One of the very first underground hip-hop shows I ever saw was by complete accident. I went to see Willie Mason open for Ben Kweller in 2007, and P.O.S. and Sims of the Minneapolis-based hip-hop collective Doomtree were on the bill. I hadn’t heard of either, so I sat and watched the mind-blowing show unfold. The idea that there was this completely untapped vein of good music I hadn’t been paying attention to was sort of astounding. It really changed my mind about a lot of things within the music industry, hip-hop especially. Four years later, I’d say that I’m an underground rap fanatic. So, in essence, P.O.S. and Sims (and Doomtree by extension) are responsible for my unquenchable thirst for the rawest hip-hop out there, and I couldn’t thank them more.
I had the wonderful chance to talk with three members (Dessa, Sims, and Lazerbeak) of the Doomtree collective, and it was every bit as insightful as I’d hoped it would be. For those less familiar with their music, Doomtree is a multi-talented (they were involved in GAYNGS, so rapping isn’t all they do), seven-member rap crew who tour constantly and work as hard as any musician, rap or otherwise, that I’ve ever met.
The crew gave CoS a chunk of their time to discuss their own place in hip-hop, their future aspirations, and their take on the current state of the genre.
We’ve got 3/7 of the Doomtree crew here tonight. Sims and Lazerbeak are out touring behind solid new albums, and Dessa is touring behind her 2010 release. What’s the plan for this tour? Is there a lot of collaboration onstage? Or are you three separate entities?
Sims: It’s a mixture of both. Lazerbeak, Dessa, and I all had solo sets, but due to our collaborative nature, we can’t help but do some of those songs. As strong as everyone’s solo work is, and as fun as it is to perform, I think the fun we have collaborating and playing those collaborations is an undeniably great time.
Lazerbeak: It’s been a bit of both, actually. We’ve been starting the night off with a short set of instrumental Lava Bangers that I play out live to get things going. Then, I bring out Sims, and we play a ton of stuff off of Bad Time Zoo. Dessa closes out the night by bringing her band up (they slay) and doing some pretty amazing live versions of her catalog. Sims and I both hop up a couple times throughout her set to contribute.
Are you going to be debuting anything new, Dessa, or sticking to your guns primarily?
Dessa: I’ve written a handful of songs for my next full-length release, and I’ve debuted one of the songs on this tour. But, even without a lot of new material, the stage show is pretty different from my most recent record, A Badly Broken Code. On the road, I’m performing with a trio of musicians. Together, we’ve reinterpreted the songs from ABBC and my previous releases to really showcase the arrangements and ratchet up the dynamics. It’s a show that I’m very proud to be a part of.
The False Hopes mixtapes led to Doomtree, the potent full collective album. I know last year you guys went out on tour with the whole group. Are there plans for another collective album?
Dessa: Plans? Yes. Songs? Not quite yet. But the pressure is on.
Sims: [It's] in the works, but it can be hard to get all seven of our busy schedules to line up. That said, we expect to be done with a new Doomtree crew record sooner than later.
Lazerbeak: Right now we’re just in the production stage, so we’ve been stacking up a ton of beats to see where we’re at. This time around, we’re really trying to make it a full-on collaborative record from start to finish. So, for the first time ever, Cecil, P.O.S, Paper, and myself have been making all the beats together. We’ve made around 10 beats together so far, and everything is totally ruling.
I’d like to get the Midwest perspective on the perpetual East Coast vs. West Coast rap beef. I read a blog the other day that argued that Tyler, The Creator, and OFWGKTA are leading the funeral procession of West Coast’s death. Inversely, I don’t actually see a whole lot of consistently good hip-hop coming out of the East Coast right now, save for, like, Wale, Pusha T, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli. Then, there’s the whole Southern element (Jay Electronica, Curren$y, Bun B, 8 Ball & MJG, the ever present Big Boi and Andre 3000). As a faction not included in any of these scenes, what’s your take on it all?
Lazerbeak: Good question. I listen to rap music from every region of the country. There is good stuff everywhere, just like there’s bad stuff everywhere. You just gotta dig a little sometimes to find it. Definitely not trying to get caught up in an Odd Future debate, but I gotta say, I’m happy to see those kids having fun, doing things on their own terms, and winning so hard right now. I think the West Coast has a lot of new, upcoming talent, actually. I’ve been super-impressed by a ton of rappers and producers coming out of the South over the last five years, and the East Coast will always have spitters. Growing up in the Midwest, we’ve been lucky to not be pigeonholed with a certain “sound” yet. We’re able to take all the best things from every region and mix it up to make whatever we’re feeling at the time. I couldn’t be prouder of my hometown for being so supportive and nurturing to all of our artists up here.
