Over the course of 10 years, Milwaukee rapper and UWM grad Track Lacer has released three full-length CDs and a single, "Havin' That Dust," that has five new tracks, too. He's collaborated with just about everyone who's anyone in the local hip-hop world and he's made a few useful connections outside Brew City, too.
But, recently, he decided to make a jump to Atlanta, which he -- among others -- calls "the Motown of the South." While he gets settled in his personal life there, he's still working on a new CD, that he hopes to release this year.
We caught up with him via e-mail from Atlanta and asked him about the past, present and future of Track Lacer (who recently penned a blog for OnMilwaukee.com about the loss of LaLa Brown).
OMC: Bring us up to date on your career so far. When did you get started and tell us a bit about your CDs, etc.
TL: Thanks Bobby, and much love to everyone in Milwaukee reading this and beyond the city, too! I first got started with rap in 1997. A close friend of mine introduced me to someone who made beats for $20. The key to that though was, you actually got to record your whole song after you paid for the beat! So let's just say I should have been put in "rap rehab" that summer because I got hooked and recorded at least 34 songs after just trying it out the first time! My first CD came out in 1999.
I am from Capitol Drive in Milwaukee, so the title was a play on words: "Capital Drive." I just replaced the two meanings because one means "government" and the other means "money." So broken down, it symbolized that money drives everything ... but that it shouldn't be the most important thing in your life. That's why the "a" is small.
I didn't respect the kind of reaction or response to that album that it received ... but to this day, myself and my partner Phat Daddy Bu who appeared on five of the 10 tracks, always get questions about that album. Most of the influential DJs in Milwaukee such as Tony Neal, Homer Blow, Doc. B, DJ Blade, Barry Johnson and DJ Jazz still remember me from that project so I am grateful that it had the impact it did.
The follow-up CD was "Ghettocentric." After that we formed a super group with four other people called 1848 to release "forward." The current CD that is out now is "Ghettocentric II: The Chitlin' Circuit," and that one has been reviewed by national Web sites such as rapreviews.com and okayplayer.com. I never thought from self-producing my first album in my grandmother's basement, that I would ever have any national critic breaking down my music!
OMC: Tell us about the CD that's out there now.
TL: It's very unique in terms of a marketing perspective because it covers the past ("Ghettocentric II") by giving you a single from that album, "Havin That Dust." It gives you the present just on the strength of being out now and available for free. And it covers the future because in addition to the "Havin That Dust" single it offers five, full preview tracks from my upcoming solo album, "Beverly Hills 53209." I have gotten a great responses to it so far and even gave it out with thank you cards I had created for everyone who bought "Ghettocentric II."
OMC: You've had some big name collaborators haven't you? How did you hook up with them?
TL: Yes, I have been fortunate to have worked with producers Dame Grease and Midi Mafia, and the legendary emcee Chuck D of Public Enemy. All I can say as far as hooking up with national artists, is that they are always looking for something new. Keep this in mind, all aspiring artists reading this. The music game is very much a fraternity: they all know each other; a lot of the male/female artists mess around with each other relationship-wise; and most of them are familiar with each other's music.
When someone like myself who is unsigned brings something hot to the table, and has a tireless work ethic to try and be heard by the industry, it strikes a chord because I am an outsider. If you are an outsider with some hot material, "the insiders" don't always hate on your efforts. Some of them look at you as "the next big thing" and want to brag to their peers that they heard of you first.
OMC: You recently moved to Atlanta. Was that for personal reasons or for career reasons?
TL: Actually it was both. And it was at the same time the hardest thing I've ever done in my life and the easiest thing I've ever done. I don't know about you, Bobby, but I am very, very close with my family. So I am missing my mother and grandparents every day.
But at the same time, I used to attend Clark Atlanta University, and saw the positive direction the city was headed into even back then. Now that it has become the "new Motown of the south." Anyone who has an outstanding talent musically and has a killer instinct in terms of motivation, I believe can be very successful here. I'm still struggling in the regular day job aspect of funding my art here, but that will come with time and patience.
TL: Actually, yeah. And most of those I made before I officially made my physical move to the city. I connected with Orlando, Fla.'s most underrated artist in my opinion, Grandaddy Souf of SRC/Universal Records. We connected and had been discussing potential collaboration on a song, and then he actually left Florida to relocate to Atlanta. So, I am looking forward to making a great track with him this year.
I also linked with Julia Beverly of Ozone Magazine. She, likewise, has relocated her publication from Orlando to Atlanta. She expressed interest in interviewing me as an artist, and also liked my writing enough that she would like me to contribute articles in the future so I am looking forward to that. And lastly, the legendary Chuck D of Public Enemy now resides in Atlanta, so I can't wait to meet up with him again. The last time he contacted me, he e-mailed me from a laptop while on a plane trip to tour in Europe, so you already know how hectic his schedule is. I'm looking to plugging with him sometime this year though, definitely.
OMC: Tell us a bit about the hip-hop scene in Milwaukee. A lot of people say that it can be supportive but also very competitive. What's your take?
TL: I agree. I think it can be supportive in the sense that a lot of artists have taken it upon themselves to create their own showcases. Even myself and Phat Daddy Bu used to host and headline our own showcase at Quarters on Center Street. Now a younger group of emcees are doing the same thing and I'm not mad at that at all. I think what makes Milwaukee completive though, is that there are not many avenues to get your songs heard in the clubs and on the radio on a semi-regular basis.
Baby Drew, Tha D.R.E aka Dirty Mowf, Genisis, Coo-Coo Cal and Ice Mone were the only cats lately that have gotten consistent radio and/or club play. That's only five artists, so if you imagine 1,500 rappers in a city of 500,000 who are not in regular rotation, that's where the "dog-eat-dog" mentality comes from.
OMC: How can Milwaukee hip-hop have a higher profile? How can more rappers here get heard?
TL: I think more artists need to leave the city. Even if it's not like myself, with a permanent move, I think we have to get more of them to try selling their CDs in places like Iowa, Minnesota, Kentucky, Ohio or wherever they can get love. I'm not worried about the quality of the product, because Milwaukee does it on a level that I even believe is higher than many larger cities, but I am worried that we stay content to confine ourselves to the city limits and fight for that limited airplay / club rotation.
OMC: What are you up to now -- recording a new disc, doing gigs?
TL: I am just getting started on finishing the second half of recording for "Beverly Hills 53209." The guest artists I am working on getting guest spots from are J-Kwon of St. Louis, Grandaddy Souf of Orlando, Royce da 5'9" of Detroit and Mia X. of New Orleans. My goal is for "Beverly Hills 53209" to be considered the best solo album ever recorded by a Milwaukee artist.
I think "Powder" by Da Infamous Country Boy Clique is considered by some to be best group album Milwaukee has ever seen, and I want to attempt to put myself in a new category as the best solo work.
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 OnMilwaukee.com 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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.