Minneapolis collective Doomtree has been quietly (or not so quietly) collaborating on powerful hip-hop since even before their 2008 self-titled debut. They are a textbook example of DIY hip-hop: all bootstraps, clenched fists, Molotov cocktails, and belief in themselves and their fans. P.O.S., Dessa, Mike Mictlan, Cecil Otter, Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, and Sims are now back with All Hands, a departure from the pillar-shaking No Kings with a sound that leans more toward self-celebration.
The members of Doomtree are, at their best, revolutionaries; they’re protesters and fighters against the hip-hop mainstream. Unsurprisingly, the best songs on All Hands are the fighting songs. The back-to-back punch of lead singles “.38 Airweight” and “Gray Duck” employ very different styles (the former a creeping beat like a snake in the brush, the latter filled with darkly twitching dancehall synths), but both raise a powerful middle finger to The Establishment. “.38 Airweight” starts with P.O.S. saying, “Bernie Goetz, I’ve been thinkin’ bout Bernie Goetz,” referring to the white man who shot four young black men on an NYC subway in the ’80s. It sets up a contemplative track about all the shit that’s been fucked up for years in this country. “Gray Duck” shifts from contemplation to a more focused aggression. The multi-talented Dessa sings a refrain (“Take the skins/ Hang ’em on the walls/ Not trophies, just reminders/ What is left here when we fall”) before taking her own verse, which she raps with even more tenacity than her cohorts do across the rest of the album.
Later, “The Bends” and the celebratory “Mini Brute” are also solid, full of quick, imaginative wordplay. But as a whole, All Hands doesn’t pack the punch of previous Doomtree releases. As the album goes along, the tracks start to blend and bleed into each other, making too much of a reverb, synth-filled wash. The individual members start to blend, too, with flows that are a bit too similar. All Hands may be better than many group hip-hop albums, but the whole comes up as less than the sum of this collective’s talented parts.
Essential Tracks: “.38 Airweight”, “Gray Duck”, and “Mini Brute”