Sims: People say rap is dead every year, and without fail, every year amazing rap music is created. I don’t buy into the “is dead” talk. “Is dead” is dead.
I might be mistaken, but to my knowledge, P.O.S. is the only rapper officially signed to Rhymesayers. I know a lot of Doomtree work gets attention over there, and there are collaborations with fellow Rhymesayers artists. (I know I’ve seen P.O.S. tour with Grieves, and I think Sims was on the bill as well, and I know Lazerbeak did a track for Mac Lethal.) How much do you guys actively pursue a relationship with Rhymesayers or with any of the artists on the label? I mean, it would be awesome to do something with Atmosphere or Soul Position or even MF Doom.
Dessa: Minneapolis is a rare city in which musicians collaborate and cooperate, within and across genres. The Rhymesayers camp includes some amazing artists, and our roster does, too. For the most part, though, I think we allow our artistic and business relationships to develop organically, in whatever fashion seems to fit the immediate need.
Sims: I’ve done a handful of songs with Slug, only one of ‘em has come out, though; it’s on the Burn it Down 12″. I rap with Brother Ali fairly regularly (but we’ve yet to make a track). As far as actively pursuing a relationship, we don’t have to. Those guys are our friends and sort of big brothers: We try to learn from each other and help each other out whenever possible. Rhymesayers are the homies.
Every time one or all of you come through Salt Lake City, it’s always a double show, an early show at Kilby Court and a late show at Urban Lounge, which few artists really do, and I think is rad. What’s the reason behind this?
Dessa: SLC has supported Doomtree for years, almost from the very beginning of our touring. Doomtree has a pretty fierce ground game. We’ll play where people will have us, and Salt Lake City has shown itself to be a place where we can draw crowds in two rooms in a night. It feels great to be able to do so, well worth a rushed soundcheck and a rather frantic drive.
Sims: We seldom do that, even in Minneapolis. We do it in SLC because we love it here. We love the people, and we want to reach out to as many of them as possible every time we come through.
Explain to me the extent with which you were involved in GAYNGS, either on Relayted or Affiliyated. It’s hard to pick out who’s doing what on any given song, save for Justin Vernon and Ryan Olson’s distinctive vocals. What was that recording process like? How much have you toured with them live?
Dessa: I called Ryan Olson three times, not-so-gently demanding to sing on the GAYNGS record. When he finally agreed, he picked me up at my house, drove us to a liquor store, and sped to his apartment. Forty-five minutes later, we were done. He chopped, pitched, and re-arranged the record from the raw material he recorded in these quick-and-dirty bedroom studio sessions.
Sims: GAYNGS is everyone in the world, and that’s what makes it amazing.
Maybe a silly question, but are any of you T-Wolves fans? It’s bleak now, but I think the Wolves have a strong future ahead. A very young team. Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Sebastian Telfair, and Anthony Randolph are all budding stars, and Wesley Johnson got named to the all-rookie team. I guess I don’t really have a question. I’m just an NBA enthusiast, and I’d like to get a local’s perspective.
Dessa: Peyton Manning is a professional quarterback for the Indianapolis NFL team, the Colts.
Sims: To be sure, I’m a T-wolves fan, but I’m a bigger fan of the NBA in general. The talent pool and caliber of play is something special. Kevin Love is exciting. Beasley has had his moments, but in my opinion, he needs to figure out his role on the team to take care of some of his consistency issues. The real problem with the Wolves is a refusal to spend real money to rebuild after the Garnett era. They seem to trade off their talent, Al Jefferson for example. Then again, in today’s NBA, where free agents can essentially pick the team they want to play with, it’s hard for the Wolves to attract top pros. Until they put together five very solid players (we currently have one and a half), they’re going to struggle to fill in the gaps. Maybe they’ll draft well again, and Rubio shows up to play finally. That might help. The team as a whole is kind of a mess. General management and front office problems are an issue. We need Charles Barkley to come in and clean this mess up… or Jerry Sloan.
Lazerbeak: I’ve been a fan since the team came here. We’ve had a rough go since the KG era, but you’re right. There are some promising leads on the horizon. Hopefully, we can keep Love here long enough to develop a consistent team around him. Given our bad luck in the draft over the last 20 years, it was semi-encouraging to see us only drop one spot last night and claim the 2nd overall pick. Time will tell, I guess, but at this point, things can pretty much only get better. [knocks on wood]