Melissa Czarnik
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Melissa Czarnik

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | INDIE

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | INDIE
Band Hip Hop Soul


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"Melissa Czarnik - Raspberry Jesus"

Raspberry Jesus (Hyperdrive Motivator) After a WMSE-born EP with The Eric Mire Band last year, Milwaukee rapper Melissa Czarnik properly follows up her 2008 studio debut, Strawberry Cadillac, with an even more assured effort that keeps up the fruit-related titular theme. Mire’s production on Raspberry Jesus combines synthetic hip-hop elements with organic instrumentation that adds a jazzy beatnik vibe to Czarnik’s rhymes.

Czarnik remains as autobiographical as last time, though the feminist underpinnings of her previous album are more subdued. It’s probably enough of a positive statement for her gender that a young Midwestern woman can take in the influence of 2Pac and Wu-Tang Clan, make good on those sounds with a unique, idiosyncratic flow and not sell herself as a hoochie mama like so many others in the genre. Czarnik’s explorations of her own history and interior life might make her the female counterpart to emo alt-rap acts such as Atmosphere. Czarnik can spit couplets with enough profane venom to scare off the competition, but she’s just as compelling when exhibiting a rare commodity in the rap game: vulnerability without sentimentality. A set this strong should only heighten her already rising profile.

-Jamie Lee Rake - Shepherd Express

"Melissa Czarnik - Raspberry Jesus"

While listening to Melissa Czarnik's Raspberry Jesus, her second album on Milwaukee based label Hyperdrive Motivator Productions, I found myself repeatedly picking up the CD cover and looking at her picture in amazement. Perhaps this is a controversial statement, but I needed to remind myself that the soulful hip-hop jams I was hearing were indeed coming from this little fresh faced hipster looking girl. Czarnik is a native of Milwaukee and her first album Strawberry Cadillac (so like a girl from the Midwest to look towards a fruit stand for album title inspiration) established her reputation as being a cut off the Lauren Hill block. Raspberry Jesus is a refreshing change of pace from the wide wide ocean of indie rock we've all been toot tooting along in. And the fact that the second song off the album, "Bedtime Stories" boasts having been written about in a magazine that rhymes with Itch Magazine didn't make me like her any less. Nope, not one bit. In fact it gives me great pleasure to provide her with another publication's name that would quite smoothly replace the former in any upcoming live performances.

- BUST Magazine

"Anattitude Magazine Interview"

Melissa Czarnik released her first album "Strawberry Cadillac" last year. Her unique style is a powerful mix of singer songwriter Hip Hop combined with jazzy instrumentation by the Eric Mire Band. "Strawberry Cadillac" is really one of my favourites tunes in my car ... So here she comes... from Milwaukee ... "fabulous, phenomenal MC, poet, amazing sister doing her thing - giving up to Melissa Czarnik!" (23-03-2009)

First of all, who is Melissa Czarnik?

First off, Melissa Czarnik, I consider myself a poet/emcee. I am influenced by slam poetry as well as emcees like Lauryn Hill and 2Pac. I come from a working class background, so my whole life I’ve been fighting to be heard. Hip Hop makes that possible for me. It gives me a voice in a class that women rarely have a voice in.

What about "the new feminism coming straight from the grind”?

That line is all about empowering women. When I was a little girl I listened to a lot of music that referenced women as bitches and ho’s, and it wasn’t until I got older that I realized how much that deteriorated my self-esteem. So for my first album, I wanted to make sure that I declared that I’m coming to fight for a positive image of women in Hip Hop. I wanted to declare this is a new feminism coming straight from the grind.

The new album "Strawberry Cadillac" is full of live instrumentation. You are playing and recording with the Eric Mire Band. How did that came that you rap over live instrumentation?

I am fortunate enough to have Eric Mire as my producer, who heads up his own five piece band made up of some really talented musicians: Maurice Cotton (keys/bass), Terence Pettigrew (drums), Brad Bloom (sax,reeds), and Don Bradshaw (congas/aux. percussion). And it just came about that the band would act similar to something like the Funk Brothers, the infamous band that made Detroit’s Motown sound. And since we all vibe as friends and also respect one another’s artistry, it was only natural that we would all play together. So the band is featured on several tracks on "Strawberry Cadillac", and most of my live shows are conducted with the Eric Mire Band behind me.

