In recent months, Milwaukee has seen what has been described as an “epidemic” of car theft and reckless driving — most of which has been attributed to “the Kia Boys.” Do a quick search for “Kia Boys” on TikTok or YouTube and you’ll find compilations of teenagers — piled five, six, seven deep into stolen cars — speeding away from cops, fishtailing while going 80 through school zones, or crashing and flipping their cars altogether, then fleeing the scene. The Kia Boys usually abandon the cars after they crash or run out of gas.
Back in May, 21 people were also injured in three separate shootings that occurred outside of Fiserv Forum following the Bucks’ Game 6 NBA playoff loss to the Celtics. The Bucks were forced to cancel the away game watch party they had planned for Game 7 in the city’s Deer District (an entertainment district where people congregate to watch major games and other events at bars and restaurants), and the city imposed an 11 p.m. curfew for everyone aged 20 and younger.
Huey V, 25, says that, while his generation was “very fun and reckless,” Milwaukee’s younger generation is getting even wilder. “I was gonna say it probably cooled down a little bit, but nah…our fun was with intention to not hurt anybody,” he reminisces. “This new fun is like somebody’s got to get hurt in the process or it’s not fun enough. It’s a little different.”
But that isn’t to say Huey didn’t witness his fair share of violence and tragedy growing up in Milwaukee. During his teenage years, Huey said that, even when doing something as routine as taking the city bus, he had to prepare for the very real possibility of being inadvertently involved in a shootout. “Streets was hot…bodies dropping everywhere, especially on the north side,” he said.
Much of Huey’s music, including his 2021 EP, As Above, hinges on this violence. Largely written as a tribute to his late friend BNG, As Above is a rumination on the emotional fallout that comes with the murder of a loved one and death in general: PTSD, pain, and paranoia; depression and drugs; an almost Pac-like sense of fatalism (he even raps “I feel like Pac and it’s my time coming” on “R.I.P. BNG”). It’s also worth noting that Huey’s rap name is borrowed from Huey P. Newton of the Black Panthers, who was murdered at the age of 47 in West Oakland.
“I been at war for too long, don’t trust my brothers, I don’t even trust myself/And tell my mama if they riding on me, ain’t no hiding from it, I’m gon’ die with no regret/I know the Reaper want my life, so when the Lord ain’t by my side, I make sure I got my TEC,” Huey raps on “No Regrets.”
This probably isn’t the image the average American has of Milwaukee—an ostensibly sleepy, medium-sized city in the midwest that’s known more for Pabst Blue Ribbon and its blue-collar roots than drugs, death, and joyrides. It’s probably not the first city you think of when you think about midwest rap, either.
In Milwaukee, they call their regional subgenre “slap music,” Huey says, explaining it’s a “different word for trappin’, like slappin.” Milwaukee’s rap scene can feel almost difficult to pin down as it meshes and melds with the sounds of other close-by midwest cities. Explore the city’s sound on YouTube and you’ll find an amalgam of influences: the off-kilter flows from Michigan, drill (both Chicago and Brooklyn), and street crooners like NoCap, Lil Durk, and Rod Wave. Take the discography of a singular Milwaukee rapper, such as Chicken P, and you’ll find all these influences and then some. As Huey puts it, “whoever is most influential that’s the closest to us at the moment…we found ways of taking our style and blending it all into one.” For that reason, it’s tough to box Huey into a singular category, but he’s perhaps closest to the melodic street rappers as a lot of his music tends to be heartfelt and somber.
As a singer, Huey alternates between letting his unfiltered vocals shine and utilizing plugins for emotional effect. He exemplifies this on “After the Deal” and “Bygones Be Bygone,” two songs off of his recently released EP, So Below, but you can see this duality in his earlier music as well. “No Regrets” is unfiltered, ultra-personal bloodletting, while portions of “Exodus” sound almost like 03 Greedo at his most painful, auto-tuned moodiness. You can often hear the frenetic nature of life in Milwaukee bleeding into the music through his voice and lyrics, giving his songs a striking sense of urgency.
