Why Milwaukee Rap Is Taking Over TikTok
The Milwaukee rap scene doesn’t boast the decades-long lore of their close neighbors in Detroit and Chicago, but that may be changing thanks to a slew of viral rappers making waves in the city and on social media. Rappers Steve Da Stoner and AyooLii have been dominating TikTok over the past few months with a pair of dance crazes that are bringing Milwaukee into the national consciousness. TikTokers are having a ball making videos based on a dance from Steve Da Stoner’s “Barkin,” as well as rapper-producer (and comedian) AyooLii’s “Same.”
But Steve and AyooLii are just the tip of the iceberg in a community full of colorful, individualist artists dropping music with traces of the Detroit influence they’ve inculcated with their own slang and worldview. QC signee Lakeyah has the most notoriety of any Milwaukee MC right now, but there’s plenty more where she came from, such as Solowke, Mula Mar, and DC the Don.
Steve Da Stoner’s viral “Barkin” is a twist on the Ying Yang Twins’ classic strip club anthem, “Whistle While U Twerk.” But the only thing clapping on Steve’s version are bars like “I done shot it out with the best, but I’m still standin’/Bullets rippin’ through that vest it cannot save you,” delivered with a quintessential Midwest swagger that he pulls off not even rhyming. The track, released last summer, showcases Steve at his best, delivering plug talk over the region’s trademark drum pattern. The song caught fire on TikTok, with the track’s roll call of women being used as a springboard for dance-offs. Last December, Steve took it upon himself to create an instructional video for the dance, helping buoy thousands of TikTok posts about the song.
He had another viral moment in 2018 when he dropped the video for “2 Busy,” which included an infamous scene of him doing a dance he calls “Buckin,” where he drops to the floor and bounces up and down while throwing his money. In an interview with the Hip Hop Lab, he explained that he did the dance specifically after he rhymed “They thought I lied when I told ‘em I’ma make the dub” because it’s a real-life reference to him earning $20,000 in bail money for his brother, who’s currently imprisoned for 10 years. He was incarcerated while the “2 Busy” dance first went viral, but upon his release, he dropped another video breathing new life into the dance. Detractors have expressed that the dance looks too close to twerking, but Steve’s clarified, “Niggas knowin’ I’m not shakin’ my ass.” And now, “Barkin” is a less polarizing opportunity to have fun.
Steve says in the interview that he grew up as part of a crew called the Juke Boys, who would often dance during house parties, and that’s reflected in his videos. Milwaukee is just two hours away from Chicago, and Steve Da Stoner is now embracing that legacy through his city’s unique lens.
AyooLii is another Milwaukee MC who, with his partners Certified Trapper and Maz G, is garnering fame with dances. TikTok users made more than 4 million videos with the hashtag #milwaukeedance, featuring clips of young people dancing in a manner like AyooLi in his “Same” video, a low-frills affair alternating scenes of him whipping in a pot and doing his signature dance — all while wearing a balaclava ski mask. Some would say it’s counterintuitive for a young artist to record a video obscuring his face (unless that was specifically their thing). Still, Ayoo was easily identifiable by the way he was waving his arms and body along with the sway of xaviersobased’s frenetic production.
AyooLii is also a social media comedian whose comedic timing is reflected in his dancing and in his lyrical content, which he told YouTube channel Juice Talk TV is a product of freestyling in the booth. He does a similar dance in “Spenders,” a standout collaboration with fellow Milwaukee artist Certified Trapper, which AyooLii said came from a studio session where Trapper made something like “10 beats in five minutes.” Thirty seconds a beat seems a bit hyperbolic, but Certified Trapper is a prolific artist who dropped a whopping 14 mixtapes in 2022 alone (even while being incarcerated last summer). Trapper’s sonic fingerprints are all over “Spenders,” a bass-heavy spawn from the post-Soulja Boy and Lil B realm. You’re not initially sure if they’re being satirical or serious over the playful piano loop, but confoundment often gives way to their charisma and idiosyncratic enunciation. Their content doesn’t stray far from prurience, money-making, and idle threats, but it tends to be a fun listen.
That dynamic is even more intense when watching a Certified Trapper video, which may showcase him shirtless and dancing with the same cigarette in his hand during “That’s a Lap Run,” or be like “Spin Back,” the first visual that could credit Google Images as its director. He dances in front of a green screen throughout the 90-second track, where stock images only occasionally match his lyrics — like when he proudly points to a photo of a flat tire after rhyming, “Pull up on his block, bitch, I’ma leave his shit flat.” Most upcoming artists have to rely on low-budget videos at the start, but Certified Trapper’s made substandard a superpower. Even if he signs with a major label, his fans may not want conventional big-budget videos.
Chicken P is another Milwaukee rapper who shares Certified Trapper’s raw image and sense of humor but offers it in a distinct package. A peer through his YouTube page reveals his versatility: He delivers remnants of Thug or Rich Homie Quan on the melodic “Money Counter,” then excels at more straightforward rhyming on “Dawg Ass Chicken.” He also delves deep on “Talk to God,” where he pleads, “I be really in my feelings, this the shit I don’t be postin’.” Like many modern rappers, he has a penchant for flipping classics, like the bouncy, hyperspeed flip of 50 Cent’s “Ski Mask Way,” where he rhymes, “Brothers only, it’s just me and them, in the opioid epidemic you see on CNN.”
It’s a sobering mission statement that could only come from a lived experience in a city that offers too little opportunity and leaves people to their own devices to survive. Numerous reports have been published about Milwaukee being one of the most segregated cities in the world, which only intensifies the systemic inequality that creates the conditions they’re rhyming about. Too many of the most interesting rappers in the Midwest (and in this very piece) have had brushes with the law that threaten to stop this exciting scene before it reaches the visibility it deserves. That would be a shame when Milwaukee is full of talented, fun-loving individuals whose minds would be wasted behind bars. Hopefully, these artists and everyone else in the scene can use their talent to stay away from the environment their rhymes depict and keep inspiring the world to have fun.
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