‘Music Is A Conversation’: Milwaukee’s Klassik On His Art, Being Subject Of Upcoming Book

By Ayisha Jaffer | January 12, 2021

  • Milwaukee artist Klassik (Photo by Aliza Baran)

Milwaukee artist Klassik (Photo by Aliza Baran)

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Klassik is an artist with many talents: he’s a producer, mentor and activist. The Milwaukee musician is a singer, rapper and multi-instrumentalist who creates unique modern, soulful jazz compositions.

He’s won a number of awards over the last few years, including Best of Milwaukee: Rap/Hip-Hop Producer for three years in a row (2016-2018) by “Shepherd Express.” His last album, “Quiet,” was the named the #1 album of 2019 by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Critics’ Choice Album of the Year at the Radio Milwaukee Music Awards.

Klassik’s story begins surrounded by music.

“Music for me began from birth,” said Klassik, also known as Kellen Abston. “My parents were always playing music — playing music for me in the car, in the car seat, in the crib. And then my musical journey started when I started playing the saxophone in fourth grade.”

He was a natural at the saxophone, which led him to a mentorship with Milwaukee jazz legend, Berkeley Fudge.

“From elementary school when I started playing sax, I immediately took to it,” Klassik said. “One of our assistants, Adekola Adedapo — another local jazz legend — will tell you about hearing someone playing in the hallway and thinking that Berkeley or one of her jazz friends was at the school and then turning the corner and seeing this little kid making these sounds. She immediately took it upon herself to introduce me to Berkeley. She took me to the conservatory and there was a performance where I met him afterwards, and I immediately started taking lessons with him.”

Klassik (Photo by Kelly Michael Anderson)

Klassik (Photo by Kelly Michael Anderson)

In addition to his time playing the sax with Fudge, Klassik went through the Milwaukee Public School system at Rufus King High School and Milwaukee High School of the Arts surrounded by other creative students who helped develop his talent.

“I’ve been fortunate to be in a public schooling system that afforded us the opportunity to make art all day and to pursue our passions,” said Klassik. “That definitively did wonders for my confidence and creative freedom. I was actually getting solid musical knowledge but also not being restricted by that and real-world application. All of that supremely shaped who I am as an artist today.”

Everything Klassik seems to touch is done with real intention and purpose. This comes through in his songwriting process.

“It was really kind of instilled in me that music is a conversation. In any good conversation there are pauses, and you leave room for responses, and you then you in turn respond to something,” said Klassik.

One of his latest singles, “Active,” is a great example of drawing the listener in to be part of these conversations.

In this time of unrest and our new normal, Klassik has kept active and created a deeper body of work — a journal of this time but also his progress as a musician in his new mixtape, “Klass Notes.”

“They are notes on what was going on,” said Klassik on the mixtape. “I mean the song ‘EveryBodyFree’ is probably my favorite. Obviously, there was a lot going on that felt not free or felt like there were a lot of restrictions and being mindful of certain oppression that was being highlighted. This was me reflecting on that.”

Just after the release of “Klass Notes,” Joey Grihalva, author of “Images of America: Milwaukee Jazz” was captured by Klassik’s sound and story and his intersections with the city of Milwaukee. So, Grihalva decided to reach out and start the process of writing the book on Klassik.

“This has been a transformative experience in and of itself,” Klassik said. “It’s my story but it’s also this interesting take of using my story as a vessel to tell different parts of the story of Milwaukee.”

This story goes deep, covering gun violence, trauma, loss and also takes a look at anxiety, racism, and addition. The book, “The Milwaukeean,” will be out February 23, 2021.

“People take time out of their day to digest from me so it’s got to be dope. It’s got to say something, it’s got to make you think and it has to be honest. That’s just the criteria for everything that I do,” said Klassik. “I think my writing style is very stream of conscious. Conceptually, I can flow from thing to thing pretty naturally because I’m following my life path and documenting it and hoping that people take something from that as well.”

Ayisha Jaffer

Ayisha Jaffer

Ayisha Jaffer has a passion for being in the shoes of many different lifestyles from punk rocker to park ranger. She’s been a storyteller, musician, DJ, and most recently, a radio host at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee. For 15 years, she traveled from New Zealand to Alaska and everywhere in between,...

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