For someone whose music deals with so much death, trauma, and tragedy, Huey comes across as affable, genuine, and truly ecstatic to be speaking on his life and his music. The night before the release of his new EP, So Below, I had the pleasure of talking to Huey about Milwaukee and its music scene, how he linked up with Memphis Bleek, and what he hopes to accomplish with the new project.
I saw in an interview, you said that you got your start writing as a poet, and your passion was literature. And I was wondering how that influenced you as an artist and person, and with your music.
Huey V: I’d say the poetry makes me take music probably 100% more serious to be honest with you. Like, I can’t freestyle songs like that just off the top. If I do, then it’s probably for like a melody or something. Cuz I have to be saying something with intent, every single bar has to have some type of intention behind it…I’m training with my slices now man, I just don’t be cutting everywhere. Like you got to make sure you aimin’ at what you hit.
When did you start making music?
Huey V: I started making music at like, 14. That’s when I first wrote my like, first song type stuff. But when it became like an actual thing to where I thought that I could change the situations around me and make the most of it, actually turn it into a career…I had to be about like, 19. That’s when I finally said ‘okay, cool, yeah, we’ll go out to the studio actually trying to make these records.’ I’m sitting in there for eight hour blocks trying to make something shake, trying to make something happen…
It’s been a long process of trying to get it figured out for a fact, like I got my first microphone I think at 15. I got my first computer at 16, hustlin’ up for that one. There was a point in time I was giving haircuts inside of like the school bathroom during school. Teachers walked in like ‘What y’all doin’ in here?’…the clippers full of hair. I could get you lined up in 6th hour!
What was it like growing up in Milwaukee and how would you describe it living there?
Huey V: I’d say it was very fun and reckless. It still is, it still is, but just — actually, you know what, it might be the exact same thing — I was gonna say it probably cooled down a little bit, but nah. Like the new generation of kids — 14, 13, 12 year olds running around with pistols, stealing a car. I think the first time I — allegedly — stole a car, I was like 14 years old. So it makes sense…but they was probably moving a lot more like wilder than we were. I guess, our fun was with intention to not hurt anybody. This new fun is like somebody’s got to get hurt in the process or it’s not fun enough. It’s a little different.
And with social media and stuff now, they always want to record that too.
Huey V: Instant gratification, instant gratification! Now they get documentaries and interview press releases, all types of stuff, so you know they looking for new ways to take it to the next level. But when I was growing up was like, prime time Chief Keef — 2013, 2014…Streets was hot…for real, like bodies dropping everywhere, especially on the north side. Having to take the city bus, you knew you was gonna get into a shootout, or at least run past one. You might be involved in that muh fuckah, you might have to take cover…
How would you characterize Milwaukee music? I heard they call it “slap music.”
Huey V: Slap music! Nah, or at least that’s what I like to call it, slap music. That’s the closest thing to it. Like, it’s slappin’. Different word for trappin’, like slappin.’ Like I might slap 30 on your head, I just slapped 10 off these phones…it’s weird. At one point in time Milwaukee used to sound exactly like Chicago. At one point in time — well, actually the time is now — Milwaukee kind of sounds exactly like Detroit. Like it’s just whoever is most influential that’s the closest to us at the moment. But we found ways of taking our style and blending it all into one, so we got like Chicago-influenced old school like Chief Keef, Durk…and we have now: Detroit’s influence. So like, Icewear Vezzo, Sada Baby, YN Jay, like, the way that those beats hit, like that offbeat pattern, that J Dilla influence, like that sound, we definitely have like, molded into one. Especially with the slap music. So the content is always gonna be Milwaukee, but the sound itself, you know…
The “Huey” in your name comes from Huey Newton of the Black Panthers. And on “R.I.P. BNG,” you also said that you feel like Tupac. And you know, these are both super important, super revolutionary figures in history. I was wondering how that comes into play in terms of you as a person and your artistry and your music.
