By Julie Lawrence Special to Published May 20, 2009 at 8:23 AM

Milwaukee's Antonio Criss is a man of many identities.

Even fans of his Jammin' 98.3's radio show, which airs Friday and Saturday nights from 6 to 9 p.m., might not recognize him based on name alone.

As a DJ on the Old School Basement Party show, Criss is better known as 2 Tight Tony. When he takes the stage as a hip-hop artist, he switches up his moniker to Immortal.

But for this edition on Milwaukee Talks, caught up with the man behind the music, Antonio Criss, to talk about the state of rap music, his new album "Shook up my World," and his upcoming Summerfest gig opening for Lupe Fiasco on June 29 at the Miller Lite Oasis. First of all, is it Antonio or Tony?

Antonio Criss: Tony is fine. On the radio, they call me 2 Tight Tony.

OMC: How long have you been a DJ with The Basement Crew on Jammin' 98.3?

AC: I've been on the radio for about five years. We've become the No. 1 show on the weekends.

OMC: Congratulations. What are you playing that makes it so popular?

AC: We play old-school hip-hop. Host Darryn D. owns the show and we're his support, so we can play whatever we want. We play everything -- hip-hop, old-school breaking music, my music.

OMC: By "your music," do you mean your own record?

AC: Yes. To me there's rap music, and then there's hip-hop. The style of music that I do is more in relation to life, everyday struggles, things like that. We don't really play mainstream pop rap; we play the old-school '90s-era Tupac and Notorious.

OMC: But back in the '90s that was mainstream pop rap, wasn't it?

AC: Yeah, but if you listen to (rap) now and listen to it then, you can tell the difference. I'm a realist person. Nowadays, every rapper sounds the same. Back then, it had a flavor to it, it had a difference to it. That's why I relate to my listening group, which is about 25 to 40 years old.

OMC: What do you think has contributed to that trend? Why has rap music changed so much in the last decade or so?

AC: I believe that people decided to accept that kind of music. I hate to compare it like this, but if you look at Time Warner Cable or We Energies, they are popular because there's not really anything else like it around. When all the rap artists sound the same, that's all the radio plays over and over again. Eventually, if that's all you hear, you're going to adapt to it.

OMC: You released "Shook Up My World" at then end of 2008. Who are some of your strongest influences?

AC: My rap name is Immortal, so I'm trying to create this Midwest style myself. I grew up on Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z when he first started, NAS ... If you listen to my album, I might have a song that sounds like "Brenda's Got a Baby," which was Tupac's breakthrough song. I have a song called "More to Life," which talks about rap music today because there's more to life than rims and cars and going to clubs.

OMC: Does the Midwest have a specific sound?

AC: I don't think so. We're trying to find ourselves, that's why we've got a lot of rappers that sound like they're from down South. But that "dumb-it-down" sound is getting so old. Milwaukee doesn't get recognition for hip-hop even though we have so many artists who are trying because the artists who do make it sound like down South or the rest of the hip-hop world. We need something to differentiate ourselves.

OMC: Well, you're obviously getting some proper recognition. You scored an opening slot of Lupe Fiasco at Summerfest.

AC: I did, it's crazy. But, I have opened up for T.I. and Ludacris in Minnesota. And I opened for Doug E. Fresh here in Milwaukee. For Summerfest, I get an hour and a half and I'm having a live band called Soul Session and a core DJ.

OMC: Would you consider this Summerfest show one of the biggest that you've done?

AC: This is going to be the biggest Miltown hip-hop show -- it's going to be huge. What local hip-hop artist has ever gotten to open for a major artist like Lupe on the Miller Lite Oasis stage?




Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”