10 Years Later: The Oral History of House Of M’s “The Alternate Reality Of…”
In August 2009, the landscape of Milwaukee hip hop was almost completely different from the diverse, energetic scene that we know today. At the time, Myspace was the thriving form of social media promotion and music discovery for local music, and several crews were working out of basements, back offices, and low-budget studios to get their name out, essentially forming the backbone of what would become a divided, yet competitive hip hop “scene”, which for years people said had been lacking. Even at that time, there were calls to create something different; something uniform that Milwaukee could latch onto and support as its own. One group in particular gained attention for their collaborative mentality; Gambit, Raze, Dana Coppafeel, Ecko, APRIME, Lou-Tang, DJ Deadbeat, Trellmatic, D’Mattik, and Dylan Thomas. The House of Mutants, aka House of M.
Based on a love of comic book culture and golden era hip hop, the crew was comprised of some of the most talented and experienced veterans within the local scene. On size alone, it was easy to make comparisons to the Wu-Tang Clan, as each member also had a solo or separate group career outside of the House of Mutants, but molded together well as a component of a larger entity. In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the group’s lone full length project, “The Alternate Reality Of…” we talked to mutants Gambit, Raze, APRIME and Dana Coppafeel about the history of the album’s creation. Raze also shared some rare photos from the vault, and the last song created by the group, “The Black Gold” featuring Bobby Drake.
B&E: Tell me about how you were introduced to House of M.
Gambit: Lou-Tang and I created it. Back in 2005-2006, when we first started getting into doing music, it happened to be around the same time as Marvel Comics’ crossover event “House of M” came out. Around this time Lou, Ecko, and SDot would make beats in the basement of Lou’s house. We started calling that house “The House of M”. I already had one foot in the door of the Milwaukee hip hop scene with D’Matikk as The Acolytes. Eventually we would become friends with other like minded emcees on the scene and collectively we became The House of M.
Dana Coppafeel: Gambit was the one who brought the whole idea of House of M to me. I believe they would call Lou-tang’s crib “the House of M” as well. I met Gambit at a bar called B-side where there was a Friday night hip hop showcase.
APRIME: I met Gambit back in late 2006, early 2007 at the Miltown Beatdown. He handed me a flier for a show at B-Side, in which I was also on the bill with my group, Class:Sick. At the B-Side show, we connected in admiration of one another’s music and style and became mad cool. At that time, Class:Sick was completing our final release and needed cover art, so Gambit introduced me to Ecko via MySpace. After Ecko heard the Class:Sick joint, he and I got cool. It was actually Ecko that invited myself and Trellmatic, whom I had just formed AUTOMatic with, to join the M. The way Ecko explained it to me was that the House of M was just gonna be a collective with producers and rappers that would rock shows together. We all had the same vibe and were involved in comic book and geek culture. Once we started rocking shows together, people just assumed that we were a group.
Raze: I used to run shows at Quarters during that era, when I was with the Mayhem Entertainment crew, with Big E & Los Glover. From the first night House of M rocked one of our events, I was drawn to the energy and creativity of the collective. I’m also a super competitive person, so they inspired the hell out of me. Due to a number of creative and business differences, I ended up leaving Mayhem shortly after I released my first solo album, “Dreaming in Greyscale”. I’d already started working with Gambit and Soulmattik on their album, as well as done some mix/mastering work with AUTOmatic, so having built relationships with those guys, I naturally kinda migrated into the M. It wasn’t really made official until we got to work on the group album.
B&E: What were the studio sessions like?
Raze: Fucking crazy. I’d never taken on a project like that before and haven’t come close since. There was an awesome blend of braggadocious ego, brotherhood, shenanigans, frustration, pride, joy, and plenty of very long nights. The original DangrRoom (Raze’s Studio) was a tiny ass 3rd bedroom in my old upper apartment on Humboldt in Riverwest and on some nights it was plenty people in there just making it work. But we all were working, sweating like a motherfucker, too.
APRIME: The studio sessions were awesome. I was in the studio with Raze and Gambit the most, clowning and coming up with wild ideas. A lot of our inside jokes made the album in some form. We were really competitive, yet supportive. When Raze joined, he made his studio available to us and that gave us unlimited time to make the album how we wanted to make it. In my opinion, we wouldn’t have made that album without the addition of Raze.