Huey V: I’d say foresight. A lot of the things that I want to get into, I can’t even necessarily talk about it yet. Just like, as a new artist, things that I want to push for, those types of things. It’s weird, like being too intentful in your future as a younger artist can come off as like, kind of corny or preachy a little bit sometimes. But it’s not even necessarily that I don’t want to preach absolutely anything. It’s just sometimes I have a different way of thinking about how people who look kinda like me or have minds that think like mine should kind of operate and move in a sort. But I’d say being in Milwaukee, you’ll naturally be very, very, very influenced about like, anything Civil Rights-wise. Just due to the police brutality, I’d say. Just off of the relations of people in the city, the redlining, dealing with banks, gentrification, all of that. Just naturally you have to be more intentional.
A lot of your music deals with death and survivor’s guilt, but at the same time, from talking to you and from seeing you in interviews, you seem like a pretty carefree guy, like down to Earth on the outside. How do you get in the mindset to be able to write about trauma and emotionally draining subjects?
Huey V: You know, it’s weird…it’s the opposite. Like, I don’t have to get into the mindset of being able to write about grief, because the mind is already there…this whole process of like, going through tour runs and promo runs and having to deal with people, networking. This is the new part to me. So being so happy on a regular basis or appearing carefree, like wanting to have people around me is the new part. That’s Huey 2.0. That’s the side that I’m actually working on, trying to pull myself out of like, you know, the same situations and circumstances that I’ve been in. But anytime I go back home, it’s like PTSD: you kick right back into it. Whatever bad habits that you used to have, kind of are just like— ‘oh, they’re itchin’!
But I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes, when I’m venting, like really venting — those are the records where I do kind of like have to be by myself. I can’t have any other energies in the room because you’re almost at your most vulnerable. So like, the whole time they’re thinking, ‘oh, is this next line gonna be hard? Is this line hard enough?’ And, like, I’m venting about my life right now. [Laughs]…I’m not even thinking about whether this line is going to be hard or not. It’ll connect in some type of way. But if you don’t feel it, then it just wasn’t meant for you.
Yeah, I mean, your songs are really personal. And I feel like sometimes, like you said, it’s got to be for you over anybody else.
Huey V: Yeah, yeah. But in talking to you, and keeping it real with you, it’ll resonate with other people. Because if you’re talking about real life situations, real life happens to absolutely everybody. Somebody’s gonna connect.
A lot of your songs feel like they have a somber tone, but they also feel kind of triumphant in a way because it’s about overcoming that stuff. How do you find that balance?
Huey V: Honestly, I just make music to whatever moves my body…like I listen to 100 beats a day, and if it doesn’t give me that, like…what’s the word I’m looking for — goosebumps! If it doesn’t give me goosebumps, then it’s just not the sound. So usually like, because I know my lyrics are gonna be a bit more, you know, darker, I might put a melody on it to brighten it up. It’s weird, it’s like, it’s just the duality of it. I like to make my music kinda yin-yang. I’ll tell you a real life story, but I also want that beat to be punchin’ and keep you still like, you know, intact.
When you dropped “No Regrets,” you said that that was a really big turning point for you in terms of writing and sound — and you said a transition from underground to a more mainstream sound, can you speak a little bit more on that transition?
Huey V: The melodies! Melodies, the songwriting, the positioning of your hooks, the way that your verse flows into your hooks — it became more technical. At first, I was just like, I’ll write a song and the verse will be 86 bars long. [Laughs] I’m gonna bar your head off for the next 20 minutes. And then I give you a little hook with four words in it and it’ll loop twice, and then that was the end of the song [laughs] But when I signed to Bleek, and after hearing the reactions to “No Regrets” because that was the first time I ever took that kind of stance, I gave it actual melodies, I actually tried to…how do I explain it? Sometimes, there’s radio records, there’s streaming records, and then there’s underground records, right? So for a radio record, you have to have a hook. Most radio hits have the word “love” inside of it. I learned that from Bleek.
I never thought about that, but that’s probably true.
