Klassik epitomizes a new wave of Midwest Hip Hop – a poppy, storytelling style that marries melody with message and draws influence from the region’s deep roots in jazz and soul. In an area plagued with many problems, Klassik (Kellen Abston) taps into Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s melting pot of vibrant sounds to craft organic, experimental records that uplift and bring people together.
The Cream City native does it all. He’s really a Hip Hop renaissance man of sorts – much like a young Kanye West. Klassik is an emcee, singer, multi-instrumentalist and produces nearly everything he hops on. He has a dynamic, conversational flow, sings bright, symphonic licks and composes records in the classical sense – for their standalone quality. The “STAGEslayer” also places a lot of emphasis on live performance and studying greats like Michael Jackson.
“Everybody here is super super authentic, super super melodic, just musical and really good storytellers. That’s what makes our sound unique. If you’re looking for like a certain drum sound or something like that, or like a drum pattern – you can’t do that.”
Klassik sides with many other Midwest artists in that he pushes to marry the melody and the message, to use the power of the word and music to make change. “I think because it is like a melting pot and there’s so many different sounds, we’re able to do that because we’re able to pull from so many sounds and master this art of storytelling, and selection of words, and just writing really good songs that people connect to,” he says. “It’s like modern day philosophy. It’s like being able to preach to people without preaching, being able to uplift people and move people with their power of music.” Klassik wants that synergy. Once he’s put in the right position, he aims to change the mindset of America and what they listen to.
“I think that a lot of the biggest similarity of all of us artists in that Chicago, and it’s Milwaukee, and even Minneapolis, is that all of us have that jazz or some type of soul background. You look at interviews with all of these cats that are popping right now and somewhere they’re gonna mention them listening to jazz or old soul records. Or they grew up with a family member who was in that.”
The Brew City artist came up in an era “where MPS was not totally crumbled.” He took advantage of the benefits that the Milwaukee Public School system had to offer, learning to play the saxophone and taking local jazz lessons from Berkley Fudge. “Those contributed to this narrative and the way that I’m able to articulate and make music,” he says. “It’s because of the city that I started playing the saxophone and studied with local jazz lessons, that gave me my ear.” Abston would go on to receive a full ride scholarship to University of Wisconsin – Madison to study English, although he’d drop out a year later, citing his performance with The Cool Kids as the reason for his early departure.
“Blame either the stubbornness in me or I would lend it even more so to the level of passion. I already had the level of direction that was rare for a nineteen year old. Like, most people don’t. I recognize that in my peers. And in myself – this level of self-awareness and knowing that this is great and this is awesome but I’m wasting somebody else’s time. Somebody else could be here in this spot with this full ride, doing something that’s gonna further them and get them to where they wanna be. This is not gonna get me to where I wanna be.”
Kellen Abston is still working his way out of that mud. He’s still working long hours at jobs he doesn’t want to do. “The prime example of what it feels like is the night I opened for Kendrick in Champaign at the State Farm Arena,” he says. The original opener cancelled so the venue gave him a call. “Cloud nine type, I’m performing for five thousand people,” Klassik recalls. “Next day, come back at work and I’m like, ‘Ughhh.’ [Laughs]” The Wisconsin artist says that having patience, embracing humility, showing empathy and maintaining focus have been the keys to his success so far.
The Klassik camp uncovered the AUTUMN EP on June 13, completing the mixtape portion of the SEASONS series. “The EPs kinda got a taste of the different directions that I was branching off into,” he says. “You were like able to see those for what they were, grouped with other songs that maybe have a similar feel, or just the fact that we put those together automatically, you see it in a certain context.” At least one song per SEASONS EP would be included amongst the twelve on the SEASONS LP. In addition to the alternative release format, Klassik took up a new style of writing for his newest project. “I should not say never, but ninety eight percent of the time, I don’t write anything,” he says. He took to a “stream-of-consciousness” style a couple years ago and has been doing it since. “The music sets the tone so much more than anything that I could just say in blank space,” Klassik explains.
Klassik just recently dropped the full-length, self-produced SEASONS LP on July 16. The project is unique in many ways and the title too takes on a different meaning than one might expect. “I don’t wanna get lost in whatever the cliche rhetoric is right now, he stated.” The tapes don’t align with the calendar seasons either, as Abston is not directly speaking to the diverse weather conditions of the Northern Midwest. “This has nothing to do with actual temperature,” he says, it [represents] an artist’s cycle.” Klassik wants to show the flow of human emotion, through the scope of music.
“There’s a title track on SEASONS that, and it’s a ballad, it’s no rap, it’s very short, there’s strings, there’s a Mister Rodgers reference… [Laughs] And on that, I think it ended up perfectly encapsulating the whole idea of the album. It’s written in the perspective of – a lot of my records – almost like as if there’s this invisible woman. There’s this third party that no one ever sees but it’s always usually directed at some woman, somehow. I don’t know if that’s just my writing process but every song I tell her that, ‘Never once did I believe that you’d stay, oh no, because just as quickly as the seasons change, you’ll go.’ And that was just kind of like, people come and go and they change as quickly as the seasons do.”