When Milwaukee rapper and producer Jon Briggz first gave his music and art collective the name “We R the Lost,” it was a tongue-in-cheek response to critics. The group’s detractors labeled them as nothing but a lazy group of destructive partiers with no direction. With numerous single releases and mixtapes, Briggz’s aim was to prove that We R the Lost were anything but lost with diverse, underground-tinged beats, and hard-hitting lyrics. Now with the release of their first full album, Still Lost, and a huge outpouring of support from like-minded fans, Briggz and his crew have unwittingly started a serious discussion about music, marginalized culture, and the role of indie in hip hop culture.
If recent pop charts are to be believed, hip hop culture appears to have lost its indie faction. Since hip hop became popular in the ’80s and ’90s, there has always been an underground element to rap and hip hop running along the more mainstream vein. In the ’90s and early ’00s, indie hip hop even began to break through on the charts. Solo artists like Nas, Talib Kweli, and Common brought a smoothed out, jazzy sensibility while crews such as the Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy brought hard-hitting beats and carried a political message. In the late 2000s and into the 2010s, hip hop moved into the limelight with party producers like ‘Lil Jon. In the last few years, rappers have even collaborated with big rave DJs like Steve Aoki and Tiesto to create one big, homogenous party juggernaut.
While hip hop has become more culturally inclusive in recent years, it also seems to have been assigned a party stigma in the pop world while indie hip hop and anything with a smart message has been buried. With pop perception and the raucous shows, which gave Briggz’s crew their reputation, it is no wonder We R the Lost were written off as a party group. This loose group of “lost” artists became a collective with a common message as Briggz began putting together mixtapes and singles with himself as the other common factor. His rap and mastering styles are easily recognizable. The message was clearly relatable. Thus, We R the Lost have quickly gained steam.
After releasing a number of singles under his own name and the names of other member producers, Still Lost, is the first full album Briggz put together, which is wholly assigned to We R the Lost as a collective. Aside from the consistent thread of Briggz himself, the album is all over the board stylistically. Each track is written by a different producer and the album thus runs the gamut of jazzy, Digable Planets-like indie funk to electronic, house-style pop hop. Just in the first two tracks, Still Lost switches from analog jazz bass and drums as well as spoken word lyrics in I’m Spotted to a more pop-inspired, dirty south-style track in New Black. Produced by Midwestern up-and-comer DelleRideOut, these two tracks show the stylistic diversity of We R the Lost’s individual producers as well as of the group as a whole.
Jon Briggz matches his vocals and lyrics to the tone and timber of each song, but his own unique style helps to tie the album together as one cohesive work. He is also careful to give credit to the producer of each song. These collaborations culminate in the first single from the album, entitled The Times. A politically charged track produced by NOVA and featuring Bili Ro$e, The Times is also the culmination of Briggz’s philosophy behind We R the Lost. He and his brethren, despite having personal direction and goals, are lost in a sea of miscommunication, misperception, confusion, and fear.
The accompanying YouTube video to The Times drives this chaotic feeling home further with stark imagery of race riots and police shootings, spliced with clips of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Briggz and Ro$e rap on a plain black background, sometimes alone and sometimes with controversial figures, such as KKK members and police behind them. While all these different images elicit a connotation of chaos and confusion, the peace, calm, and happiness reflected in the faces of Briggz and Ro$e gives a sense that art–music, words, and true feelings–can cut through all the noise. The artists have found a place where truth can be communicated by art and music. It can vanquish the hateful judgments, speech, and actions, even when they are in the same room.
Like their steadfast forebears, the musicians, artists, and poets of this Milwaukee group speak about their experience honestly and from their hearts. It is no wonder Briggz and We R the Lost have created a movement. Very few hip hop artists on the scene today are able to so eloquently communicate the current cultural climate and snares marginalized groups have to navigate in order to stay above it. With Still Lost, however, Briggz and his cohorts show that their path is clear. Through art and music, people have always been able to move through pain and strife to a better place. If the expanding collective that is We R the Lost continue on this path, they will never be lost.
Opinion and Review By Layla Klamt
Edited By Leigh Haugh
YouTube: Jon Briggz Feat. Bili Ro$e – “The Times”
iTunes: Jon Briggz – Still Lost
Images Provided Courtesy of Jon Briggz’s Media Kit