Photo courtesy of Myquale

A Conversation With Milwaukee-Born Rapper Myquale

Myquale has always had an affinity for the arts. At a young age, he loved freestyling with his older cousins, writing poetry, playing the piano, creating beats on his laptop in class, and checking out as many books from the library as possible. 

Growing up in Milwaukee, Myquale spent a lot of time with his uncle, who composed all types of music and played several instruments for his band. “I loved going through [my uncle’s] collections—he would throw house parties back in the day,” Myquale said. “He had every CD, and it made me want to know more about just rap in general. You would see Slick Rick, Tupac, Outkast, Organized Noize, stuff like that.” Myquale developed an early obsession with rap, jazz, and neo soul, and when he got a walkman for Christmas, he would constantly try to discover new tracks. His frustrated mother soon confiscated his walkman because she didn’t like him listening to Tupac, Biggie, and Eminem. 

When Myquale was in the fifth grade, he had enough money to buy his first album—Kanye West’s Late Registration. The album currently makes him quite nostalgic since it is tied to so many memories during his childhood. As a class clown and free spirit, he remembers interrupting his fifth grade teacher often in order to rap “Gold Digger” in front of all his friends.  

Photo courtesy of Myquale

At fourteen, Myquale had a moment of realization. “I started just freestyling for fun when I was younger to pass the time. I assumed this was something that everyone could do,” he said. “Then I get to high school and the teachers ask us to write a poem for a class assignment and I’m the first one done. We are all presenting and I’m like, oh, there’s a disparity and a difference between what everybody else is able to do and what I can do. I think that really put things in perspective for me.” 

Myquale left Milwaukee for New York before transferring to DePaul University in 2014, where, as he jokes, many of his college friends thought he was from Chicago. “I think it just speaks to the similarities between Milwaukee and Chicago. The South Side of Chicago reminds me so much of the North Side of Milwaukee, just Milwaukee is obviously a lot smaller. There was something very familiar and both are cities full of soul and full of genuine people.” Like Chicago, Myquale said that Milwaukee is also a major city that is racially segregated, as the north side of Milwaukee has a large black population while the rest of the city is primarily white. 

Myquale admires the grit and the DIY mentality seen in Chicago’s music scene. According to him, the city is a critical site where musicians can hunker down, learn about themselves, and develop and strengthen their craft before potentially moving elsewhere. 

When Myquale arrived in Chicago, several local artists were gaining traction on SoundCloud—a golden age he says he felt lucky to have been present for. At DePaul, he immediately began attending open mics, and rapped at Wordplay, Young Chicago Authors’ writing workshop on Tuesdays. 

Travel also greatly influences Myquale’s work. One of his first EP’s, Passport Package, was a direct nod to his trips to Kenya, Tanzania, France, Jamaica, Egypt, Germany and Canada. The four tracks on the EP include  “Butler,” “SNOOKY,” “LAST NIGHT WE PARTED WAYS,” and “4 AM IN KENYA,” and are motivated by the international perspectives, the different grooves, and the hospitality he experienced. 

Photo courtesy of Myquale

This year, Myquale will share a new project called Above All. He completed the first track and nucleus of the project, “Never or Now,” last summer during a revelatory moment in Los Angeles. Twelve hours before his flight back to Chicago, he was anxious about leaving Los Angeles, since he had been incredibly productive meeting with and learning from other artists there. As the title of the song suggests, Myquale was faced with a now-or-never circumstance, since he was flying back the next morning. 

That night, he rushed to the studio with his close friend Najeeb Jones, a producer and engineer whose stage name is godchild. The two did not come to the studio with a goal in mind, but ultimately they had a successful night. Myquale still has a voice recording of the forty-three minute session where he and godchild created “Never or Now.” The experience was so transformative that Myquale scrapped all of his other tracks and decided that everything else he shares must either match or exceed the quality of “Never or Now.”

Despite the stress leading up to creating “Never or Now,” the track has a peaceful and calming pace. Myquale takes advantage of his uniquely enchanting, raspy tone, and his production choices and tempo changes are subtle yet powerful. The distinctiveness of the track will leave fans eager to hear more from his new project, which Myquale plans to release later this year. 

“I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” Myquale told me. “For this new project, I think I’ve gotten to a point where I know myself well enough and developed my skills enough to be confident to share things. Obviously sharing art can be nerve-wracking, and it’s a pretty vulnerable experience, but I’ve gotten to a point now where I have something valuable to say. I’ve developed the vocabulary to express these things that I want, that I didn’t know how to articulate before.” 

Myquale also hopes to produce, collaborate with his friends, and tour and travel in the near future if the pandemic allows it. “It’s all in God’s timing,” he said. “I heard someone say ‘I’m just in charge of the outfits.’ It’s that same energy. I’m just going with the flow.”

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Lauren Johnson is a recent college graduate currently living in Chicago. She last reviewed Looking for Lorraine by Imani Perry for the Weekly.

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