Wes Tank’s career as a performer and film producer took an unexpected turn, thanks to a Dr. Seuss book lying on the ground while he was getting ready for a rap show.
The book was “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” and Tank decided it would be fun to improvise a rap by putting the words to a Dr. Dre beat.
Tank, a 2006 UWM alumnus who has been rapping since he was 16, began incorporating the Dr. Seuss raps occasionally into his performances and the shows he did for children.
“I knew the crowd was enjoying it, so I decided to take it further,” Tank said. He put the performances on YouTube, using his comic and acting skills to make the words in the books bounce and hop to the beats.
Then the pandemic hit, and parents and children went online in droves looking for entertainment. Suddenly, the Dr. Seuss/Dr. Dre mashups had a million hits and counting. Tank’s work was being featured in Oprah and Variety magazines and on the front page of Reddit.
“I wasn’t expecting that, but I was really happy about it,” he says. “I was glad that project was able to get some traction, and it sort of spawned this whole other side tangent in children’s entertainment.”
That side tangent was a deal to produce episodes for Kidoodle, an online network focused on content for children. Tank and his collaborators are taking classic children’s stories, setting them to music, and adding their own art and twists to the plots. They’re accessible through the website StoryRaps.com. A five-minute episode on “Goldilox and the Three Bears,” for example, features Tank in a pseudo-bear costume and extols the virtue of learning about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Tank, who is from Dodgeville, Wisconsin, credits UWM with giving him the skills that allowed his creativity to flourish. He made his own films, trying different approaches. “I made some videos where I played all the characters,” he said, “and my classmates thought they were pretty funny. I just really enjoyed my time at UWM because it allowed me a lot of room to breathe creatively.”
Tank also runs a film production company called TankThink that highlights the efforts of community organizations working to improve Milwaukee.
In addition, he and a group of collaborators, many of whom got to know each other at UWM, are working on a passion project, a movie titled “Corridor,” a crime caper about a murder that may or may not have happened.
The movie, which is about half finished, is set in Milwaukee. “UWM is the magnet that pulled everybody here. Our work has a Midwestern tone,” said 2013 alum Zach Erdmann, one of the movie’s writers, who notes its focus on an industrial Rust Belt city figuring out its identity. “Those ideas inform the script, so it has to be filmed here.”