When the tough music market that is Milwaukee is sleeping on the talent that lies within its borders, that talent must go beyond the borders of Milwaukee County to find his or her acceptance in hopes that some national acclaim will trigger some local love.
This is the theory that rapper and singer Gerald Walker has applied to his young and blossoming career.
Walker, who is somewhat new to the scene, is like many in that he's had trouble making much noise in Milwaukee. However, nationally he's not been having those same types of issues, as his music has been featured on some of hip-hop's biggest websites, been on MTV and has attracted attention from the popular record label, Grand Hustle.
Walker's style is similar to the style that a lot of younger artists are using now - what artists like Drake and J. Cole are notable for bringing back to the table - a style that grows upon what legendary group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony birthed nearly 20 years ago. The style in question flows between rapping and singing, or presenting the raps in a sing-song fashion, focusing on key and even abrupt punch lines that are less about being poetic and metaphoric as they are about allowing the listener to connect the dots between the lyrics.
Walker has a new project that's been released today, in collaboration with DJBooth.net, called "The Other Half Of Letting Go" – which is available for free download here - and he recently released a song from the project called "Please Shut The F*ck Up" that calls for his critics to silence themselves, but it took a certain famous hip-hop film to spark the idea for the song.
"You remember the movie "8 Mile" at the end of the battle he went up against the dude and Eminem basically had that dynamic third battle where he was spelling out everything that somebody could actually say about him? Well, basically, all the scenes like that thought just popped into my head. That song ["Please Shut The F*ck Up"] basically represents everything that I've always heard over and over from detractors, naysayers, friends and all those. There's just nothing else that I've never heard."
Though he's heard from some people in a negative way about his music, the praise has far outweighed the snark. The crowning nod Walker has received could possibly be the interest from T.I. and B.o.B.'s record label Grand Hustle, an Atlanta-based label with a handful of platinum and gold records.
"I put out this EP with Cardo called "On Your Side" and basically the response was so dope that through networking, Jason Geter - the CEO of Grand Hustle - J.G. had at one point hit up Cardo to be on a mixtape for his newly created clothing company. So as they were talking, he was like, 'Yo, I got this kid named Gerald Walker, he's from Milwaukee, man he's cold you gotta listen to him.' So, Jason Geter said he would listen to me and we spoke on the phone a couple times and we just basically built up the relationship.
"Cardo had approached Jason Geter like, 'Yo man, I know you mess with Gerald, we would love your input on the project and we want you to be an executive producer of the mixtape.' Jason Geter was just like, 'I'm with it, I support him, I'm down. We can put the Grand Hustle logo on there, we can definitely get you my input and I will basically oversee his whole project, whatever y'all need, I'll basically take care of it."
A co-sign of that significance is something that every artist seems to be chasing after whether they admit it or not, but Walker still had reservations about allowing the leg work he and his crew put in and then having the perception that any success the mixtape has was due to solely to Grand Hustle. So, Walker took stock of his situation in order to make a difficult decision.
"We started thinking, like, Grand Hustle is cool, but it wasn't like they were really, really, extending all their resources because they have so many other artists to support. So we had come to the conclusion that you know, we have Diamond Supply backing the project, we have XXL Magazine backing it, and from that to Grand Hustle we've done all this ourselves. Wasn't no one else helping us. I feel like by putting Grand Hustle on my mixtape it definitely unlocked doors for me initially, and a lot of people will take me serious, but I don't really want – I really don't care – about what happens immediately, it's what happens in the long run. Although the Grand Hustle look is a great look initially, I don't think it'd help me in the long run. I thought we should just put it out ourselves, because the last thing I want people to do is – I'm working hard, we work hard, we record everything ourselves, we do everything ourselves, we market everything ourselves – so we weren't really ready to do all that leg work and then just give the credit to Grand Hustle. Because, if there's someone out there such as a journalist or a potential fan who's like, 'This kid Gerald Walker is winning, like he's really on the come up!' I don't want them to be like, 'Of course he's on the come up, he's messing with Grand Hustle.'"
