Three times dope: A unique Milwaukee hip-hop label celebrates its third anniversary
- Fall in love with modern rock ’n’ roll: A conversation with Jonathan Richman
- Packard Brothers hit the road for “Hey, Pass Me A Beer II”
- Intergalactic, planetary: Inside “live-action graphic novel” The Intergalactic Nemesis
- The Hinterlands take Milwaukee back to days of vaudeville with The Circuit
- Milwaukee writer Tea Krulos unmasks the “real-life superhero” movement with Heroes In The Night
The year was 2010, back when the words “dope” and “Milwaukee” didn’t automatically conjure up images of fallen sports icons. Instead, it was the beginning of a celebration of hip-hop legends who were overlooked and sometimes long forgotten. Milwaukeeans Chris Schulist and John Kuester (a.k.a. Kid Millions), crate-diggers and champions of golden-era hip-hop, started contacting some folks about re-releasing their out-of-print gems. Their label, Dope Folks, is still going strong, and will celebrate its third anniversary Saturday, August 10, at Blackbird Bar. The A.V. Club asked Schulist and Kuester how it all happened.
The A.V. Club: What got you started on this project?
Chris Schulist: I met John when he was an owner of Lotus Land Records. At this point, I was buying rap 12-inches if I didn’t have them, no matter what they were. John and I both shared a love of extremely obscure hip-hop from what is now known as the “golden era” (about ’88-’94) through the “indie” era (’95-’99). I figured for every well-known rap classic, there had to be unknown imitators or artists that didn’t “make it.”
John Kuester: After closing Lotus Land Records and the label in 2010, I still had the itch to put out unreleased material, but doing it alone was too much work. I feel like the mission for Dope Folks is to highlight important music that hasn’t been heard, or simply needs to be put on wax.
CS: What artists didn’t make it on Yo! MTV Raps or didn’t make a video? Those were the kinds of records I was after. By the late 2000s, it seemed like this trend started catching on and certain records were fetching crazy prices on eBay. Some records are just so rare that it would be highly unlikely that you would ever come across one. We figured if we could locate the original artists and reissue the sought-after 12-inch and maybe add a few unreleased songs, you could get the music at a fair price.
AVC: In an iTunes world, what does it mean for collectors to own the actual physical albums?
CS: Our label is designed for the hip-hop record collector. If you don’t care about records, you won’t care about our label, which is fine.
JK: It’s crazy, because our customer base is really small, but it stretches all over the world, and they are extremely loyal to the label. Hopefully in the next couple of years we can start pressing a few more copies and get some love in the United States. Chris and I always joke about Pitchfork giving us the stamp of approval so can start selling more records at home.
AVC: How do you contact artists to re-release their albums, sometimes decades later?
CS: That’s really the most fun of part of the label. When we do find them, some people think it’s a prank, or they can’t believe that we even knew they made a record. Some artists don’t want anything to do with it. Some are really flattered, and some are still making music. It’s really cool to meet and talk with these artists. They all have stories.
JK: It takes a ton of work digging around online and getting lots of dead emails sent back, but it’s all worth it.
CS: In 2010 we released a record by a Chicago group called Ruthless Rod & MC Dollar from 1989. We had a release party in Chicago and all four members came. It was a pretty great feeling because they hadn’t seen each other in years. When we played the record they were freaking out. It felt awesome.
AVC: Who are some of your favorite overlooked Milwaukee artists?
CS: From what we’ve put out, Rock La Flow and Stranj Child. They both made some fantastic music that was never released. I feel proud that people overseas are playing those records.
JK: Stricklin is hands-down the most overlooked artist in Milwaukee. Besides that, I feel there are tons of DJs that have been here forever who should be rocking more events and bigger stages.
AVC: What can we expect on August 10 at Blackbird?
CS: A fun party, but don’t expect to recognize any songs were playing! I don’t mean that in any elitist way. We’re just going to play some extremely obscure hip-hop records that we have in our collections.
JK: Oh! And expect no cover charge and some free drinks on us!