What made you live in Milwaukee
IshDarr "I'm still telling my story."
Your first EP was called "The Better Life". In your opinion, what would the “better life” be for you and your community?
To be honest, the life I'm living right now. Just spending time with friends and family. I talked a lot about home on the EP because exactly the the better life for me is being with my family.
Fast forward to the mixtape "Old Soul, Young Spirit". How do you keep the balance between staying young and open and not forgetting to take your music seriously and pack it with a statement?
I find this balance by simply being myself. I see it this way: I'm excessively young and I like to have fun. My parents make sure that I take things more seriously sometimes. My father always admonishes us to be serious - even now on tour (author's note: IshDarr's father is the tour manager of the European tour). The same game every morning: »Come on guys, get up, we have to go!“That my parents were always very strict helped me a lot.
Do you come from a generally rather strict budget?
Well, my mother is a Muslim, so there was never any alcohol at home. When my big brother turned 18 and started going out more because my mom trusted him more, she started to trust me more too. When I was 17, she ended up letting me do what I wanted. She didn't really have to worry about me though, I always got one of the top grades in high school.
Did you find school easy?
Yes, it was extremely easy for me - I still do, in fact. But the older I got, the more I realized: Okay, that's easy - I can do all of this if I want, but I don't want to right now. I still have good grades, I'm a first-grade student - you have to keep your parents happy. I actually only did this anyway so that my parents wouldn't bug me. But school got me in the Sense never really interested - I still fall asleep almost every lesson but am always on the list of the best students.
Are your parents worried about you or do they support your decision to make music?
My mom totally supports me, and my dad has been the same since day one. I always have my father with me, he manages this first official tour. Both stood by my side from the start and said openly and honestly: »If you're already doing that: have a statement, stay positive, we support you, take care of yourself.«
"Old Soul, Young Spirit" - according to your own statement, you moved musically very freely on this mixtape. Was it a learning process for you to let go and trust your creative intuition? And following on from that, how important is that, considering that Milwaukee doesn't have a really solid hip-hop identity?
Of course they have something to do with each other! To be honest, it was fucking weird bringing hip hop to Milwaukee. While there were a lot of artists around the time I started rapping, well known in town and doing their thing, most of them weren't really into hip hop. We wanted to do real hip hop in Milwaukee and we experimented to get them the real shit back. I'm the youngest of them all in the scene there, so that definitely made me want to go.
So it wasn't just dedication, but also a spark of luck with you?
I wouldn't put it that way, rather an unyielding thirst for action. The way we did everything, it wasn't that difficult, we tried that often enough to explain to the other artists in Milwaukee. My technician and manager Mag and I planned all the tracks and videos - he's my right hand man. We sat down and did everything professionally: We record this far, then we choose what we take, send it out, see how it goes - and we only had good hits. It's important to have a plan and not just rap and release a few songs like the rest. It was very clear to us that we had to push this "Old Soul, Young Spirit" - that's actually all it's about: How well can you get your project moving? And that's exactly what the other artists in Milwaukee have felt struggling with.
Does that have something to do with the lack of infrastructure for artists? Chicago is so close - there is a lot going on and maybe you are a bit at the bottom?
We are total fell by the wayside. And we're on the film where we say: »Yo we are here!"And I'm currently pulling the whole fucking city behind me, according to the motto"People, come on, move!«- that is waking everyone up a little at the moment. We're just running right now - and being the first from Milwaukee to make a fuss is a lot of fun.
You often cite Kendrick Lamar and TDE as inspiration for being representative of your city. How did you perceive Kendrick's last, very jazz and funk-heavy album "To Pimp A Butterfly" and how much influence does jazz have on you and your music?
Uh, I like your questions. It took me time to really get into "To Pimp A Butterfly". It's an overly black album, super-duper black. My parents listen to this type of music, so it was a real challenge for our young minds. Hearing it over and over again and reflecting on what he was actually talking about then brought the click in my head and then I just thought: damn, the man is a genius. The whole album is perfect. Kendrick knew what he was doing - from the intro to the outro - and that's just bloody sick and something I'm still trying to grasp myself: structures and the like.
Did you listen to a lot of jazz at home?
There was a lot of jazz, especially from my dad. We often go to Chicago, there are tons of jazz clubs and events. Milwaukee has something called "Jazz in the Park" - he swears by it. Accordingly, jazz had a huge impact on me. In case you've heard “They Lost Me” from me: The saxophone in it - by the way, a suggestion from producer Canis Major - when I heard that, I was blown away. This jazzy sound just touches my soul.