Huey V: Most radio records, at some point in time, someone has mentioned love. So putting that into concept — most big records have hooks that also have a bridge in between it before the verse. Add that into there. Most of them have a notable note. It’s like [briefly harmonizes in a high key] — I put certain things, certain key details into my song in order to try and take it to where I need it to go to. And “No Regrets” was kind of like that first time that I actually sat down and was like, ‘how can I get this past my computer? How can I get this past my homie’s crib? How can I get this outta Milwaukee?’ And, you know, luckily enough it got discovered in Allentown, PA, and that’s actually what got me signed.
You said you wrote “No Regrets” in 30 minutes — I think you said you wrote it at 7-11. Where do you normally write and what’s your process? How do you find inspiration for stuff like that?
Huey V: I try to write in the place that connects to me the most. So like, it was a point in time where I would write all my records in my mom’s driveway…go in the car, light up a blunt, whatever, relax. But I had to be there. If I was anywhere else, then it would just throw me out of my focus — like the synergy was off…I’d just write it from my mom’s driveway, just cuz it’s back in the reality of absolutely everything. Like there might be gunshots going off in the backyard, it might be fire or police sirens going off in the back, and sometimes I might be up for like 2-, 3-, 4-AM type stuff. So you’re really hearing everything that happens at night if you’re not outside. So it just kind of helps put me into the mindset of where I’m about to take the record.
As far back as 2020, you said that you kind of already had the concept for As Above and So Below. How would you describe that connection between the two?
Huey V: I’d say it’s kind of like…time capsules in a sense…honestly, As Above is kinda like a venting session. Like if I were to just sit in front of like a camera for hours and just talk to the camera. It’s kind of like that, me just putting my ideas onto paper. But the correlation comes from the first one being a tribute to BNG and just thinking about all of the things that he’s kinda witnessed in a sense…just the things that he’s heard, the things that he’s seen, especially about me — or like…the things that he’s seen in overseeing me. It’s kind of like…me finally telling it to the world. So, So Below is me actually, like, livin’ it, I guess. So Below is me livin’ it. If I was thinking about my past traumas, now here’s me without the chip on my shoulder.
What do you hope to achieve with So Below — career-wise, music-wise?
Huey V: I want to be here for like the next 7 to 20 years, man. I want people to look at Milwaukee — first person they think of Huey V. When people think of Mount Rushmore, it’s just my face! [Laughs]
I heard you were recording something like 10 songs a day in Miami for the album. What was that recording process like, and how do you choose from that many songs to figure out what’s gonna go on an album?
Huey V: I want every song that I record to be on the album, to be honest with you. I really do. I really do. But sometimes it’s an up and down process. One day I might have 10 songs, one day it might just be one. But in that day that I make 10 songs, I might only really, really, really like about three of them. Some of them might just be passing, wavering feelings and emotions that I just wanted to get out at the time. But on the days that it’s just that one song that I come out the studio with, I know, I know, absolutely, that that’s gonna be the one. So I try not to fall in love with my music too much.
Too much I’ll record it, and I won’t even listen to it again…sometimes I forget about records, it’s super bad. And then they’re bringing it back up, like ‘ayo, why ain’t you put this out?’ I say I forgot that that even existed, to be honest with you, I did. If I do 100 records, I’m only doing 100 because I know that when I go to shorten down my list to 25, those are gonna be fire, fire, undeniable, undeniable. So by the time that I shorten that list down to my top 13 — ready, classic music.
As a writer, I feel like a big part of the process for me is also just like, you have to kind of just get everything out of your head.
Huey V: Everything, everything!
And not all of it’s going to be good, but it helps you get to the good stuff.
Huey V: Exactly, it’s like stepping stones. Sometimes I might even take lyrics from another song like, ‘okay, you know, that wasn’t necessarily what I needed it to be.’ But as a piece of the body? Yeah, I’ll pull that out. And I’ll make this into something so much bigger than what it would have been beforehand.
So the project was mixed by Young Guru, correct?
Huey V: Yeah, yeah. Young Guru.
What was it like working with him?
Huey V: It’s crazy…I met him one time at Soho House. But in working with him, it’s been complete assurance. That’s the one thing that I know that I do not have to worry about is those mixes, which is so key to me, because that’s the music that I have to live with. He doesn’t even understand how — well actually, he does understand! He’s been around for so long. Jay’s right-hand man! He completely understands, which is why I think he doesn’t miss [laughs].
