No Kings is not hot on the heels of F H : X V or 2008’s Doomtree. It’s in searing pursuit, hugging hairpin curves tighter, and launching a full on Mad Max auditory assault that chases you down, latches on, and refuses to let you go until nearly 47 minutes later. The Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree spent 2008/2009 organizing themselves behind the self-titled LP. Doomtree was a declaration that, albeit too long at 21 songs, laid the groundwork for more Blowout showcases and to promote the ensuing solo albums from Dessa (A Badly Broken Code and Castor, The Twin), Sims (Bad Time Zoo), Cecil Otter (Rebel Yellow), Lazerbeak (Legend Recognize Legend), Paper Tiger (Made Like Us), and P.O.S. (Never Better). Seven albums in, apologizes if I miss one, and you’d think things would reach a plateau and start sounding similar-but artist supporting artist has its benefits against music writer’s block.
“No Way” takes that aforementioned declaration, decides it didn’t have teeth, and tears it apart to churn out a classic, harder rock rap “beat” that could serve as the opening credits scene to the latest explosive action movie. Guitar/bass lulls in this beat raises this album’s production above whatever you heard on Doomtree. Production doesn’t let up either as it plunges into the abyss of a P.O.S.-led “Bolt Cutter”. Heavy on drums, the song contorts around synth keys, dropping off ledges like the Last Crusade. The electronic tweaks are evidence of where Doomtree may be moving, such as on “Gimme the Go” which is a prime example of where they’ve been and where they’re going. If you’re looking for downtime, there’s very little on the album as was with “A Rickety Bridge,” “The Wren” or “Liver Let Die”. But honestly you wouldn’t notice their absence. Speaking of beats…
No Kings is far more collaborative than any previous release, both obvious from that vimeo video but through and through on who’s on what song. Each song has, at bare minimum, two emcees (“Little Mercy” has Cecil & Dessa). Take “Beacon” below for instance. Starting with Dessa, then Stef, Cecil then Sims. The singing is upped too, pulling in Dessa’s development as a singer to improve the choruses. But who’s the most memorable is Mike Mictlan throughout the album. He tears into “Bolt Cutter” with his memorable, complex raps that makes me excited to hear what his solo album may sound like. Prime example? “Punch-Out” is ferocious. And Mike gets the last word on “Fresh New Trash”, which also contains the lyrical highlight towards the end of Cecil’s section swirling around the noun/verb “head”/”to head”.
If you’re no season veteran to Doomtree, do not start with No Kings. It’s the current capstone to a collaborative process that’s been evolving in the Twin Cities for the past decade. To start with No Kings, you’d miss out on the individual contributions that make this such a tremendous new addition to their impressive output. Going in reverse would seem like listening to compilations. Start with their False Hopes 15, continue with Doomtree, then let yourself be surprised with “No Way” before “Little Mercy” becomes one of the most memorable songs yet created by this continually rising collective. The latter, mixed with “Boltcutter” make No Kings the best to date.