Lots of people celebrate your pun, your flow, and your metaphors. Have you ever been interested in poetry or did it come from freestyle?
Definitely freestyle before poetry, poetry never flashed me. I also didn't like it when I started rapping that people kept telling me that I was a poet - no, damn it, I'm a hip-hop artist. Poems are dead, leave me alone with this stuff. There's probably always something lyrical about rap, but for me, freestyle to beats was definitely more influential in terms of my skills.
You once said your goal in life is to win a Grammy. After the Macklemore controversy in 2014, Snoop Dogg posted on Instagram that Macklemore has more Grammys than many hip-hop greats combined and that hip-hop needs its own Grammys. How credible are such awards and should hip-hop artists - especially black ones - expect such trophies at all?
I don't think black hip-hop artists should really strive for that, but neither should they Not should strive for it. There are rumors that the awards are rigged but you definitely have to work your ass off to get one and I bow to anyone who got one - maybe one day we'll get one, but it's not a must. It doesn't make my work more valid than it is. I see it more as a kind of backup. I want to be able to say in my life: »I got a Grammy once.«Every musician will say that, no matter what else is going on.
You worked a lot with the very young Canadian producer Canis Major. How did that happen?
Before we came to Europe for this tour, he actually flew us to Canada for a week. We met there personally for the very first time. Before that, we were good friends on YouTube, Twitter and all other social media. I was rapping on one of his beats by chance and the thing made a lot of wind. Then we got together and cut one thing at a time. It was absolutely amazing to meet him and his family for the first time - we had worked so much together and emailed back and forth. In the meantime, he sends every beat he builds to me first before he uploads anything to YouTube. We're just on the same wavelength. I would say of all the producers I've worked with, he's got the most unadulterated vibe. Musically as well as personally. When we released “They Lost Me” we didn't get along very well - at that point everyone was using their beats and they were annoyed that nobody was paying them for them.
Has your trip abroad changed your perspective on the rap game at home?
This tour opened my eyes. I think music is valued more here - at home there is a lot of standing around at concerts and not so much love being shown. Now it's different, of course, because I'm in control of the city, but before that it was tough. Hip hop is pretty new to Milwaukee and people don't really know how to use it. My friends in high school didn't listen to hip-hop, they listened to "Jack Music." It's only available from us and, in the end, they're guys from the hood who rap to extremely fast, crunky, bass-heavy beats about money, weed and bitches. Always turns up to the max. Accordingly, we were hostile to our music - according to the motto: »And how are you supposed to celebrate now?«People are not used to high quality music. But it's slowly getting better and I'm very happy that we overcame this hurdle.
Do you see your music as an evolution from previous black cultural and musical movements or do you prefer to stand for yourself?
No, of course at some point we want to go in the direction where music falls back on culture, but at the moment everything is still very personal. When I started, I didn't think about anything like that, I just rapped my story and told it. After doing my homework, I wrote lyrics and when I realized people were celebrating it, I wrote more. Now that I realize that people are really listening, I sense that I can give more context. I have to get my voice out there so that people know who I am, where I come from and what I'm actually saying - many can identify with it. Some can't, but those who can are really touched and that's why I want to go into more depth in the future.
A record deal was never the goal?
I rap, play shows and get paid for it. »Show money, that's yo money!“I can sign a contract whenever I want - I've met every label, they've flown me to New York and California. In all honesty: The free flights were great, but if you really do it for the love of music, then you sign when the time comes instead of rushing it. I'm still in the process of telling my story, and often it is that once artists sign up, they become the music industry's plans instead of pursuing their own. We'll stay indie for the time being and we like that very much. Of course, signing is up for discussion, but it's just not something we want to rush into. My crew and I will stay as they are for the time being.
You're flying back to the USA tomorrow: What will you take home with you and what will you bring back with you on your next trip to Europe?
First, I bring new music with me. It's pretty tiring to just perform one mixtape all the time. Holland has definitely flashed me, I feel like calling in there. The girls are beautiful and of course the grass is good for me too. I take a lot of experience home with me. I mean, how the hell do people here even know me? We didn't care if there were only 20 or 30 people at a show. We were expecting zero and I'm just overjoyed to have been here at all.
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