Yeah. I mean, when you gotta do that for Jay-Z…
Huey V: No lackin’! No lackin’, no lettin’ up! He has such an important part in my life. So, you know, I appreciate him a lot.
How did you end up linking up with Memphis Bleek and Warehouse Music?
Huey V: It was through Allentown, the Allentown situation that I was referring to before.
I’ve actually been to that area before.
Huey V: Allentown, PA man! Shout out to Pennsylvania…there was a kickback that was happening and they were playing the “No Regrets” record. And one of the A&Rs that was there heard the record and fell in love with it. It was like, ‘Yo, who is this kid?’ So she sends him my Instagram information. He reaches out — I wanna say two weeks later, I get a call from Bleek. Like, ‘Yo, I heard the record, the “No Regrets” record. My G, it’s fire, super fire. But I need two more records from you.’ Wooooord! I was like, ‘alright bet, cool, cool, cool.’ So I sent him two more records out — “Love is Overrated” and I believe “After the Deal.” As soon as I got the call we made it happen! I’ve been waiting for this moment for too long, too long. So I know I’m not gonna mess it up. So really, it was like speaking into existence. It’s crazy that you guys are getting this record now. It’s like two and a half years later after the deal, and people are thinking like, ‘nah, this is just foresight.’
After Bleek flew you out to New York, you ended up settling in Miami. Did you choose Miami? Why did you choose Miami over any other city?
Huey V: I love Miami. But no, most of the team is out in Miami right now. So it was like, ‘okay, cool, come out here we can show you this, you know, what’s going on.’ Which is perfect, because it kind of gave me like, a revamp. You know, put me around a lot of new, fresh energy, a lot of young energy, a lot of scam artists, a lot of everything [laughs].
Does the sound and culture of Miami play into your music in any way, would you say?
Huey V: I’d say the culture, not necessarily the sound. But the culture, the culture of Miami, definitely, definitely, definitely. The lifestyle has changed a lot. I can’t help it. But, I think everybody would. Man, get your stuff around some palm trees, some warm weather, the women are beautiful. And the nightclubs don’t close until…never! When a strip club is 24 hours, it’s an issue.
Is there any artist you’d like to work with in the future?
Huey V: In terms of the Midwest? Babyface Ray. From Chicago, probably like Herbo. From down South, I’d say Future. From the West Coast, probably Kendrick. I love that Kodak record that he has. But sometimes — and I notice it in myself too — like you can tell when someone’s exploring sound. And when he goes off the deep end, he goes all the way off the deep end. But now he’s not necessarily on TDE. So that mainstream press that’ll probably clean up the music that comes directly from your brain is now no longer there. So there’s probably no buffering factor from how creative his brain is to the Kendrick that we now see. So sometimes I like the record, sometimes it’s just like…[whistling noise]. It’s crazy, cuz I’ll still say that he probably dropped the best project right now in terms of the content, like he’s talking about a lot of stuff on there. It’s just impossible to keep listening to it.
What’s next for Huey V after So Below?
Huey V: Rap game domination, man. I’m definitely trying to make my way out to L.A. I have a show out there on June 24. If we can, I’ma try and make it out to BET awards…I’ll be in LA, Atlanta, New York, you might see me on Sway in the Morning or something like that. Just a little heads up…I’m tryina figure it out for a fact. Tours…I’m really looking for one in 2023, but if not, we might have 25 to 35 dates this year…it’s in the talks right now.
Lastly, anything else you want the world to know?
Huey V: Tell the Kia Boys to stop! [Laughs] Somebody tell the Kia Boys to stop! Wreaking havoc on the the city right now. For real, for real man, and we’re sorry to the Bucks! We’re sorry, we are so sorry, they shot the Bucks theater up — that’s probably why we did not win in the playoffs. Celtics got lucky man, they got lucky! So we’re sorry, tell the Kia Boys to stop!