Your lyrics are full of messages, and at the same time very personal... what do you want to say to your listeners?

I would like to tell my listeners that the world is wide, and that although their individual struggles may seem personal, everyone has issues, drama, and problems. I want my listeners to feel a greater connection to the world, and to know that they are not alone with their problems. And I would like that knowledge to give them strength to continue on.

What about “sick of these men trying to tell me I’m a ho” in "Rain"?

Ahhh yes… The famous question. It’s funny that people come up to me in the clubs singing that chorus. But yeah, it’s a line that is very important, especially considering the music that is on the radio these days. To me that line is empowering for women who love Hip Hop and have to deal with the degradation of women in songs. My hope is that it will impact other emcees to think differently about how they speak of women in their music. And that it will also give women the strength to stand up for themselves and demand more respect from Hip Hop culture in general.

"Rue Lafayette”... have you been to Paris?

Yeah, I went to Paris for like a week back in 2004. I stayed in this hostel called The Peace & Love Hostel, which was located on Rue Lafayette, hence, the song title. I fell in love with the city immediately and for years I've been like I need to get back to France. Culturally, artistically it's just a beautiful place to live. The architecture of the city is gorgeous, the history in it's buildings and structures like Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower is breathtaking. Even their subway decorative designs are beautiful. The pace of life also seemed so much different than that of the U.S. Here in the states everything is fast and large; our food, our cars, our careers, and in Paris it wasn’t like that at all. I’m drawn to that aspect of life.

Somebody wrote "Czarnik's conscious Hip Hop is reminiscent of the acid jazz sound of artists like Guru and US3 ... of the early 1990s". Do you agree?

I think it’s a reasonable comparison being that “Strawberry Cadillac” is heavily comprised with live instrumentation, samples, and break beats. However, it’s hard for me to judge what my sound is “reminiscent of” because I’m the one making it. I rely upon other people to tell me what the sound is. I know that myself and the musicians on the album are heavily influenced by jazz, r&b, folk, gospel, and classical music. So, I’m not surprised by that comparison. It’s actually an exciting comparison for me.

What do you think about the state of Hip Hop right now?

I am trying to remain positive about the current state of Hip Hop. Mos Def once said, “Don’t ask where Hip Hop is going, ask where you’re going.” And in that case, I think Hip Hop i - Anattitude Magazine

"Melissa Czarnik - Strawberry Cadillac"

Strawberry Cadillac (Hyperdrive Motivator) Poetry slams and rap battles: The former led to the latter for Milwaukee’s Melissa Czarnik. A listen to her Strawberry Cadillac debut makes it clear how that evolution came about. Though alt-soul ladies such as Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott are easy enough to hear as influences, so are Ani DiFranco (complex, feminist folk) and Edith Piaf (torchy cabaret).

Czarnik’s participation in AmeriCorps and community activism informs her rhymes, but her political views leave room for the vulnerability of doubt. Her musicality is inclusive enough to envelop folk, jazz and pop sensibilities in loops and live instrumentation amid her hip-hop beatbox arsenal. Czarnik may not be out to set the world ablaze as a female counterpart to Eminem, but she’ll fire up listeners to grab notebooks and microphones and set their observations to sounds not beholden to any commercial R&B radio format.

—Jamie Lee Rake - Shepherd Express

"Hip Hop Poetry As It Ought To Be"

Back in the mid-90s, before Starbucks began polluting cities with its homogenized brand of boring shops on every corner, Milwaukee’s coffee shops gave birth to poets, freestyle rappers and singers who came together to hone their craft and share it with one another.

Hearing Melissa Czarnik’s first full-length album “Strawberry Cadillac,” an ethereal jam session complete with guest stars and catchy beats, sent me back to that time, if only for a moment. Her album is proof that that world still exists. Voices still matter, and records like this prove it. This is hip-hop poetry as it ought to be: honest and raw, setting your emotions on fire and your feet dancing.

