Restless and passionate but with an unflinching realism at his core, Sims has seen enough of life to know there are no easy answers. His second full-length release, Bad Time Zoo, out February 15th on Doomtree Records, reflects this rapper's ongoing quest for solid understanding in a society on the brink of dystopia. For Sims, it's been a long road.

Andrew Sims grew up in the working-class Minneapolis suburb of Hopkins, Minnesota. His parents were both musicians with problems of their own, and Sims often had to look out for himself and his younger brother. "I was super short-fused," he remembers. "I got in fights almost every day until I was about 13."

He found solace in rap and R&B music, nurturing a love for mainstream hits as well as then-underground artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan. His parents didn't approve of his new love, however, so he built a secret stash of cassette mixtapes that he traded to kids at school. He soon found a gift for rhyme and begin channeling his aggression into feisty, kinetic wordplay.

His rap habit quickly grew from playground cyphers to recorded projects. In high school, he met a local producer and rapper named P.O.S. who would sell him beats for $30 a pop and let him record at his house for free. Eventually, their home-recording experiment blossomed into a full-on musical enterprise that would pull in other aspiring artists and help put Minneapolis hip-hop on the map.

Enter Doomtree. Hailing from the same untamed Minneapolis indie music scene that spawned both punk legends the Replacements and, 20 years later, hip-hop powerhouse Rhymesayers, Doomtree has become one of the most trusted and influential names in grassroots hip-hop.

Since its birth in 2002, Doomtree has grown from a CD-R-slinging, fast-food-fueled DIY collective into a tightly knit, business-savvy operation. In addition to Sims and P.O.S., Doomtree's roster includes some of the most daring artists working in hip-hop today: Lazerbeak, Dessa, Mike Mictlan, Paper Tiger, and Cecil Otter.

In a genre that all too often rewards imitation over innovation, Doomtree's artists strive for originality without sacrificing mass appeal. As a result, fans of Doomtree have come to expect uncommon hip-hop delivered in clever, club-rocking doses, and Bad Time Zoo will not disappoint.

Setting himself as spokesman for a generation fraught by vapid commercialism, political cynicism, and the paradoxical power of technology to both connect us and drive us apart, Sims seeks a path out of the disappointment that plagues modern life. The time of plenty, inbox full / So why do I feel so goddamn empty? he demands on opening track "Future Shock."

But while he casts himself as an alienated prophet, make no mistake: Sims' message is of empowerment, hope, and badass beats. The results are epically infectious.

Over the pulse and sway of Lazerbeak's urgent, expansive production, Sims raises 50-story verses and swings wrecking-ball choruses. With scenes straight from Darwin's nightmares – people as animals gorging in the streets ("The Veldt") – Bad Time Zoo is not so much a hip-hop album as a teeming, beat-driven urban wilderness.

On the horn-sample-driven first single, "Burn It Down," Sims raps like a red-eyed city planner who just downed his eighth Red Bull and Adderall cocktail and is on the street corner calling for destruction before renewal. Or take the thumping, wickedly funny "One Dimensional Man," an indictment of complacent liberals: You did your part, you gave your hundred bucks to NPR / You joined a co-op now, bought the hybrid car. (For the record, Sims votes Democrat and drives a hybrid.)

But lest you think you need an advanced degree and a machete to enter Bad Time Zoo, Sims keeps his narratives grounded and real, and Lazerbeak's musical compositions would sound just as good on a club PA as headphones. Just spin "Love My Girl," a pop confection that juxtaposes dark observations on the dating life with a surprisingly sweet candy center.

A pop-culture omnivore, Sims cites influences that range from the sci-fi of Ray Bradbury, to the films of David Lynch, to the 1940s graphic novels of Will Eisner. But most of all, Sims listens to the world around him.

"I draw a lot more from human interaction than I do from music," he says. "I listen and try to understand how people function."

Like all good writers, Sims has an ear for what makes us human.

"What are your soft spots? When are you at your most defensive, your most unabashedly happy or proud?" he elaborates. "Or when I see someone try to cobble a defense together when they're hurting. Those moments are noteworthy to me. I try to pay attention to them."

Pay attention to Sims, and you'll be better for it.

Mike Mictlan is a native to Southern California and a current proud resident of South Minneapolis. His style has roots in both scenes. In his delivery, he’s a rapper’s rapper and a technician. He can stick fast stuccato runs, flip a pattern, and freestyle long after everyone else has gone to bed. But he’s also a writer who doesn’t shy from big themes and personal narrative.

Mike met the founding members of Doomtree during his junior year in high school. In response to his deliquent streak, Mike’s parents had sent him from their L.A. home to live with his uncle in Minnesota. (No, the Fresh Prince storyline is not lost on us, please save your letters.) Living with his uncle and attending Hopkins High, he met P.O.S, Lazerbeak, MK Larada, and Paper Tiger. Although Mictlan soon returned to L.A., the Doomtree family tree had taken root. As the collective gained momentum in Minneapolis, Mictlan received more and more phone calls urging him to move to the Midwest. Five years later, he got off a plane with 2 duffel bags and a footlocker, ready to go wherever Doomtree was headed. In his debut collaboration with Lazerbeak, Hand Over Fist, Mictlan employed his understated poetry to epic effect. The album goes by in a pageant of imagery: of fire and flight, long odds and close calls.

A lot has changed in the four years since Mike Mictlan released Hand Over Fist, his first full-length album in collaboration with Lazerbeak. He’s played a key role in helping Doomtree, his rap crew for over a decade now, steadily climb into the national spotlight; touring the world over again and again, playing major summer festivals (Lollapalooza, Paid Dues), and winning over critics the likes of Pitchfork, MTV, Spin, and Rolling Stone off of their collaborative 2011 release No Kings.

SNAXXX is the culmination of those four years grinding it out on the road, and it marks a giant leap forward from Mike’s previous solo work. His million-mile-a-minute delivery, tongue twister patterns, and abstract introspection remain completely intact, but there is a much more playful, ambitiously creative side that now creeps heavily into the mix. Musically, SNAXXX takes the traditional everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink Doomtree sound and blows the doors off the hinges. New comer 2% Muck (Tha Clerb, Spyder Baybie Raw Dog) produces 11 of the 15 tracks, and it’s his rapid fire snare patterns, crushing low end, and blown out synth lines that anchor and shape this new sonic direction for Mike. SNAXXX also features a slew of Minnesota’s finest up and coming rappers (Lizzo, Greg Grease, Spyder Baybie Raw Dog, Freez) along with lifelong Doomtree partner-in-crime P.O.S, who shows up on two of the album’s cuts.

Doomtree released SNAXXX for free in the fall of 2012 while Mike wraps up his next official full length, HELLA FRREAL in order to give people a taste of where he’s at now and where he’s headed. With mainstream appeal, surgical precision, and unshakable crew love, Mike Mictlan is an unparalleled force in the underground. His live show is a spectacle of sweat and laughter and fury and communion. You could search every venue in every city, but you will not find an emcee in rap music with more heart than Mike Mictlan. No hype, just a simple guarantee. He believes in the music, the movement, and in his crew of friends. To see him in person, and to hear his voice, makes it hard not to believe it too.

Showyousuck

Chicago emcee Show You Suck, is putting his mark on the music world, one skateboarder at a time with his mad hooks, slick rhymes and thought provoking lyrics. Straight from the hood, but you'd never guess it with his board toting, fashion conscious personality and nack for 80s and 90s pop culture.

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SIMS (Of Doomtree) with Mike Mictlan, Showyousuck

Thursday, November 8 · Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM at The Abbey Pub

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