
Music has always been, and increasingly even more so over the years, a very therapeutic and enlivening experience for me. It’s always been how I’ve best articulated and expressed my inner-most thoughts and feelings; frustration, excitement, disappointment, love, loss, etc. It’s all there in every song I do. This time around I had a lot of, let’s say, challenging life experiences to draw on. Listening to it even now, fresh off of those feelings and experiences, I can hear the transformation trying to take place in my own mind through those words and compositions, the negative kinks and rusty cogs grinding themselves out of the dream machine.
What’s the inspiration behind the track ‘Andromeda’ featuring Bone Lang?
Lately I’ve been making more trips down to Chicago for shows and recording, and just networking with some of my peers who I’ve been growing with along this artistic journey. BoneLang I met through Lili K, whom I went to high school with. Me and Samy Language and Matt Bones (BoneLang), worked on some material previously for another track on the upcoming LP. The last time I was there, I just started playing through beats, dozens of them. Every time I’ve linked up with those guys, every beat I play their like, “This one is fire, let’s write to this…” Then I play another, and another. I wait for a certain reaction, an excited spark. When I played the beat for ‘Andromeda,’ their eyes lit up. We just played the beat over and over, I came up with my part for the hook, and Samy came up with the ‘constellations’ refrain, and then we all wrote and recorded our verses and the whole song that night. Lots of whisky and cigarettes and rotisserie chickens, and a hell of a lot of creative energy. The actual concept I think was more so Samy; it already had a very spacey, lush vibe, so it already lent itself to more of a love story vibe, and ‘Andromeda’ is this ancient goddess and part of the constellations who is essentially “chained to the stars,” and so it sets the tone for this appeal to an all-star, out-of-this-world kind of love/lust/affection for these ladies we speak of.
Was your first instrument your voice? Or did you begin elsewhere when you first started song writing?
My first instrument was alto sax, in fourth grade. I then taught myself piano pretty much in middle school, about the same time I started making beats. Being a producer was my introduction to hip-hop, and learning how to use my jazz teachings to make something contemporary but still soulful. The writing, and subsequent rapping and singing, came after high school. I knew I wanted to perform, so I just kept writing, kept rapping, and then recently delved deeper into really thinking of my voice as another instrument with singing. So voice, and now guitar, are really my newest muses in the broader spectrum of what I would consider my career thus far.
The Jazz undertones are evident in your work, was Jazz music your first love?
Jazz music was definitely my first love; like I said, my first instrument was alto sax. I was essentially a 50-year-old jazz cat at the age of 12. My favourite artists were Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington and John Coltrane before any Jay Z or Wu-Tang. Thanks to A Tribe Called Quest, however, which I was exposed to at a very young age even before the sax, I was able to hear the jazz connection to hip-hop, and then in turn find my own lane and path to forge. I didn’t know it then, but that really set the foundation for the sound that I would eventually work to create today; jazz and A Tribe Called Quest. And a lot of The Neptunes.
When can we expect a full length Album?
The full length, which I won’t give the title out just yet (laughs), is expected about late April, early May. It’s all connected with this Seasons series of EPs that we’re doing. Originally, the full length was titled ‘SEASONS,’ and each of these upcoming EPs featured a cut from the album, fit within a grouping of two other songs that evoked the feeling of a particular season. It was a way to connect the album with the leaks essentially, and give people a continuous pipeline of new music leading directly to the LP release. Due to some recent releases also utilising similar seasonal themes, especially Lupe’s new album, and the homies Leather Cords down in the Chi, I made the decision to abandon the ‘SEASONS’ album title to retain uniqueness. I feel really excited, more so than ever about this new album, so although the grand scheme of the seasonal EPs being tied into a ‘SEASONS’ album and seasonal theme has been foiled, I promise the caliber and creative bar set with these new compositions will cement the idea of these higher musical standards I’m striving for.
What are your thoughts on the hip-hop industry as it stands currently?
Hip-hop is as alive as it ever was. There is really something for everybody now more than ever, I think. I believe in balance and that there is a space for everything that is happening, from your super auto-tuned promethazine club/trap rap, to the introspective and more melodic Gambino’s and Chance The Rapper’s. There’s so much to offer, and what some may (and justifiably so) find to be a saturation, I see a worthy challenge. There’s something for everyone, so in a world full of endless options, true innovators and inspirations and rock stars will inevitably emerge, because it takes that much more to stand out. The funny thing is that in order to truly stand out, you need only be yourself. I like the fact that you have honest and open artists out now more than ever, succeeding on tour and touching people’s lives with true gifts. I also think that the lines of Hip-Hop are more blurred than ever, and once again, the optimist and opportunist in me sees a beautiful growth and transformation for this art for in that, and deeper tie into the American musical language. It is now a part of all other genres. We’re trying to hold on to these old constraints and restrictions as to what Hip-Hop was and is and can be, but we can’t stop it. It’s already too far reaching. As long as we keep the spirit of change and awareness of the power of our words within this language of rap, and recognise the power of all aspects of Hip-Hop culture within society today, Hip-Hop can never die. It will only grow, and we must grow and adapt with it. It is becoming more musical, and that is something we should embrace. Hip-Hop is transforming into what it always should have been: a respected and deeply culturally rooted musical art form.
Who’s a dream collaboration for you as an artist?
Pharrell Williams has always been my dream collaborator.
Absolutely, why Skateboard P?
“The Neptunes Present…Clones” compilation album they did back in 2002 was the CD that made me want to make beats to begin with.
The “Neptunes” sound was the first production style (save for Timbaland, whom I also love) that I could distinctly recognise and connect to, no matter what artist they were working with.
Through Pharrell and Chad Hugo (The Neptunes) I saw the power of the producer, and their responsibility in providing musical integrity and originality across all genres.
Pharrell is like this genius musical mastermind who’s conquered the concepts of simplicity and technicality to just make magic every time. A huge inspiration for me, and so a dream collaboration.
As always, Klassik, what stimulates your soul?
Finding a voice for my congested abstract thoughts through music, and being able to perform, basically release those emotions and passion on stage, is when I feel most alive. Passionate artists and performers, I think, have tapped into the highest form of living. I get the same feeling watching a really dynamic live performer as I do performing myself. It stirs something deep within to know that someone is making themselves vulnerable to you and a crowd of hundreds, and then actually connecting with you and creating a moment that you all share and exchange energy in. That is true magic. That is adrenaline and chemistry and alchemy, and just plain magic. If that doesn’t stir your soul, I can’t relate to you. The passion in an artist’s eyes, and their words and movement; that is food for the hungriest of souls.