Exclusive Interview: Signif Talks Milwaukee Hip Hop, XXL Freshmen List & How She Got Her Name

Signif is a dope up-and-coming emcee originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who currently spends most of her time living in New York, and happens to be a female.

When you hear a high pitched, confident delivery over hard, yet soulful beats, that’s Signif. I recently chopped it up with the emcee about her Embracing Rejection project, how she’s been influenced, and even got her to share a funny story about her struggles when she first started performing.

Interview by Julian Michael Caldwell (@JulianCaldwell)

JMC: As an artist the first thing you present people with is your name. So where did the name Signif come from?

Signif: I spent a few minutes thinking about it, going through pages in the dictionary and thinking more about it, and ‘significant’ popped in my mind. And I had friends around me at the time that were like, ‘no,’ trying to deter myself from using it. I just liked the way it sounds and they were like ‘what does that mean?’ And I’m like, ‘it’s short for significant, like Mos Def (most definitely) has.’ And they were like ‘nahh, Mos Def can do that because he’s Mos Def,’ (laughs). This was like six years ago so they were like ‘you haven’t proved nothing.’ But I was like ‘nahh I’m gonna stick with it.’

JMC: Sticking with names, where did the name of your last project, Embracing Rejection, come from?

Signif: Ahh man. That project was random, I was working a project about my city, where I’m from, Milwaukee, and New York, telling those tales of life there and here and everything in between and it started getting real complicated. I’m like ok I’m still in New York I’m still doing music so my story’s not over so I really don’t wanna push this.

I still wanna just take in what I’m feeling right now, what I got going on in my head and what’s happening right now. And that’s how Embracing Rejection came along. It’s just like the title says, ya know, when you’re dealing with music and trying to find your way in and you get a lot of doors closed in your face and things like that.

JMC: Give me a little bit of insight into the scene and the styles in Milwaukee.

Signif: Well it’s the Midwest, and we’re heavily influenced by everything. It’s seemed like whatever was the flavor of the season, that’s what we were into. We have people that sound like they’re from Down South, or Chicago was our closest neighbor that had real stars that we could relate to. But the scene itself is relatable to New York it’s just, it’s just smaller. It’s not a party city, people run through and do their concerts, nobody’s really tapping into Milwaukee for talent, you have to go and show them. Ya know, there’s talent here.

JMC: Any memorable live performances, good or bad?

Signif: I’m gonna tell you the bad side. So I took some engineering classes at this tech school for about a year. And I wasn’t bouncing my CDs right, and my show disc never worked. So for 5, 6, 7 shows I wasn’t bouncing my disc down properly, so always the beat would just like, pause. And one time they were doing this showcase and the speaker that was doing it, he came and snatched it (the CD), cuz I’m like “oh sh*t” and I lean over and starting talking to the DJ and there’s always that dead air where everybody gets reckless. That happened so many times, I guess that’s the bad. And then one day it’s like ‘oh this is why, I’m bouncing my songs down wrong!’

JMC: What would you consider success for yourself?

Signif: To stay current and continue doing this. Now that I’m actually getting offers and tours, and gonna see Europe soon, I think that it’s a possibility. And also not necessarily to be a mainstream artist, and I know not every underground artist wants to stay underground, but just to have an actual fan base. I look at people like Slug and like Murs, and if I can build something like that or even like what Tech N9ne did, I’d be ecstatic. And if I keep going in the direction I’m going in I think that’s possible. I wanna do something like that where I don’t have to jeopardize myself, but I can still have that core audience.

JMC: Recently a lot people turn to the XXL Freshmen List as a stamp of approval. What do you think of the latest one?

Signif: I don’t get hyped over it no more. If you look at the first one everyone had albums out and had hits and the only thing that drew us in was that Lupe was on the cover if I’m not mistaken (you are not) that’s the first cover. And then with the second one it was all underground people buzzing like Charles Hamilton and Blu, people that the majority felt deserved to be on it and I felt like that issue is what looped everybody in. Then after that it just didn’t seem right, they do it for entertainment purposes so I definitely don’t take it seriously or debate about it or anything because you know why they’re doing it. They know they’re gonna get people talking and they know they missed out on good talent making good music.

JMC: Do you think it’s harder now to be a female emcee than in the past?

Signif: I think it is, honestly, you have to come packaged a certain way or you’re gonna have to be some super extremely dope female that they can’t ignore and even then it’s gonna be hard because they’re definitely not looking for talent.

I was listening to Hardcore (Lil’ Kim) or Ill Na Na (Foxy Brown), ya know it was sexy and I was influenced by those styles, but it never occurred to me that I had to be this because they were still spitting lyrics, it was still hard, they keeping up with the men.

But now, being lyrical, you can just throw out some lines here and there,  the album doesn’t have to be cohesive, so they’re definitely packaged a certain way.

You can find music, videos and everything else Signif @ signifthegift.com.

Twitter: @signifthegift

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