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Melissa Czarnik: Doing Her Best To Never Be Forgotten

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless
© 2011 Hyperdrive Motivator Productions
“I was born an MC/ Check the initials”, challenges the tag line for Melissa’s Czarnik’s Twitter account, and far be it for me to argue that point. If there’s any one word that I’d use to describe the Milwaukee, WI based artist, it's 'genuine'. It comes across in the self-described emcee and poet’s work, and carries through when you meet Czarnik in person. 

Czarnik turned up the heat on claiming her MC birthright when she was a teenager, writing poetry during her high school years, though not taking it very seriously at first. Then, she got a mic in her hand.  At parties, people would freestyle and pass the mic, and Czarnik took her talent for rhyme and flow and jumped right in. The rest, like they say, is history. Except in this case; that was just one of the first sparks igniting Czarnik’s future, and now it’s blazing brighter with each passing year.

Moving in the circles of Milwaukee’s underground hip hop scene, providence seemed to step in when Czarnik met her current producer, frequent collaborator and partner, Eric Mire.  A classically trained pianist with a degree in music composition, he was producing a hip hop group at that time.  Even after meeting, Mire wasn’t able to collaborate with Czarnik on any music at that point though, because he was still working with the other group. She was, however, able to use some of his equipment to play around and create her own beats. Their collaboration took root when circumstances changed and he was able to produce beats and music for Czarnik himself.


While it’s one thing for artists to preach social change and a positive message, it’s a whole different situation to go out and actually live it once the spotlight is off and the crowd has gone home. So back we go to my earlier statement that Czarnik is the real deal all the way. It was during her work in AmeriCorps that she released her first album, Strawberry Cadillac. AmeriCorps is a youth program in the United States that operates on a principle similar to the Peace Corps. Czarnik’s work was concentrated in education and environmentalism, focusing on alleviating poverty through education, and using music to address more serious issues.  That first album took social issues head on, with rapid fire lyrics talking about the portrayal of women in rap, hip hop and the media, political commentary, and back down the spectrum to more personal topics.   The beats and instrumental aspects of Strawberry Cadillac (and its follow-up) remind me of the pure joy of dipping into watercolors and mixing the shades just to see what will happen.  There's a hint of Latin influence, streaks of jazz, bold rhymes, and softer touches where Czarnik's voice mingles with the delicate sound of a piano's keys.

After the release of Strawberry Cadillac, Czarnik played local shows, with the Eric Mire Band sometimes backing her and lending their soulful jazz influence to her sets and some recorded songs.  When the opportunity to do shows in places like New York and even venues in Europe came up, she hopped on a plane and used some of the experiences as inspiration for material for her next album, Raspberry Jesus, the title of which actually comes from a conversation she and Mire had during one of those trips to Europe.  Czarnik's desire to speak up and inspire positive change shone through again on that album, with more glimpses into the artist's life, thoughts, struggles and perseverance.  In April, she'll be heading back to Europe once more, this time with the unique opportunity to live as an artist in residence in France for two months, where she'll work on her third album, Non Merci.

If you scroll down the song list on my iPod, you'll find a few hip hop and rap songs (besides Czarnik's), but I'll admit that they're not my top favorite genres.  Czarnik's music has resonated with me since I first heard it though.  Genuine.  Yes--that word again.  If I had to limit my reasons for being a Melissa Czarnik fan, I'd choose that one over any others.  She doesn't shy away from talking about pain in her past (a frequent topic in her songs is the loss of her brother, Aaron, who passed away when she was eighteen years old), self doubt and the fleeting desire to give up when it all feels like a little too much to deal with.  But with Czarnik, hardship becomes a catalyst to reach out and inspire others to use the challenges in their lives to create positive change.  When she sets foot in Europe again next month, I can't imagine a better artistic ambassador from the U.S. than Czarnik.  Embodying some of the best qualities that we as a whole can possess---kindness, strength and compassion, among others---I'm glad that her music and its messages have expanded  beyond the local area to stretch out across the ocean.  In her song "Been This Way" from Raspberry Jesus, Czarnik says "...how do you know if you've been to the top if you ain't never touched the bottom? Doin' my best to never be forgotten...".  If the progression of her career so far is any indication, Czarnik doesn't have to worry.  All she needs to do is hold tight to the goals and dreams she's already been turning into reality and keep on enjoying the ascent.

To see more photos, watch additional videos, read her blog, get information on upcoming shows and more, go to www.melissaczarnik.com.  You can also find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/melissaczarnik and on Twitter.