“Thunder Summer Storm” is one of those tracks that will inevitably find itself on repeat. Its images of summer are real and somber, and the simple but intentional piano-backed melody will be playing through your head for days to come. The disc’s second track, it sets the stage for Czarnik’s sometimes brass, in-your-face “feminism coming straight from the grind.”

While much of the world of hip-hop festers with images of the industrial gangster and the repeated message that women are somehow less than equal, Czarnik speaks to something much different with skill and intention. She lashes out at the government, condemns the war, is “sick of these men trying to tell me I’m a ho” and blasts oppression, sexism and classism. Her honesty bites but also motivates, stirring latent activist sentiments and motivating the listener to take a look at the world as closely as she does.

A Milwaukee native, Czarnik’s words ring especially true to those of us raised in a city torn by poverty, violence and a government that has “got no eyes, just empty sockets” that refuse to see reality. “Somewhere over the rainbow/ Children are safe/ Not afraid of being shot in their front yard.”

And Czarnik chooses her words “like I choose my friends/ Only a select few get into where my world begins.” She seems to long for a place where one can turn on the radio or the television and hear something good and questions why society robs the poor “of the American dream” rather than grabbing a hand and pulling someone up. She is adamant about “playing my part” and encourages listeners to do the same.

We are as entranced by the music itself as we are with the lyrics. There are sweet jazz melodies and beats that lock into our brains and set our toes a-tapping. There are clean notes that rise from the piano and ensnare us, preparing our ears for her message. And above all, there is this voice that rises over the top, rhymes that cut us deep and draw us in. This is Melissa Czarnik—pure and smooth—a new and welcome voice in a genre oft clouded in oppression. - UWM Post

"All Songs Considered"


With few exceptions, Bob Boilen and I can usually guess what a CD is going to sound like just by looking at the cover art. I guess when you look at several hundred discs a week, you start to see patterns. But you can add Melissa Czarnik's new album, Raspberry Jesus, to the list of ones I got very, very wrong. Here is is:

What would you guess? Angular post-punk? Chamber pop? Speed metal (but ironically)? I figured it was some sort of mopey, introspective, whisper-rock-folk, singer-songwriter fare (not that there's anything wrong with that). It turns out Czarnik is indeed a poet, a gifted writer, with a fantastic voice. But her medium isn't broody folk. It's hip-hop.

Czarnik is a soulful, fluid rapper, backed by the five-piece Eric Mire Band. Together, they've produced a surprising, potent and thoughtful mix of funk, jazz, soul and hip-hop. Czarnik's flow reminds me a lot of Lauryn Hill's, so it wasn't surprising to learn that Czarnik cites Hill as an influence. She's even included a few short skits interspersed throughout Raspberry Jesus, a bit like Hill did on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Raspberry Jesus is Czarnik's sophomore release, coming two years after her debut, Strawberry Cadillac. I had a hard time picking just one cut to feature here, so you'll definitely want to check out the rest of Raspberry Jesus. You can hear and learn more at Czarnik's website. - NPR

"CD Baby Editor's Choice"

Strapped with a poet's flow and a penchant for lyrics that readily embrace both candor and purpose, this Milwaukee MC skillfully rides the hi-hat-heavy rhythms that back her and hits the mark consistently. These are songs of frustration, tracks that vent anger, sadness, and confusion on levels spanning from personal to global. "My Country" is a raw examination of patriotism and the current state of the union, a track that asks hard questions that demand some honest answers. However, while the underlying message here rallies around a pursuit for truth and a need for transparency, the songs never get held down by the weight of the issues. "The Happy Song," while not as happy-go-lucky as the title implies, makes great use of some strong horn lines and a beat that gets a major boost from some quick and dense percussion. "I don't mean to crack jokes but it's my way to cope," she says bluntly, letting everyone know she's aware of exactly what she's doing. Not that we had any reason to think otherwise. - CD Baby

"Bitch Magazine Suggested Listening"


