Hip-hop / rap artist Melissa Czarnik started her music career by freestyling at parties with other local rappers where she became deeply inspired to write and, eventually, to perform and record a CD.
"I started taking rhymes seriously at 18, but it took years before I actually recorded an album," says Czarnik, 25.
Last summer, Czarnik released her first CD, "Strawberry Cadillac," on Hyperdrive Motivator Productions. Czarnik, founded the label with Eric Mire.
Mire also produced and recorded the 17-song album, which features a variety of musical guests including Maurice Cotton of Cotton Gin Music Productions, songstress Robin Pluer and Robert Figueroa from the salsa band Nabori.
A couple of months prior to the release of "Strawberry Cadillac," Czarnik booked shows in public venues -- as opposed to house parties -- for the first time.
Czarnik’s smooth voice and smart rhymes bump "Strawberry Cadillac" to the top shelf. Highpoints include the heartfelt track "February" which backflashes on her relationship with her deceased brother, the bongo- and conga-filled "Garden of Eaten" and the upbeat "If You Gotta System."
Milwaukeeans will appreciate the local shout-outs to Riverwest, Northridge, the Third Ward, the Milwaukee police, Lincoln Creek and more.
Recently, OnMilwaukee.com tracked down Czarnik and talked to her about her music and life.
OnMilwaukee.com: How would you describe your music?
Melissa Czarnik: I would describe my music as feel good hip-hop with a twist of poetry and a squirt of soul. I write my lyrics based off of what I feel, what I think and the human interactions I have.
My producer and the musicians I work with are all part of the Eric Mire Band and they have this jazzy, soul, gospel, folk, classical music thing going on. They are all a very talented eclectic group so I think that makes my music pretty diverse, in itself.
OMC: What about this album makes you the most proud?
MC: I am most proud that I stayed true to myself the whole album and that I didn't make decisions based on commercialization. Eric, my producer, was really good about leading us in the direction that was unique and innovative. Together we made sure that we made music we wanted to make, not music we thought people wanted to hear.
OMC: You lived in a few different Milwaukee neighborhoods, right?
MC: I've been living in Riverwest for about six years now, but I got to give a shout out to the North Side, Capitol Court and Mid Town, Congress Streets -- where it's at! Love you, mom and dad!
OMC: Who are your music mentors?
MC: I'm inspired the most by women artists like Lauryn Hill, Ani Difranco, Mary J. Blige. And pretty much any artist keeping it real in their music. I'm also inspired by emcees like 2Pac, Nas, Talib Kweli and Outkast.
OMC: Is music your career or do you have a "day job?"
MC: I am the marketing director at Woodland Pattern Book Center, a non-profit literary arts center here in Milwaukee. We bring in some of the best poets contemporary literature has to offer. Not only do I get to read their work, hear them read, but I also get to take workshops by them. It's a great place to work and also be a poet / emcee, which is what I consider myself.
OMC: Any upcoming gigs?
MC: Yeah, I'll be playing at Stonefly on Saturday, May 9 for the release of the Eric Mire Band's new CD, "Spooky Love." It's gonna be a serious party. Other acts are A.P.R.I.M.E, a dope Milwaukee emcee, Sarah Fierek a funky pop singer, Selector Max & Katari are hosting and then of course the Eric Mire Band will close it out.
OMC: Is Milwaukee a good fit for your music?
MC: I definitely think Milwaukee is a great fit for my music, because it's the city that raised me. It's who I am, it's what I write. If anyone is going to relate to my music, it's going to be the people of Milwaukee.
However, I get people saying to me all the time, "you'd be great in Minneapolis, or Austin would eat you up, or you'd blow up out of Chicago." I don't know what to think of that. I want to blow up out of Milwaukee.
So, my goal is to try to create as much attention on Milwaukee in order to bring some eyes here to see what we got going on. I want people to say to artists in Austin, "They'd eat you up in Milwaukee."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.