Corey Pieper brings is­land vibes to the Mid­west

Wisconsin Gazette - - Editorial - By Mike Hol­loway Staff writer

“I used to hop fences to get into Sum­mer­fest when I was a kid,” Corey Pieper writes in an In­sta­gram post. “Now I’m per­form­ing on the main stages.”

July 8 was a mon­u­men­tal day for the Mil­wau­kee hip-hop R&B artist. He took to the Miller Lite Oa­sis Stage for the first time, open­ing for pop­u­lar hip-hop duo Time­flies.

It prob­a­bly won’t be the last time Pieper graces the main stage of “The Big Gig.”

Pieper is be­com­ing some­what of a house­hold name on Mil­wau­kee’s hip-hop and R&B scene. His mu­sic videos — filmed and edited by Philly Fly Boy (who also acts as Pieper’s book­ing agent) — gar­ner up to 1 mil­lion-plus views, and his songs have fea­tured such big-name acts as At­lanta-based R&B singer Sam­mie.

Pieper’s discog­ra­phy packs a ver­sa­tile sound thanks to a fu­sion of Hawai­ian-pop, R&B and hip hop. The Hawai­ian in­flu­ence is most no­table on his 2014 EP which kicks off with a ukulele riff be­fore mov­ing to an R&B sum­mer­time an­them of pop melodies. Pieper cy­cles seam­lessly be­tween clean singing and rap­ping. His up­beat, bouncy mu­sic is the kind you’d hear blasted from a Blue­tooth speaker at a beach party.

But on Pieper’s more con­tem­po­rary sin­gles, such as “Wishy Washy,” he has di­aled down the is­land vibes and pop fluffi­ness and show­cases his flow as a lyri­cist and rap­per. Whereas the Hawai­ian in­flu­ence was very in-your-face on Pieper’s sound now plays like a fine-tuned pack­age of main­stream gen­res and niche sub­gen­res with smoothed-out edges. The Hawai­ian­pop in­flu­ence is there, but it has ma­tured and taken on a subtler role.

CHAS­ING HIS DREAM

Pieper caught the per­form­ing bug as a fresh­man at Nathan Hale high school in West Al­lis. A group he had formed with some of his friends won a tal­ent show.

“It was at that mo­ment when I was on­stage and ev­ery­one was cheer­ing that I was like, ‘I can see my­self do­ing this for a long time,’” Pieper says.

Af­ter high school, he en­rolled at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Mil­wau­kee to study busi­ness. Dur­ing that time, he con­nected with Aaron Lu­cas, owner of Wis­con­sin­based Good Fight Stu­dios. Lu­cas of­fered Pieper a record­ing deal and then sent him to Hawaii to film a mu­sic video for his sin­gle “Show You the World.”

The video be­came a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Pieper’s cul­ture and back­ground. Al­though he was born and raised in Mil­wau­kee, he has Hawai­ian an­ces­try — hence his is­land­in­flu­enced sound.

Around the time of the mu­sic video, Pieper de­cided to drop out of col­lege to pur­sue his dreams of mu­si­cal suc­cess.

“Ever since (that video) it’s been se­ri­ous,” Pieper says. “Once we went to Hawaii and we shot that video, I was like ‘I’m just go­ing to soak this up for the time be­ing.’”

Since Pieper has re­leased a cou­ple of sin­gles al­most ev­ery year, pair­ing them with pro­fes­sional-qual­ity mu­sic videos shot by Pretty Fly Boy.

“Be­ing able to have him on the team and whip up con­tent re­ally quickly for some of my videos is one of the big­gest bless­ings I have,” Pieper says.

His two most suc­cess­ful sin­gles — “Girl­friend,” fea­tur­ing Sam­mie, and “Who Are You,” fea­tur­ing Kirko Bangz — are de­fin­i­tive of Pieper’s ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with his sound post-Aloha. The two tracks take on op­pos­ing tones — “Girl­friend” is light and flirty, while “Who Are You” has some bite and heart­break.

“One of the best parts about be­ing an in­de­pen­dent artist is that I pretty much have the free­dom to do what­ever I want,” Pieper says.

PUTTING IN THE WORK

Pieper has been mak­ing mu­sic for eight years, but this is the first in which he’s been able to fi­nan­cially sup­port him­self through it. Putting his en­trepreneur­ship to use, Pieper also has gained recog­ni­tion through his branded “Aloha Mil­wau­kee” shirts. Us­ing his wide-reach­ing and ac­tive so­cial-me­dia pres­ence, Pieper turned those words into a hash­tag that his fans use to con­nect with his mu­sic. He hopes to be able to ex­pand the “Aloha” brand to other states, but for now he’s en­joy­ing his time mak­ing his mark in Mil­wau­kee.

“Mil­wau­kee has that big-city vibe, but it’s small enough to where it’s still per­son­able,” Pieper says. “In big­ger mar­kets, peo­ple kind of get de­sen­si­tized.”

Pieper gets rec­og­nized by strangers at the mall and the gym. Peo­ple of­ten ask for photo op­por­tu­ni­ties, but he doesn’t let that go to his head.

“In the big scheme of things, we’ve got a long way to go — a lot of work,” Pieper says.

Pieper has been putting in that work. In April, he flew to Hawaii to open for hiphop su­per­star G-Eazy at Pure Night­club in Honolulu. Per­form­ing in front of thou­sands on his fam­ily’s home turf was ar­guably one of the high­est points of Pieper’s ca­reer so far. That per­for­mance fu­eled ex­cite­ment for fu­ture projects.

Through a part­ner­ship with N43 Records — a new Mil­wau­kee la­bel that’s also work­ing with Mil­wau­kee LGBTQIA icon Lex Allen — Pieper re­leased “Wishy Washy.” An up­com­ing project called Pineap­ple Playlist, a com­pi­la­tion of songs by Pieper and some col­lab­o­ra­tors, also will be re­leased through the la­bel.

Pieper has been work­ing with artists like Green Bay-based hip-hop artist B.Scott and emerg­ing Mil­wau­kee artist Denny Lanez on the com­pi­la­tion that he says will em­body “more of a grown-up” sound, with a new en­ergy. He’s go­ing for a more ur­ban hip-hop sound with is­land in­flu­ences as op­posed to his more poppy R&B tracks.

“It’s def­i­nitely a nice lit­tle switch for me,” Pieper says.

Fans can be on the look­out for an up­com­ing sin­gle called “Up To Par,” fea­tur­ing B.Scott and Denny Lanez, which will serve as a teaser for Pineap­ple Playlist.

While Pieper’s sound may be evolv­ing, it will al­ways have a Hawai­ian vibe.

“When I go out to Hawaii, there’s just some­thing about rid­ing up the coast and hear­ing those good vibes and the catchy reg­gae riffs and melodies,” Pieper says. “That’s why I’ve al­ways had that bal­ance be­tween singing and rap­ping at the same time. That’s kind of what has set me apart, at least in Mil­wau­kee.”

Pieper loves to ex­per­i­ment and feel out what his fans re­spond most pos­i­tively to, but he’ll al­ways pay homage to where it all be­gan and spread the “aloha” in Mil­wau­kee.

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