Gambit: 90% of the time it was just a bunch of friends hanging out, having a good time. Just randomly throwing ideas out. It was very loose. Not much pressure whatsoever at first.
Dana Coppafeel: It was hilarious! Pretty insane for the most part. The ideas that went in to this project, the universe that was created, it definitely felt like the beginning of something. For the most part APRIME, Gambit and Raze were the ones that really sparked off a lot of the ideas.
B&E: Describe the camaraderie between the members of the group at the time. Were you guys competing with one another, or trying to build up the collective?
APRIME: Within the House of M group, there were groups and each pairing were dope. We had The Acolytes (Gambit & D’Mattik), AUTOMatic (APRIME &Trellmatic), Cyanide Paragraphs (Ecko & Lou Tang), Dana Coppa, Raze and DJ Deadbeat. We were all cool and respected one another’s skill sets, but it was very competitive. My mentality was to body everything, because I didn’t want to have the weakest verse on a song. We used to call that getting “jousted”.
Gambit: Speaking for myself, my focus was to be as dope as I could be, while also building up the collective. Initially, I was the common denominator between most of the other mutants. I mean you had time where we would debate on who had the dopest verse on a song or whatever, but we never consciously tried to “compete” with any of the other mutants.
Dana Coppafeel: There was always the feeling of “bring your best shit to the table.” Whether it was writing songs, beat making, practicing for shows, freestyling, there was a lot of talent to pull from. Everybody was focused too. We all had so much in common, there was definitely a bond between us.
Raze: It was definitely a brotherhood. Some of us were closer than others, but the main three driving the album (Gambit, APRIME & myself) were, in my opinion, the connective tissue keeping the whole crew together in different ways. We drove each other to be the best we could possibly be, no matter the cost. We all truly believed we each were the best emcees around, so it was always an unspoken competition to “win” songs. But at the same time, that energy never came before the integrity of the song. We believed “steel sharpens steel” and that really helped build all of our skills, as performers & songwriters.
B&E: What was the biggest obstacle in putting together “The Alternate Reality Of…”?
APRIME: Time was the biggest obstacle. When we started working on the album, it was over a year since the House of M had initially formed. It took that long because the original plan was for us to all be in the studio and write the songs together like Wu Tang. However, that wasn’t very effective. I suggested that each emcee link up with one of our producers, grab some beats and write a verse and a hook and pass it around. This way we could write when inspiration struck and could hop on whatever songs that we were feeling.
Gambit: Getting 9 or 10 men together at the same time, and then getting everyone on the same page without a doubt was the biggest obstacle.
Dana Coppafeel: Having so many members was truly the real obstacle. It was a chore getting everybody together sometimes. I remember picking beats was a big obstacle, too. So much heat, all the different producers and styles. It was a good problem to have.
Raze: From my perspective, scheduling was rough. With so many cooks in the kitchen, but it being my kitchen, I had to be really flexible. I was married at the time too, so having a family life to balance with a full time job too, was rough. But looking back on it, I believe it was worth every second to make something so memorable.
B&E: This was the “swag era” of hip hop, and you guys were doing something that was literally anti-swag. Who’s idea was it for the skits with the Swagganotts and poking fun at the culture of the time?
APRIME: The House of W and the Swagganotts were my brainchild. I created those characters to be the direct opposites of us. We were the super hero geeks, making dope music but it wasn’t popular in the mainstream. So, our villains had to the “cool” swag and trap rappers. I wrote the skits, Raze took them to the next level with sonic ideas and Gambit and the rest of the mutants came through with the voice acting to bring them to life. Most of the skits were inspired by inside jokes and clap backs for people who talked crap about us.
Gambit: Most of that came from APRIME, Raze, and myself. We were the driving force when it came to the skits and our narrative. In particular, Prime the biggest contributor to the skits, Raze to the sound, and myself to our ideology. Prime is a great writer. And not just as an emcee, just overall. He could write a sitcom or children’s books if he wanted to. The dude is just talented.
Raze: It was a collective idea, pieced together from different inspirations. From the more hood/street artists I’d worked with during my Mayhem days I brought in sounds and persona concepts. Gambit was the slick talkin’est motherfucker around, so he always figured out how to balance the extreme with reality. APRIME was a magician at storytelling, so he helped really put all those things together. Low key, we were actually planning on putting out an actual Swagganotts EP to accompany the album, but time finally caught up with us. I’ve still got all those masters archived, too.
