If something is in the drinking water in Minnesota, good luck finding the source in the land of 10,000 lakes. Midwestern hip hop has been on the radar in recent memory headed by the outspoken Kanye West, the Pitchfork-darlings The Cool Kids, and now with the nearly-Ashlee Simpson-chart-topping Slug and Ant duo Atmosphere. (As Maxwell Smart would say, they “missed it by that much.”)
Doomtree is a representation of all that is right in Minneapolis/St. Paul, a Twin Cities collective of five emcees and four producers/DJs. It’s a living, breathing sampler/mixtape of hip hop in those cities. Fronted by the likes of P.O.S., Dessa, Sims, Mictlan, and Cecil Otter, Doomtree trades off more often than a stock market-yet the collective thoughtfully ensures that no sole producer or emcee dominates the other. False Hopes (Doomtree Records, 2007) is the first in a long line of “False Hopeses” that featured the entire Doomtree crew. Previous entries have been pressed. This one is a collection of random tracks and a remix representative of each of the members’ styles.
Track 1: Flex (Live)
So what to expect? A wide spectrum always kept in check with shared vision. Slow Burn lays down a bed of violin chorused, poignant electric guitar with a forceful smooth blast of brass. It’s a variable landscape that Sims and Mictlan just build up and tear it apart. P.O.S completely covers the bases on Savion Glover, doing the words and beats. The kick-drum foundation to the track mirrors his punk roots, a simplified track with memorable raps: “Sittin’ on a muggy summer bench sipping muddy water peeping news read to read…turn the A.C. Slater up.”
Similarly Cecil Otter comes in with a laid-back folk track, A Hundred Fathers, with an acoustic guitar in strumming away on a bench of warm walking bass. “I don’t miss the finer things in life anymore. Designer rings were just knives. Ready for the kill. Ready for the score. How many whore their skill? How many worn their soul with the will of an author?”
The collective, just like other Minneapolis outfits, is close; a beneficial boost to any aspiring lyrical author. The final track, No Homeowners (Renter’s Rebate), is a remix featuring all except Turbo Nemesis. It’s the first hint we have at the upcoming self-titled Doomtree debut album. Although each emcee takes their turn, Dessa herself steps into the stage lights with her alliterative expression. “Synapsing with science sitting inside a citizen sinus’ ring the sirens of singing is violence.” Alone, the syllabic sounds are as solely satisfying as her rhymes. She’s truly one of the most overlooked emcees in the Midwest. Check If & When, which drifts from hip hop and more towards Portishead and Sneaker Pimps territory.
The album lacks a cohesive production value from track to track, but that’s given seeing how it is outtakes and random tracks. From the tracks that have emerged off their new debut album (a first true studio effort), everything has been ratcheted up a notch for each member. The second criticism I have is the interludes. Although well-produced, the pieces interrupt the flow with genre-defying interludes. I see the influence, but I can’t help but skip them this time around, but hope there’s some new ones on the self-titled. (Check Your Tuning sounds very similar to Sayag Jazz Machine, by the way.) The Doomtree debut will tell if the Mighty Mississippi can continue its creative flow into this collective conscious.
Doomtree’s Record Release is Friday, August 1st at First Ave in Minneapolis. A FREE in-store will be July 29th at 5 p.m. at The Fifth Element.