Twan Mack is an adult contemporary hip hop artist, emcee, and merchandiser who has been involved in Milwaukee music for over three decades. An “elder statesman” of the scene, Twan radiates positivity fueled by the joy of sharing his love for hip hop with the world around him, complemented by his drive to collaborate with others of all ages and backgrounds. I interviewed him on Mr. Nice Guy before and felt it was one of my definitive episodes. This man shared story after story of rubbing shoulders with hip hop greats, treating every day like a blessing, and that truly nurtures your core to see someone truly glow from talking about what they love doing. We have worked with Twan for a while over at Breaking and Entering; he hosts our annual Big Beat MKE tournament. Considering I wanted my first Spotlight to be someone I already know and am comfortable with, I thought Twan Mack would be a perfect choice.
ME: Twan, tell me about how you got involved with Wisconsin Music Ventures.
TWAN: Allison and I connected via Facebook and I liked what she was doing and how she presented herself. I actually took a trip to her office out there in Wauwatosa to do a podcast with her and right off the bat we had a cool chemistry. We’re both go-getters so that made it easy. One thing led to another and we began talking about business possibilities. I just have a high level of respect for Allison and her work ethic. I like how transparent she is and how she’s steadfast about what she wants and how she goes about obtaining it.
ME: Tell us what the Milwaukee scene was like in the 1980’s.
TWAN: It was very clique-ish. There were a lot of performances opening up for larger-scale artists at places like The Eagles Club which is now The Rave…Summerfest, obviously…State Fair. From a hip hop standpoint, people were very segmented and stuck to their crews. It wasn’t like Atlanta’s scene where people collectively came together to achieve a greater good. Here in Milwaukee people were after the prize and there was a lot of secrecy and separatism. You had a few groups that were able to put out records; my good friend Todd Thomas AKA Speech from Arrested Development founded a collective called The Fresh Walking Family in the middle 80’s where he had five-six groups under him. One of which was a group called the Kali Tribe, which I became a part of in the late 80’s-early 90’s, and we went on to be the first Milwaukee group to have a video on Black Entertainment Television in regular rotation. We were some of the first ones to really get out of here and get the music out nationally. That’s a feather in my cap along with my other brothers, one of which is no longer with us – Orlando Bellamy, our DJ – God bless his soul.
ME: Do you think a lot of that separatist still exists here in the scene?
TWAN: Honestly Ben, Milwaukee is a different type of city. There have been strides to get it to change and I know people are working together. For instance, I was fortunate enough to work with IshDARR. He and I are not in the same age group or make the same kind of music but we were able to come together and make something really dope that will stand the test of time. I’ve seen many other people do things like that. By and large, I think a lot of people are still doing their own thing, but I don’t want to put a cloud over the situation and say nobody’s working together because that’s far from the truth.
ME: How do you feel about winter?
TWAN: It’s necessary. If you’re living in Wisconsin, you’d better get used to it or move someplace else. It’s inevitable. It can happen in October, or December, or go until May, or it can end in March. I like all four seasons but I don’t like when it’s prolonged. My favorite season is fall but all of them have a place in my heart.
ME: You’re big on the lake walks. What does doing that mean to you?
TWAN: First of all, we as human beings many times think we’re greater than we are. When you get to go embrace Mother Nature and look out into the lake, even though it’s not an ocean, from a visual perspective it looks like it goes on forever. I recently saw a crew of turkeys just walk right into traffic over on E. North Avenue crossing the street, and seeing stuff like that grounds me Ben. It gives me a hell of a laugh because they’re oblivious and don’t give a damn, and on top of that, it just brings me back home to the oneness with nature. The lake puts me back spiritually and mentally in a place where I’m able to self-actualize.
ME: What’s your favorite taco spot in Milwaukee?
TWAN: Oh, Gosh….there’s a taco track that parks on E. Capitol Drive just before you get to Holton right in front of Walmart. Since the first time I tried it, the vegetables are always crunchy. I always get either the chicken or steak tacos – or a burrito – and it’s always been good and it’s inexpensive. The chicken burrito I can’t finish in one sitting; I have to cut it in half it’s that big. I’m a stickler about crunchy, fresh vegetables and they always have it there.
ME: What’s your favorite spot in Milwaukee to grab a drink and watch sports?
TWAN: My job, The Drunken Cobra in Wauwatosa. Wait till you come, Ben. The ceiling is insane…there’s dope artwork in there…there’s five screens to catch whatever it is you want to watch…you have total control over the jukebox whether you want to hear some Steely Dan or Grace Jones or The Weeknd. In the back there’s an all-inclusive Ms. Pac-Man Galaga game, on Monday we do bingo, on Tuesday we do trivia, and tonight I’m working Ladies’ Night where we have six dollar Cosmos. The food is great and we’ve got vegan choices. It’s a familial atmosphere where everybody is welcome and you’ll meet all kinds of people. Before I even worked there it was my favorite spot.
ME: My last question is, now that COVID is subsiding, what are your plans for the summer?
TWAN: I’ll be at the Cobra at least two or three days a week. I’ll be doing new videos, releasing music, doing shows…I have a show this Saturday up in Appleton. I’m just waiting for the borders to open worldwide because I speak to Speech weekly, and all bets are still on for me to be the opening act for Arrested Development once things open back up. I’m also still working with my apparel company Nostalgic Visual and coming up with new designs. I have a full plate and wouldn’t have it any other way. Staying busy keeps me young and my spirit intact.