JC Poppe can't sleep, and that's a good thing
The Milwaukee rapper turns his lack of shut-eye into lyrics and a record deal
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While JC Poppe is a relative newcomer to the Milwaukee hip-hop scene, the rapper’s full-length debut Sleep Therapy takes its rightful place as one of 2009's top local releases—no small feat considering the high-quality scope of hip-hop from the Milwaukee underground. After tapping the local and national scenes to help create the album and a crafty grassroots effort to get it heard, Poppe scored a record deal with Miami-based HiPNOTT Records. Also committed to promoting the scene as a whole, Poppe is a contributor on the great, new Yo! MKE Raps compilation. The A.V. Club talked to Poppe to get his take on the modern rap game, and learns how lack of sleep was instrumental to his creative process.
The A.V. Club: Is it true that your creativity is the result of a sleep disorder?
JC Poppe: As it turns out, I have a condition known as sleep apnea. I actually would stop breathing 90 times an hour. It kind of screwed with my sleeping pattern, and let me get into a crazy great place in my brain, allowing me to create some interesting lyrics. For the longest time, I had absolutely no idea why I was staying up at all hours of the night, living a nocturnal lifestyle and falling asleep during the day.
AVC: A lot of artists are rapping about saving hip-hop from itself these days. Who's winning?
JCP: The commercial side is still winning, and it’s not looking too good. But on the other hand, the underground is so strong, and this is pretty much the definition of the whole “hip-hop vs. rap” question, which would take hours and several beers to sift through. I can say the hip-hop scene is getting better nationally numbers-wise; you have Raekwon who dropped an instant classic with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, so people are starting to catch on. Hopefully there can be an about-face sometime soon.
AVC: Why do you think the Milwaukee underground hip-hop scene seems to be flourishing?
JCP: The Milwaukee scene is really bubbling. It’s getting some national attention, like, people are looking at Prophetic—everyone knows that Pharrell pretty much co-signed him. The question is, will it boil over? The level of talent is a little bit deeper now than it has been in the past. The Milwaukee scene is so competitive among itself. Regardless of whether you like someone or not, you’re still checking for their album, checking for their new song. So every album raises the bar a little bit, and now it’s where people are focused and they really want to make amazing music so they can raise the bar above and beyond. There’s a constant push to blow people away. And we had some people that really laid a solid foundation of the scene—like Black Elephant, and the Rusty Ps who are still on their grind—for new people to really build upon. So everything is moving forward as it should on a healthy thriving scene; that’s really a good indication that things are headed in the right direction.
AVC: There’s a track where you oppose abstinence-only sex education methods, sampling Rachel Maddow for support. Is this a topic you feel strongly about?
JCP: I just wanted to make a song about the hypocrisy. We had a president at the time who was pushing his own personal morals against what was needed. People needed to stand up and look at that. People like to become complacent and just point a finger instead of looking at themselves and what they’ve done with their kids, or by themselves out in society.
AVC: You recently signed a record deal. Can you share the details?
JCP: I signed with HiPNOTT Records, a small Miami-based label started by Kevin Nottingham, a pretty big blogger on the hip-hop scene. Hip-hop is inundated with all these bloggers, and he’s in the upper echelon. I sent him my record so he could maybe do a review of it, and in talking to him, he really liked what I was doing and the message that I had. After a little negotiation, we agreed that I would put out my next project on HiPNOTT.
AVC: What can we expect on your next album?
JCP: I really want to continue to grow. I already got three beats from Double-0 of Kidz in the Hall, one from 88-Keys, one from Khrysis, a guest verse from Chaundon, and am hoping to get some good stuff from Reason, who just did a joint EP with KingHellBastard. It’s definitely in the beginning phases, but it’s starting to come together. I don’t want to reveal too much about it because it could always shift or change.