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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Nov. 24, 2014

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In Music

Righteous Figureheads use hip hop to build community


Although members of the Madison hip-hop group The Figureheads have kids of their own, it was a non-related child that inspired them to focus on making music for little people.

Greg Marshall, one of two emcees for The Figureheads, worked as a therapist for Integrated Development Services in Madison. It was there he met Annie, a young girl with cognitive disabilities who struggled with getting ready for school in the morning.

Marshall drew from his musical talents -- at the time The Figureheads made music for grown ups -- and wrote and recorded a song for Annie about getting motivated in the morning. According to her mother, she listened to the song every day, and it worked. Marshall realized he was onto something.

He and his band mates, emcee Jeremy Bryan and drummer Casey Kashiemer, decided to make more hip hop music for kids, and before long had an EP and a score of gigs. They later released a 15-track album called "You Come Too," and most recently, "The Movement." Kiddo Publishing, a side project of The Figureheads, released the records.

For the past four years, The Figureheads have worked with kids in therapy environments, after-school programs and public schools. They are both a musical group and a non-profit organization determined to create community development through positive hip-hop songs and mentorship.

Although they have great success with children suffering from disabilities, The Figureheads have wooed fans from all points in the spectrum. Noggin: here come The Figureheads?!

OnMilwaukee.com: The Figureheads used to be an "adult" band, but switched. Is the music-making process different?
Jeremy Bryan: Yes. It's more focused in terms of communicating specific principals and messages in highly accessible formats. With our "grown up" music we can meander a little more lyrically and experiment with the musical production.
Also, we are still an "adult" band in that we connect with our peers and fellow artists with music directed towards them.

OMC: Do all three of you have kids?
JB: I have two sons and Greg has a daughter, but Dave was just recently married.

OMC: What do you like about gigging for kids?
JB: Doing kids' shows has really helped us to lighten up and truly enjoy the moment of engaging and interacting with our audience. It's helped us see that the collective experience together as a community is more important than strictly performing for people. It's more like we're communing with our audience and sharing a moment of excitement, wonder and hope.

OMC: So, do you hope for mainstream appeal -- like a video on Noggin, for example?
JB: Yes, but for now we mostly want to dig into the Midwest, specifically in Madison and Milwaukee, and make real change in our communities through partnerships with schools and groups. We see ourselves as a new breed of artists who focus first on community development and second on celebrity status.

OMC: How is your music different from other stuff that's out there for kids?
JB: It's really honest, and not condescending in any way, but empowering. Also, it's really high quality, not just something we threw together. We pour our hearts and artistry into it.


Talkbacks

fockel | Feb. 28, 2007 at 10:09 a.m. (report)

Way to go Jer. Any gigs coming up soon in brewtown?

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