Words by Evan Froiland
Madison rapper CRASHprez has been musically quiet for a good while now. He hasn't put out a song in 10 months. However, he's still been awfully loud on the Internet. Madison, WI and especially the University of Wisconsin-Madison has had major problems with race relations recently. This isn't a new trend, but it's escalated greatly as of late and inspired the campaign #THEREALUW. A simple Google search will allow you to read up, or you can head to CRASH's Twitter for his first person accounts.
The 22-year-old graduate of UW-Madison's First Wave Arts Program, also known as Michael Penn II, is a writer in many mediums: rap, freelancing, workshops, etc. Relevant to #THEREALUW, Penn penned a piece in early March for Tone Madison deploring The Frequency's decision to have a year-long ban on hip-hop shows (which has since been revoked). He's also written about less location-specific race issues, including a series dedicated to critically assessing white rappers' problematic-ness. Most notably, a Post Malone piece for Vinyl Me, Please caught the attention of White Iverson himself.
I tell you this all to give context for 'ILLEGAL', the single that CRASH dropped last night. This politically-charged record features the vocals of Patrice Rushie and was produced by drew_. CRASH uses an aggressive flow for an aggressive song about race issues, both locally and generally. His grimy inflection stops only to pay tribute to two that passed last year: Tony Robinson, an unarmed black teen killed by a Madison police officer and Andrew Thomas, fellow First Wave student and dear friend.
Post Malone gets a line on this song. So does F.Stokes, a rapper who grew up in Madison. Penn said that there are several reasons why, but one in particular.
Writing about music can be tough sometimes when you're trying to depict something you love without a bias. I step out of my journalistic perspective momentarily to say that it has been a while since I've been blown away by a record the way this one did. Content aside, it's a masterpiece of a slapper that had me in absolute stank-face-go-crazy-mode throughout.
CRASH told me a bit about the song.
ILLEGAL took about two months to fully materialize. I wrote it out of anger, performed it with no beat, reworked the writing, performed it again, reworked it more, and recorded it like four times before sending it off to mixing. It felt very natural to get the whole thing out. Like I didn't have to force shit, I let my thoughts pour onto paper and the rest slowly came to fruition. I had to wait until I got over strep to even finish the record off. My boy Will went through a week-and-a-half of mixes before we got something to be satisfied with. With this being my first piece in so long, I dropped it from several places at once: joy, pain, anger, and relief. I can confidently say that fear didn't make that list this time.
I posed him a question about something that I couldn't help but consider.
This song has the sonic quality of something that could be big. Did the potential of this song being co-opted by people missing the message or even actively rebelling against its message occur to you?
Since you frame it that way, let me say this: it's 2016 and everything is a meme. Everything is subject to being decontextualized. Hell, a lot of shit is downright confusing right now. This is the first real time I've experienced such a cultural dissonance as a creative and a fan and I'm only 22.
I say all that to say... most of my fans are white. That's a matter of proximity as of now, but I don't see that changing anytime soon. I doubt someone will have much material to mine for - this mythical, culture-vulture someone - but if white kids get something out of the message and can ride out to the struggle I place on this record, then I’m doing my work. I'm doing my job. It's not enough for me to solely deal information out via rap as a medium; my shit has to slap, too. I need the sonics and the lyrics to reflect an equilibrium of what I listen to and what I think is missing. So I never intend to stop with the bangers; I wouldn't listen to me if my beats were trash.
I'll never stop deconstructing and dismantling oppression through my music. But the shit is going to slap, even if it's not always an 808. I'll never sacrifice one for the other. And as far as the appropriation thing... as long as people hear "ILLEGAL" and don't start disrespecting and decontextualizing the pain I leverage to communicate what I need to - my pain and the pain of others - then we're good.
I could talk about this appropriation shit all day. It’s like every day I speak on it to some degree and gain more perspective on it. I’m not even right half the time is the thing, I’m figuring this shit out in real time like everyone else.
Love your people, fuck that evil, no one breathing is illegal.
Catch 'ILLEGAL' at CRASH's free show in Madison tonight.