Since the middle of 2014, Milwaukee’s hip-hop scene has bubbled with unique energy. Never known nationally as a hotbed of burgeoning talent, a swath of eclectic artists have risen out of the city’s corners with a staunchly DIY attitude and a confidence hewn from constantly being overlooked in the shadow of Chicago’s closely watched scene, Detroit’s musical legacy, and the Twin Cities’ reputation as a pillar of independent hip-hop. Rappers like IshDARR, Webster X, Reggie Bonds, BANKX, Wave Chapelle, and Milo—among others—exhibit the city’s variety of styles, currying blog favor and streaming success (a more ready indicator of your future prospects) alike.
Von Alexander (formerly Vonny Del Fresco) has seen Milwaukee perched on this exciting precipice since 2013, before P&P, Noisey, or the Smoking Section (to name a few) pegged the city as one to watch. At 23, Alexander is still young but wizened by watching others rise around him and his own music not connecting as he'd hoped. His journey inspired soul-searching and repeated re-brands in an attempt to make the music truest to his core—a personal body of work that connects with a larger audience.
Previous projects like Memoirs (which has since been pulled from Soundcloud) and 2015 EP V O N presented Alexander as a skilled student of aesthetics. Alexander comes into his own on new album MAYHEM 1993, using style in the service of autobiographical substance, telling his story—of homelessness, of artistic obscurity, of dreams—and the story of his city simultaneously. Standout singles “Hard To Tell” and “Pastells” and impassioned closer "Keys" smartly tweak the fashion rap that clearly influences Alexander, infused with soul, introspection, and bravado; sonically Alexander might draw comparisons to Travis Scott, but spiritually he's pulling from Kanye's early attitude.
MAYHEM 1993 still leaves room for refinement and personal exploration, but makes its purposeful mark across 11 tracks.