For six years now the hip-hop scene and the independent music culture in Milwaukee have enjoyed an event called the Miltown Beat Down, an event that is set to have its 2011 finals this Friday at Turner Hall.
The Miltown Beat Down has arguably become Milwaukee's best known and most reputable hip-hop event through the universal appeal and intrigue people have with hip-hop and electronic production. Not only do people appreciate a good beat for enjoyable things like cruising, dancing and relaxing, but marketing companies have infused the beat culture into their TV and radio ads to appeal to the inner hipster of every generation.
Hip-hop and electronic beats are the driving force behind the songs that we hear all over the various forms of media, and can be universal because there aren't any lyrics to possibly deter somebody from enjoying the sound.
It's this idea of togetherness that activated Jordan "DJ Madhatter" Lee's desire to begin the Miltown Beat Down. After growing tired of the segregation within the Milwaukee hip-hop scene and its respective sounds, Lee started the event with the hopes of remedying the situation, even it was slightly. He felt that without the lyrics, the North Side could embrace the East Side, the East Side could embrace the South Side, and vice versa.
Since its beginning, the MTBD has grown from a small club event into a much larger party. The depth of talent has continued to grow along with the showcase, so much so that last year's Miltown Beat Down winner Lex Luthor was offered a spot in Red Bull's BigTune regional in Minneapolis, Minn. The BigTune producer battle is a national event with a lot of clout.
Lee explained the progression.
"The event was originally my attempt to bridge gaps in Milwaukee's segregated hip-hop scene. But, as the event has evolved, I've seen that it's building bridges much larger than just in the city's hip-hop scene. It's building relationships in the city's music scene.
"So many producers this year, including many who you will see on Friday, would not be easily classified as hip-hop. I love that. I feel that 'beats' are driving all styles of music today. Rock, dance, hip-hop and electronic music are all using beat production. This excites me. My future goal for this event will be to expand on this idea. I want to re-define the beat battle."
A list of national hip-hop legends have also come to Milwaukee to judge the MTBD. People like Maseo of De La Soul, Questlove of The Roots and Masta Ace have all been judges. This year, organizer Jordan Lee was able to snag its most important celebrity judge yet – Young Guru – who will not only serve as a judge Friday night, but will be performing a DJ set as well.
Though Young Guru is not a name that is well known by the casual hip-hop listener, the sounds that he has crafted as Jay-Z's engineer – mixing 10 of 11 Jay-Z albums, in addition to being one of his top beat selectors – are probably something even novice hip-hop fans are familiar with.
Young Guru, who has also mixed albums for platinum and gold artists like T.I., Method Man and Ghostface Killah and helped producer 9th Wonder's profile to rise significantly after picking the "Threat" beat for Jay-Z's "The Black Album," also A&Rs for Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella/RocNation.
He's even a Grammy winner for his engineering of the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys anthem for New York City, "Empire State of Mind."
His work isn't just restricted to the engineering side of music, as he is also Jay-Z's tour DJ.
With that kind of resume, it's no wonder why Lee is so excited about having Young Guru as a guest judge this year.
"We have had a ton of great guest judges for the MTBD. Each of them were great hip-hop producers, but Young Guru is the man behind the hits of one of hip-hop's biggest stars of all time – Jay-Z. Guru is not only a DJ and a producer, but he is a clearing house of sorts for Jay-Z's beat selections. If he ain't feeling a beat, it's not likely going to become a Jay-Z track. He also is responsible for so many great producers having the opportunity to work with Jay and other Roc artists. I would not say that this will happen, but we could potentially hear some Milwaukee beats on a Jay-Z album," said Lee.
The revelation of which producers have the best beats is something that local emcees have relished for several years now, and the idea that a producer could find themselves placed on a national project is extremely lucrative. Even if it doesn't get to that level, success can still be found locally, with the prime example being producer Reason and his recent work with KingHellBastard and Dana Coppafeel.
Reason, who has been in several battles, has managed to gain popularity without ever winning the event and is viewed as one of the favorites going into this year's finals, according to Madhatter. Lee also has a couple of other favorites in the battle.
"Both 40 Mil and Reason have been finalists in this competition, but have never won. They are seasoned vets and they are both hungry. I'd watch them for sure. I'm also very excited to see what Sam Winters brings to the stage. He really surprised all of us last week, with his high energy dance tempo beats. His sound is more for Justin Timberlake than for Lil' Wayne, and I love that. I think the most threatening producer will be GoodWill. He has a lot of battle experience, but not in this event, so heads do not know who he is but his beats are dope!"
As the event has grown, so have the crowds. However, though the crowds have grown, there are still people that have never been to a beat battle and Lee wants potential patrons to understand what they're getting with their ticket purchase.
"High energy beats! This is not just a group of producers who tap around on drum machines as a hobby. This event features the area's best beat producers. On paper the event sounds like it may be boring, just two guys on stage pressing play, but it's so much more than that. It is emotion, energy and music that moves you. I also have been known to jump around a lot at this event, so at least it's funny to watch me. We will also have some of the best DJs in Milwaukee keeping the crowd moving with Kid Cut Up of the world famous *No Request Crew spinning, and his WMSE partner DJ Bizzon hosting an opening set with True Skool DJ student DJ Kiki. We will also have Young Guru spin a set of all his classic and Grammy award-winning hits!"
Always looking to add a new wrinkle to the event, the 88Nine morning radio show host also decided to give some of the top scoring "losers" a second chance.
"This year we had 'losers' in the event that scored much higher than some of the finalists. There was no way to know who would bring the heat so some nights saw tougher competition than others. With that, we saw one of the finalists enter the June 10 event with a total score of 650 points out of a possible 1,000 points. One of the competitors, who did not move on, LUXI, had a total of 827. While she lost her semi-final battle to Reason, she only lost by a few points.
"This example, and the high scores of other competitors who didn't move on, made me realize there was a need to highlight these great artists. So the four top losers – LUXI, ClassiCal, Bubba and Andy Petr – will compete as the 'opening' act of the night. This will be a quick one-hour battle, with the winner going home with a prize package from Nova Musik and MODA 3."
With all of the excitement that surrounds the Miltown Beat Down, it's hard to believe that there almost wasn't an event this year. Well over a year and a half ago Lee gave up the nightlife a DJ is used to for a day job as the morning drive-in show host on the listener-supported radio station 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, in addition to living the domestic life with a wife and kids. But, he couldn't stay away.
"The public brought me back. I tried to leave the event at year five. I felt that was a nice note to end on. But, the city and the hip-hop scene here demanded that the event come back. Producers like Heavywait and White Russian were trying to sign up before I even announced dates. The masses came to me and said, 'Bring this event back!' So, I did. It feels right, and this has been our most successful year to date."
Doors to the event open at 6 p.m. and the lineup for the Wild Card round, which begins at promptly at 7 p.m., is:
Andy Petr vs. Bubba
LUXI vs. ClassiCal
The first round of the finals is slated to begin at 9 p.m. and the schedule is as follows:
GoodWill vs. Audio Pilot
Sam Winters vs. Champ
TradeMark vs. 40 MIL
Reason vs. White Russian
Young Guru will spin a set filled with his "greatest hits" starting at 11 p.m.
Born in Milwaukee and raised in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer, Concordia University Wisconsin alumnus Poppe has spent the majority of his life in or around the city and county of Milwaukee.
As an advocate of Milwaukee's hip-hop community Poppe began popular local music blog Milwaukee UP in March 2010. Check out the archived entries here.
Though heavy on the hip-hop, Poppe writes about other genres of music and occasionally about food, culture or sports, and is always ready to show his pride in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.