Since hitting the scene in 2011, Kellen Abston (better known by his hip-hop moniker of “Klassik“) has been in a state of perpetual motion. After making a name for himself in Milwaukee by way of 2012’s In The Making—which came in at no. 11 on our list of the 50 best Milwaukee albums of the 2010s (so far)— and last year’s YRP, along with dozens of energetic live performances throughout, 2014 was a relatively quiet year on the Klassik front. Don’t take that as an indication he’s slowed down, though. Rather, the rapper, singer, and multi-instrumentalist was toiling away in the studio writing and recording material for his forthcoming Seasons (projected to be out in spring of 2015), growing as both an artist and and individual, and trying to live a life worth recording. Before he closes out 2014 with a pair of shows and sprints headlong into what projects to be a significant 2015, Kellen “Klassik” Abston told Milwaukee Record some highlights from this year, plans for next year, and how he became the unofficial 16th member of Altos.
MR: What were some of the highlights of your year? I know you played before Ludacris at Summerfest, but what are some of the other highlights of 2014?
KA: I think South By Southwest was a big one early on this year, even with all the pros and cons that were discussed with the whole MilwaukeeHome stage, it definitely brought who was serious in the scene. It was a good opportunity for people here to network with eachother, and some people had their first taste of networking outside of here and getting up and getting out. I’ve been excited and inspired by stuff like that. Some of my biggest accomplishments this year is random occurrences of strangers approaching me and telling me they really respect what I’m doing, or talking to kids who are working on stuff and they know my catalog. That’s a surreal feeling, and, to me, that’s an accomplishment of finding out that I’m actually reaching people and touching people. I feel like that’s the ultimate goal. So yeah, South By, and some really cool shows, but I’m really looking forward to this new year.
MR: I know that you had YRP out in December of 2013, so I can’t really say it was a quiet year. But you technically didn’t have anything new out this year, except the music video for “Light.” Were you just laying low this year? Are you plotting for big year in 2015?
KA: I don’t know if we purposely planned to have a bigger 2015, but we put out the album, we pushed that, and we put out the video. This summer was really when this next project came about. I guess you can say from that point on, I was really quiet—except for shows here and there. There were points—especially during summer—where there a few weeks when I was just recording non-stop and writing, doing new stuff, doing features, and just staying busy. I’m also a big proponent that you have to live a little before you get out and do the next thing. There had to be a natural occurrence of life, because otherwise what are you doing? What are you getting across if you don’t have any new experiences to share?
MR: Then what have you lived? I mean, what have you learned during the—I don’t want to say “lull”—during the writing period? What are we going to hear in the new album that we didn’t in YRP or In The Making?
KA: It’s just bigger. I wanted to see how big I could make this record. I think that’s always my mindset for doing these projects. How big, but also how balanced? How far can we push things? What have I learned in all my years of making beats? With every project, I think I’m getting just a little bit closer. I’m using a lot more live instruments. I’ve added a couple more violins, and me playing guitar, me doing a lot more singing. There’s a ballad on this album, it’s actually the title track, and I sing on it. There’s strings, piano, me singing, harmonies, and crazy, dreamy stuff all over the place.
MR: You don’t have to answer this if it’s too personal, but I noticed from your personal Facebook account that you’ve seemed discouraged lately, but you’ve recently sort of found your step again. Is that accurate, and is there anything behind the change in attitude?
KA: I could probably write at least a few chapters of a book about the past couple months. In the overall sense, I’ve just gone through some crazy life occurrences. From day-today stuff like getting your car towed to things that aren’t day-to-day stuff like getting your car shot at—which normally don’t happen to people in the same day. Just growing as an artist, I’m still learning to not take things personally, and even when I do [take things personally], how to really evaluate that and turn that into something positive. That’s my ultimate goal, for my output to always have this positive tone. I’m trying to take these punches that life may throw because just as surely as those things happen, it swings back. It’s just the natural motion. It doesn’t necessarily make going through those situations any easier…
MR: But if it’s only going up, you’re not even able to fully recognize the good.
KA: I would be worried if things were only going up because at some point, that’s going to have to balance out. That was my motivation to get in the studio. I’ve been taking the time to take those experiences and—even though it’s been a hell of a ride—trying to make something really beautiful out of it.
MR: And you’re integrating your music into different areas too. You’re playing with the Altos now?
KA: Yep. Actually, over the summer I recorded on some songs for their album that’s coming out in spring. There’s a song where I have a small rap verse over strings. And now I’m actually playing sax with them as well, so I’m kind of the 16th member of Altos right now. I’m cross-pollinating and trying to play outside of what’s expected.
MR: What’s the value in that? As an artist, what’s the importance of venturing outside of one’s comfort zone?
KA: You expand, and you improve you skill set and adaptability. You quickly find out just how intuitive you are. It only benefits you in the end to expand your knowledge. How much more do you want to know? I feel like collaborating and cross-collaborating is the equivalent of higher education for a musician. You’re seeking knowledge to help you grow.
Klassik will headline the 4th annual Hip-Hop Holiday MPS Fundraiser concert at G-Daddy’s BBC on Saturday, December 28. Klassik is also performing at Iron Horse Hotel’s sold out New Year’s Eve Boogie, which also features special guests Fresh Cut Collective, and DJ Fredx.