Since early 2015, there has been a meteoric rise in the popularity of Milwaukee hip hop. Multiple artists have received national recognition, earned millions of streams and signed record deals while coming from a city that has never been known for its hip hop scene by any stretch. Because this rise has been so quick, there are very few artists in the city that could be considered the “seasoned veterans” of the scene.
Von Alexander, who has been making music since 2011, is undoubtedly one of these select few, although he personally feels differently: “I wouldn’t say I’m a veteran because I’m still a fresh face to so many people and artists who haven’t been around to witness those past times of my evolution up to this point…I’ll always feel like the new guy with something to prove until I’m known everywhere else,” said Von. This refusal to rest on his laurels is a big part of his success so far.
Changing his stage name from Vonny Del Fresco into his real name, Alexander dropped his EP V O N in the fall of 2015, receiving acclaim locally and nationally for hits such as “D R E A M S” and “W A V E S.” According to Von, this change to showing more of his true self was a major reason behind its success: “Coming off of that release I learned many things, one of the most important things to learn from that was to continue to give people more of myself beyond what was being showcased. It was a project I not only felt great about, but I really believed in the music I created within it, that’s what I learned to never let go of.”
Since the release of the EP, Von has been hard at work on his newest album, dropping singles “Hard to Tell” and “Pastells” in anticipation of the full release. As of January 27, Von’s latest album, entitled MAYHEM1993, has officially arrived, and with it he is telling the world that he has too. The album melds together classic, modern and even futuristic styles to create something that is distinctively Von, and proves that he has continued to mature and progress as an artist as he shows the rookies in the city how it’s done.
The instrumentals on MAYHEM1993 showcase numerous talented producers, each bringing a different style to the table. According to Von, “Every song has it’s world within it, as well as a piece of my world,” and this is no more apparent than in the production. With subgenres ranging from modern melodic hip hop, to horrorcore, to 90s East Coast, each of these songs evokes a separate feeling from this listener.
This incredibly wide range stems from Von’s desire to stay as eclectic as possible: “I didn’t have a specific artist to follow, or draw inspiration from. I listen to all hip-hop across the board…I wanted every song on my project to represent that, from the beat selection and the way I delivered. I want to take inspiration from Hip-Hop period, and apply it in my own way so when people hear me they’re hearing me, no one else,” said Alexander. While this mindset of taking from so many different styles could easily lead to an unfocused and choppy product, Von manages to put his own spin on it to make this album flow smoothly.
The lyrics on MAYHEM1993 focus on Von’s personal growth as he makes observations on his city. Some songs, such as “Hard to Tell,” are more focused on his own personal progression: “I’m doing a lot more and putting more effort into different techniques as well as trying to push my own personal narrative to get people to connect with who I am as a person and artist. Inspiration, motivation and just belief in oneself and what they are capable of play a big factor into the subject matter within this project,” said Von.
Conversely, other songs give more of a focus on what he sees happening to others in his community. According to him, “‘Demons’ is a product of that, it’s not a song I wrote from a personal view, it’s a song I wrote from the perspective of many others that live here, that have to go through this cycle daily. The news, the Facebook posts that are shared, certain family members inspire that perspective for me. I just want people to feel inspiration from this content. I hope my city can connect with it, I can’t say everyone will, but I surely hope so.”
There is only one specified feature on the album: up-and-coming Milwaukee rapper Denny Lanez. Von says that once he heard Denny’s verse, he had to make an exception for the album: “I was highly picky on what songs were to be placed on this…honestly was going to make this project no features at all, but Denny really snapped off on his part and it added very well.” Alexander also said that Lanez is an artist that he was really excited to showcase on this album.
MAYHEM1993 will quickly be cemented as essential listening for any Milwaukee hip hop fan. It is very approachable and palatable for the casual listener while still maintaining a level of depth that leaves the audience coming back for multiple listens. You can find this album, as well as Von Alexander’s other music, on his SoundCloud page. Listen to the album below: