By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 26, 2004 at 5:30 AM

{image1}If you think Milwaukee isn't bumpin' with hip-hop, then you're just not looking around. For example, Black Elephant, a trio that released its first CD to critical and fan acclaim in summer 2002, has been thriving.

After "Hiatus" came out, ironically, the group -- which comprises Dameon Ellzey, Verbal (aka Valentino) and Element C. Everest -- did anything but take time off. Instead the rapper opened for De La Soul and Jurassic 5 in a year that saw them performing nearly 100 shows, at universities across the Midwest and at the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta. The disc ultimately went on to sell nearly 4,000 copies; quite a feat for a record without major label distribution.

Now, two years on, Black Elephant is ready to unleash its second disc, "Eat This Album," with 17 tracks packed full of intelligent lyrics and hard-hitting beats. We talked to the trio to find out what's going on in the world of Black Elephant and Milwaukee hip-hop.

OMC: Does Milwaukee have a good hip-hop scene?

Verbal: I believe we do. Although the amount of venues appears to be getting smaller, we have a number of talented artists who all bring something to it. Also, I've notice more and more Milwaukee artist collaborating on projects and performances. As a fan, you'll definitely receive what you put into the hip-hop scene. You just have to look for it.

Dameon: To me Milwaukee has a great hip-hop scene, it may not be as prominent as it is in other cities but it's definitely crackin. The only negative thing about Milwaukee hip-hop is we find ourselves imitating what we see and hear from other places because we don't recognize the greatness we have within our own city limits. We think if it comes from New York, L.A., Chicago etc. that it must be better than what we're doing, not that joints and sounds that come from these areas aren't hot. But from what I've seen and heard from going around doing shows in other spots Milwaukee definitely has some heat and we just have to respect ourselves, respect the music, and build upon what we have. And what we have is a lot of talent.

OMC: Does it get support here from radio, clubs, media and fans?

Verbal: No, the radio appears to be somewhat reluctant in supporting local artists. However, this is not to place the blame completely on DJ's and personalities. I do understand that for the most part they have a play list in which they are required to stick to. I also understand that diverting from this play list has helped further the careers of many artists in other cities. The fans can be impatient at times but overall wonderful. We have received a ton of support from the media and club outlets.

OMC: Tell us about recording the disc. You've got a lot of guests on it; it must have been fun to make.

Element: Oh it was wonderful; we have a lot of talented artist from Milwaukee and Chicago. We recorded 30 songs for this project, so we were in a zone and it wasn't work for us "if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life."

Dameon: Hey we don't have any guests on the CD, they're all family and friends. You know how you have friends that come over to your house so much they can tell you where the remote is! That's the way I feel about all the people on the CD. As we went along we would let them hear stuff or they probably were sitting right there as we recorded it giving us feedback. And that goes from the musicians to the emcee's to the singers. So no guest just fam. Just fam baby.

OMC: Who are some of your musical inspirations?

Element: Zap Mama, Queens of the Stone Age, La Esparanza, The Roots, Marvin Gaye, David Ruffin, Prince, Sade, Stevie Wonder, Tupac Shakur, Jimi Hendrix. Our inspirations are so diverse; we could be here all day.

OMC: Did the first record do well in Milwaukee? How about outside Milwaukee?

Dameon: Yes and yes. We sold some joints on line in Germany. One time this young lady in Madison came to our show and told us the first time she heard us was in Spain. Now this doesn't mean we're super international or nothing. It just means that's fan base out there that's checking for us.

Verbal: The first album did really well in Milwaukee. The only problem was it took a second to catch on. I mean, the album had been out for about six months before certain radio personalities heard it and went bananas. In contrast, with this album we're trying to make sure that it's promoted more heavily and that people have access to it. What good is a hidden gem!

OMC: What are your hopes for "Eat This Album"?

Element: To be extremely successful not just here, but world wide we want to bring our music to people who haven't had to opportunity to hear it.

OMC: What's next for Black Elephant?

Verbal: "The world Chico, and everything in it" (Al Pacino from the movie "Scarface.")

The Black Elephant Web site is

Black Elephant celebrates the release of "Eat This Album" with three performances (all at 9 p.m.): Tuesday, July 27, at Bean Head Café, 1835 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive; Friday, July 30, at Riverwest Commons, 815 E. Locust St.; and Saturday, July 31, at Onopa Brewing, 701 E. Center St.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.