Graduating from college these days ain’t what it used to be. Just ask Ragelife. The hip-hop trio just released its debut album, a self-titled odyssey inspired by the group’s experience as fifth-year seniors at the University of Wisconsin. And if Ragelife is any indication, the transition from house parties to the real world is no simple task.
Founding members P/1 (Andrew Thomas) and ¡OYÉ! (Karl Iglesias) met through a UW program called First Wave – a cutting-edge artistic learning community that puts students through school on full-tuition scholarships. With fellow Badger Ian Carroll (aka DJ *hitmayng), they formed Ragelife to compete in a college battle of the bands last summer, and made it all the way to the finals in Los Angeles. Back in Madison, they landed huge gigs opening for national acts like Lil’ B and Chance The Rapper. After a fast start, they hunkered down last winter to work on a full-length album.
Most of Ragelife sounds like a party. There are nude beaches, bottles, lots of women. There are boxes of Swishers and smoke billowing out of car windows. But that’s only part of the album’s story. “I spent a couple hundred dollars on some Polo sweaters,” raps P/1 on opener “The RAGELIFE,” “when I should be saving up to pay rent/Guess I don’t know no better.” Ragelife happens where college and the real world collide, where visions of hip-hop stardom meet the cold truth of actual employment. As such, the album opens with a pair of fun, radio-ready bangers: “The RAGELIFE” and the swaggering “Sleep.” But as it goes on, it also slows down, becomes more serious and introspective. “Let Me Go” has an odd, garbled chorus that sounds more like Bon Iver than hip-hop; a serious, personal take on a relationship with a woman. “The Rage” is about growing up in bad neighborhoods, dealing with violence and drugs and learning how to overcome those things.
P/1 and ¡OYÉ! make a compelling pair of MCs. P/1’s lyrics are cerebral and his flow is dynamic, while ¡OYÉ! is more aggressive, choppy and carefree. They compliment each other well: As a listener, you might picture ¡OYÉ! in one ear, rearing to party, and P/1 on the other, holding back, considering the consequences. Much credit should be given to DJ *hitmayng, whom Iglesias refers to as “a DJ’s DJ.” His style runs the gamut, from the basic boom-bap of old school hip-hop to the high-energy drops of EDM, resulting in an eclectic, almost futuristic sound.
Though it features a wide cast of producers and contributors – including local vets Yo Dot and Klassik, who produced three songs – Ragelife hangs together well as an album. “We wanted it to be like a dreamy sequence, like, right away you fall into the rabbit hole,” says Iglesias. It is truly a conceptual piece, with every word, vocal effect and song title carrying meaning that points back to the overall theme. After hearing that, I couldn’t wait to listen to Ragelife again and dig deeper.
With their college careers behind them, the members of Ragelife now hope to balance a budding music career with other endeavors. Thomas moved back to his hometown of Minneapolis, while Carroll and Iglesias reside in Milwaukee. Iglesias teaches acting at First Stage and recently accepted a role in The Skylight Theatre’s presentation of In The Heights. But Ragelife has more projects planned, including something called “Pretty Songs For Ugly Girls,” which Iglesias says will have “an acoustic quality to it, very folky, very sing-songy.” They might be done with college, but for Ragelife, the party is just beginning.
¡OYÉ! from Ragelife performs tonight with Show You Suck, Klassik and The Cranberry Show at Stonefly, 10 p.m.