The pride he took in building up the national reputation that he now has isn't the only reason he felt reservations about having the Grand Hustle tag to go along with "The Other Half Of Letting Go." He reveals something that could play out to be an even bigger detractor regarding the short term – confusion about his availability.
"If I drop this tape and it's really, really successful, I don't want A&Rs and I don't want labels to not contact me because they feel I'm already down with Grand Hustle. So, it was hard to not doing it. It actually took a lot of discipline not doing it, but I'm not really in here just for the short run, I'm in here for the long haul. And, the way I'm doing it, it's just going to take time and consistency. Jason Geter, man, is definitely a real good dude; I still talk to him regularly. It's all love with Jason Geter and Grand Hustle. It's just something that we wanted to do on our own, we didn't really want to give credit to anyone else, because we're trying to build our name. Like, T.I. did his thing and built his own name, so now we want to build our own brand and our own name too."
So, with taking the steps to eliminate any confusion in regards to label politics, a label is the home that Walker is looking for regarding his music one would think. However, as he reveals more of his thoughts, it quickly becomes clear that even Walker doesn't know quite what he wants at the moment as he's adjusting to his suddenly rising level of popularity.
"The thing is, people give labels a lot of bad, you know labels have a bad rap. I think it really depends on the artist. Like for me, it's been a long hard road. Actually, it hasn't. Everything has really popped off for me in the last five or six months. When you really look at it like that, the last five months, how I've basically come from being a guy that just dreaming about this in Whitefish Bay, to basically being featured in OnMilwaukee, the Journal Sentinel, MTV and XXL, it really hasn't taken that long. I think what a label can give me is contacts, I think they can take me take it to the next level. But, I think the only way that I would sign is if the deal was right. I mean, if the deal is right, right, right. So, I mean, if they're coming to me with something standard – which they probably will because I really haven't done anything – so to answer your question, I probably wouldn't sign, I would just probably try to affiliate.
"I think affiliations are important because the great thing about affiliations is that you almost get all of their resources, and there's really no paper and no comment. So if this is really successful, I would plan on doing more collaborations and just really build my fanbase. Like, that's my number one thing, I want to build a really grassroots fanbase because at that point it doesn't really matter where I go. I could go independent, I could go major, but my fans will follow me so to answer your question I probably won't. I mean, I'll consider it. They can court me if they want, but if it's nothing really, really outstanding, I probably won't."
The slight state of confusion is completely forgivable and understandable when the actual project of "The Other Half Of Letting Go" is put into perspective. The project is one build around the theme of dealing with the pain lots of change in one's personal life can create, and Walker reveals that he's recently gone through some tumultuous changes in his life, so a project dealing with letting go is not only relatable but timely regarding his need to release certain emotions.
"All my projects have to deal with me and what I'm personally going through. So like, the first one was basically I'm growing up. I remember when I used to dream about this as a kid, but I have to grow up now. So basically I have be accepting of what I am and what I do and trust in that no matter how hard it gets that God is always on my side. So, with that point, I went through a lot of personal stuff. There were friends that I was friends with for almost a decade that I'm no longer friends with and girls that I
always used to be with that I'm no longer with. Literally, my life changed, like, all the people that I thought were close to me, it's kind of like a transformation. So, the other half of letting go, I think, when you're letting go there's two different phases of letting go – actually doing it, letting go, and then there's the actual dealing with the letting go. So, dealing with the habit of dealing with the people you're no longer with and also dealing with the hurt that goes along with it."
His reliability is what Walker is banking on to break him into the next level, whatever that level is to Walker.
"I feel like, personally, there's nothing really out there like it in terms of storytelling and reliability. You can relate to it. I feel like, if you want something that you can listen to, that you'll be able to relate to despite your background, definitely pick it up. It's hip-hop, and it's almost like the middle ground of hip-hop. It's not quite commercial, commercial and it's not quite boom-bap. It's like that striking distance. So if you really listen to it, I think that if you like music that you can relate to and you've ever
gone through anything and you want to hear a dope story, you should definitely check it out."
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.