B&E: What was the initial reaction when you finally heard the finished product?
Raze: Special. I knew it was special. I don’t wanna say “classic” because that’s gotten really cliché to say these days. But I knew there would never been anything like it done here before and above all else, I knew it was absolutely not a flop or letdown. All the hard work and every single through the roof expectation we knew people had for the album was exceeded.
Dana Coppafeel: To be honest I loved it. I love the response it got. The night we mastered it, I remember riding around, playing it in the whip, getting geeked. Couldn’t wait for the world to hear it.
APRIME: I was blown away, it turned out dope. We put our blood, sweat and tears in that album. I felt like we had a classic on our hands. I still feel like it holds up 10 years later.
Gambit: For me, it was excitement and relief, because we finally got it done when most people didn’t think we would or could. You see, what most people don’t know is that House of M was originally just supposed to be a loose collective of like minded artists who frequently collaborated, but we were never intended to be a group. The fans’ response to our shows and individual projects pretty much determined that we were all one group at that point.
B&E: Was there any commercial interest after the album came out? Had you ever heard of any discussions with labels, managers, etc.?
Raze: Man, this is the biggest regret I have about the album. We had so many opportunities to capitalize off of it and rightfully should have. But, there was so much going on for all of us, that it’s almost like we collectively shot our load just finishing the album, and we hadn’t done our diligence in making sure the business was right. If we failed at anything, it was not being ready for capitalizing on greatness.
Gambit: We never heard from a major label or anything like that, but there were some pretty well known names in the underground that reached out.
APRIME: I just know that we received a lot of local love. There was some national artists that gave us props as well. That’s all that I recall.
B&E: Do you think that the album laid some groundwork for Milwaukee hip hop going forward, leading to the thriving scene that we have today?
Raze: Absolutely. I genuinely feel like House of M collectively stood for something. Not just the album, but the crew. We were a bunch of dudes from different upbringings, races, sides of town, gangs, etc., but we all came together from the love of comics, street life and hip hop, and we created something timeless. I believe the other artists who were young at that time saw that and it showed that it didn’t matter what you looked like, dressed like, sound like, or just like at all. You can just be dope and do something great.
APRIME: I’d certainly like to think so. I’ve talked to a few of the newer artists that told me that they were inspired by our work on that album.
Gambit: I’ve had younger emcees come up to me and tell me how we influenced them, but personally I don’t give a fuck about that shit cause they could just be saying that. Who knows. But it isn’t something that I really think about.
B&E: Do you think there would be room for House Of M today in Milwaukee’s music scene?
Raze: Yes and no. I think the crew could definitely create something amazing again, I truly do. However, the game is so different now and the way we handle our business would certainly rub the new generation the wrong way. Hell, maybe I’m wrong as hell and we’d continue to be inspiring. But there’s an edge that I feel we had, and still have, that today’s scene might not be built for.
Gambit: I wouldn’t know for sure because I have no idea what’s going on on the scene currently. I would like to think there would be room though, because individually we were all unique people who I think could thrive under any circumstances. But me personally, I know if there isn’t room for me, I go and make room, or make my own scene. I’m a rebel naturally, so if I felt there wasn’t room I would push back until there was.
B&E: What would you like the legacy of “The Alternate Reality Of…” to be?
Raze: Exactly what it is; the greatest album ever made in Milwaukee, regardless of genre. It was an inspiration to many, that was more than just the music or the movement. To be a Mutant meant something awesome, and I hope it still does to this day.
Gambit: I couldn’t care less man. I’m proud of what we did, but when it’s all said and done, whether we even have a legacy or not, or what exactly that legacy is, I don’t give a fuck. I was just doing what I wanted to do, and people’s recollections of it or how and if it impacted them don’t mean a damn thing to me. But those were some good and bad times all at the same time.
APRIME: I just want to go on record saying that I never worked with a more talented group of people in my life. The thing that made the album so special is because everyone in The House of M was 100% authentically themselves and had mad heart. We were a self contained unit with the dopest emcees and illest producers. The work that we did on “The Alternate Reality Of…” elevated us as artists and impacted all of our separate projects going forward. I wish that we had made another album.