MC extraordinaire Melissa Czarnik shakes both poetry and hip hop into one easy-to-swallow shot on her debut effort, Strawberry Cadillac. Backed by equal parts live instrumentation and chop-shop studio beats, Czarnik’s lyrical flows envelop both the pop sensibilities of Sublime and the hip hop sass of Missy Elliott. Sidestepping the image-centered aspect characterizing so much of hip hop, Czarnik, an AmeriCorps alum, brings her subject matter to the forefront with an arsenal of activist-inspired, no-nonsense lyrical content. Finding the balance between heartfelt and hard, the Milwaukee-based artist rotates introspective, slow-paced material like “Thunder Summer Storm” – a track that salutes classic hip hop and feminism-with tougher fare like the standout song “Rain,” which features the lyrical refrain, “Sick of this bullshit playing on the radio/ Sick of these men trying to tell me I’m a ho/ Negative images fuel my brain like propane/ ‘Bout to start a fire, better hope it rains.” Killer saxophone lines appear on “Cosmo,” “Garden of Eden,” and “The Happy Song,” and the bongos and congas on the latter two tracks round out Strawberry Cadillac’s sound with folk and world elements. (Czarnik gives credit where credit is due when it comes to her influences, respectfully tipping her hat to Lauryn Hill and Fugees.) With slammin’ poetry, precise beats, and DIY authenticity, Czarnik is an inspiration to young MC’s everywhere.
-Claire Ashton

For Fans of: Lauryn Hill, Sublime, Ani DiFranco
Jill of All Trades: Czarnik delves into hip hop, jazz, folk, and pop on Strawberry Cadillac’s 17 tracks.

- Bitch Magazine


Melissa Czarnik, Raspberry Jesus (HMP, 2010)
1. Artista
2. Bedtime Stories
3. Anattitude
4. Been This Way
5. Only $10 (Green Mill)
6. Stay High
7. Bad Rep
8. Hand Me the Mic
9. Like That
10. Say Goodbye
11. Canned Nutrition
12. Vondell Park
13. Mercredi
14. Love Train
15. Really, Really
16. Only $10 (Green Mill, Skit 2)
17. Wake Up
18. Thank you

Melissa Czarnik, Strawberry Cadillac (HMP, 2008)
1. Intro
2. Thunder Summer Storm
3. Cosmo
4. My Raq
5. If You Gotta System
6. Rain
7. Gossip
8. The Happy Song
9. How's Karl?
10. Somewhere
11. Erf Beat
12. February
13. My Country
14. Rue Lafayette
15. Garden of Eden
16. Why?
17. Outro

Melissa Czarnik w/Eric Mire Band, Local Live (recorded on 91.7 WMSE, June 2009)
1. The Happy Song
2. Erf Beat
3. Loose Ends
4. Thunder Summer Storm



Melissa Czarnik (Zar-nik) is one of the most soulful and articulate emcees to emerge in recent years. After receiving critical acclaim for her debut album Strawberry Cadillac (2008), she recently released her sophomore album Raspberry Jesus (2010) on Hyperdrive Motivator Productions out of Milwaukee. Backed by the five-piece Eric Mire Band, her live show absorbs audiences with a fruitful blend of hip hop, jazz & soul. Mixing her interests in poetry and Hip Hop, Czarnik's lyrics exemplify artists such as Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott and Ani Difranco.

"Czarnik is a soulful, fluid rapper, backed by the five-piece Eric Mire Band. Together, they've produced a surprising, potent and thoughtful mix of funk, jazz, soul and hip-hop."
-Robin Hilton, NPR, All Songs Considered

"With slammin’ poetry, precise beats, and DIY authenticity, Czarnik is an inspiration to young MC’s everywhere."
-Claire Ashton, Bitch Magazine

"Her unique style is a powerful mix of singer songwriter Hip Hop combined with jazzy instrumentation by the Eric Mire Band. 'Strawberry Cadillac' is really one of my favorites."
-Jeannette Petri, Anattitude Magazine

“Strapped with a poet's flow and a penchant for lyrics that readily embrace both candor and purpose, this Milwaukee MC skillfully rides…and hits the mark consistently.”
-Chris R, CD Baby Editors Choice Review