A long-standing advocate and student of the local Hip Hop scene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, rapper JC Poppe has done his best to put the city on a regional map that is more known for acts coming from Detroit, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Following a similar scheme from these Midwest counterparts, Poppe’s 2009 debut album Sleep Therapy found moderate success because of its down-to-earth content that was relatable. With his latest two-disc offering Shadowlands and Tea Party, the native son of Brew City looks to create a stronger foundation between Milwaukee and the listening public.

Where JC Poppe does succeed on the new releases is his personal convictions and honesty. Using upbeat production provided by Ed Cayce, Poppe playfully rhymes about his love for making music on “Audio.” This is sharply contrasted with the subject matter of “What I Am.” Describing the clarity of life that has been brought on by getting married and fathering a son, “What I Am” strikes a profound cord within the usually-charismatic rapper. “Foundation Of A Moment” is similar in execution. With swaying orchestral strings and steady drums, the Danny Diggs-produced track provides a smooth background for Poppe to drop introspective raps.  

Though he has gained some much-needed experience in the past few years, Poppe is still unpolished behind the microphone. Whether it be cheesy metaphors that draw comparisons to Patrick Swayze and William Hung or his less than stable delivery on “Last Will And Testament,” JC Poppe at times lacks lyrical consistency and style. In turn, rhymes like “I’m not being cocky so go and check the stats / Just Google my name and then come right back” on “Dribble” sound a bit premature. The most awkward record from Tea Party comes on “Middle Class Reality,” where Poppe’s story of a pill-selling teenager sounds more like an after-school special gone horribly wrong. When the boy’s parents “find a bag of pills in his girlfriend’s thong,” all bets are off for the unintentional satire behind this serious topic.  

With such a disparaging gap of quality within his work, the success of Shadowlands and Tea Party comes down to his ability to engage the listener, and this doesn’t bode well for the Milwaukee emcee. Case in point: the 11-minute track “Wife Song,” where Poppe recounts a near-tragic story that sent his wife to the emergency room. While it could have been a touching record that sheds light on his appreciation for his wife, it ends up turning into a long-winded description of the nights events. Suffice it say, even if Poppe had top-notch lyrical skills, keeping someone attentive for 11-minutes, outside of his family, would be a tough task to achieve. There are also points, such as on “Shadowlands” and the aforementioned “Wife Song,” where it feels like Poppe is merely reciting thoughts and activities, yet in rhyme form. This mundane approach becomes less interesting for fans looking for compelling lyricism.

It’s obvious that despite his less than stellar abilities, JC Poppe has good intentions with his musical endeavors. Still, the results on Shadowlands and Tea Party border along the lines of hobby Rap, with lyrics from “Broke Rappin” telling a similar tale: “It’s tough to stay rappin’ when your check is in the negative / Bill collectors calling in, you know you got to feed your kid / Wife is not so happy with you sitting on your ass / And you got a lot of buzz, that’s not turning into cash.”

Give the man daps and pounds for putting in the effort, but there’s not much to cling to in his performance.