Milwaukee’s WebsterX Powers Through Pain On New Album

WebsterX: 'Daymares’ Is An Embodiment Of Duality Of Dark, Light

Kenny Hoopla

WebsterX said he didn’t get into music until “later” in life. The 24-year-old, experimental hip-hop musician was in college when he started rapping, moving beyond his love of the spoken-word poetry that he fell for while a student at Wauwatosa East High School.

But music was always around him. His father was a member of the famous Ethiopian group, Roha Band. His sister would play him hip-hop, like A Tribe Called Quest and Kanye West, musicians that he said he still admires today.

WebsterX, born and raised Sam Ahmed on the north side of Milwaukee, said he doesn’t know what it was, but music started to consume him.

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“It started as me searching random YouTube instrumentals and then I got into rapping as a whole and freestyling, especially,” he said. “I turned freestyling into song-making over time. Now, I’m at the point I am now where I can construct a whole song.”

WebsterX released his debut digital mixtape, “Desperate Youth,” in 2013. He generated a lot of buzz after its release, playing shows across the country and at music festivals.

But with the success came new feelings that he had never dealt with before: anxiety and depression.

“It was really eye-opening since anxiety and depression wasn’t a theme talked about in my house a lot. My parents didn’t complain like that,” said WebsterX. “When the time period hit, I couldn’t feel like myself. I couldn’t really get out of bed or get motivated to do anything.”

He said that dropping out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and deciding to pursue music and art full-time were weighing on him. He wanted to prove to his parents that he could succeed going down this path.

“It was a growing pain period,” said WebsterX. “From there, I had to make the right decisions to move forward, but that took a lot of mental energy.”

WebsterX took that pain and confusion and turned it into music. In March 2017, he released his first full-length album, “Daymares.” His delivery drips with emotion, as he bounces between rapping and singing, showcasing different voices and feelings. It’s an introspective, dreamlike concept album that explores dark places and a time that wasn’t so great for WebsterX. But his optimism and growth shine through.

“‘Daymares’ is an embodiment of the duality of dark and light,” said WebsterX. “Growing up, I was always a pretty positive kid. I had a great upbringing. My family was very supportive; they’re Ethiopian immigrant parents. I have a unique background I’ve always celebrated.”

With his music, WebsterX said he always tries to make sure that the songs are lyrically, sonically and visually on point.

While he writes all his own lyrics, sometimes cranking out songs in an afternoon, WebsterX said he works with a number of producers to create the beats.

One of them is Q the Sun. Not only did he create some of the music on “Daymares,” but he’s the executive producer on the album.

In addition to the work on the album, Q the Sun and WebsterX are part of the Milwaukee music collective, New Age Narcissism. The group — whose members also include Lex Allen, Siren, Lorde Fred33, Bo Triplex, Jay Anderson, and Christopher Gilbert — spawned from the musicians’ mutual appreciation for one another. They each have their own solo careers, but sporadically perform and create together.

“It’s a group that’s not afraid to cross boundaries,” said WebsterX. “It’s so all over the place. We allow ourselves to be submerged in so many styles of life, not just music, but life in general.”

New Age Narcissism has been working with Milwaukee Public Schools this school year. They’ve been visiting schools, working with classes, and performing at elementary and middle schools.

WebsterX said he hopes they can draw out the students’ creative sides.

“A lot of people don’t have those inspirations and they need different vessels and outlets to be able to realize they have it inside of them,” said WebsterX. “I wish I had that when I was younger. I was super obsessed with sports and that was my passion, but music worked out way better for me. This will give them a little bit of hope.”

In addition to working with MPS, WebsterX also helps run FREESPACE, an organization that connects Milwaukee youth with experienced artists.

“FREESPACE started with me realizing that 2015 was a really great year for Milwaukee music as a whole,” he said. “That’s when people started to realize they have something going for them and the city. But that’s not the end of it, steps have to be made.”

He received an email from Vince Gaa, an English teacher at Casimir Pulaski High School, who said he had been teaching WebsterX’s material in his writing classes. This got WebsterX’s wheels spinning, wondering how he could help inspire the music scene’s next generation.

So, along with Gaa, graphic designer Janice Vogt, and musician KaneTheRapper, the group founded FREESPACE and began hosting monthly events. An experienced headliner performs alongside an emerging artist, someone who’s never performed a show before. They also conduct interviews with the artist in front of an audience.

“When they get this experience with FREESPACE, it’s a beautiful thing. It instills confidence in them,” said WebsterX.

Events and projects like these make WebsterX optimistic about the Milwaukee music scene’s future.

“We live in a city where those resources for being a musician aren’t always there, so you have to do a lot of things and make opportunities for yourself,” he said.

And WebsterX has throughout his career.

“I wanted to make a stamp and represent Milwaukee in a dope way, but that started to change when I realized that I couldn’t represent Milwaukee as a whole. I am just one piece of the puzzle,” he said.

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