Doomtree

No Kings is the second all-crew release from the Doomtree collective, the prolific pack of Minnesota musicians known for their explosive live shows, their ferociously DIY ethic, and their blatant disregard for the conventions of their genre.

All seven members of Doomtree have built solo careers as rappers, producers, or DJs. (Roster cheat sheet: P.O.S, Dessa, Sims, Cecil Otter, Mike Mictlan, Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger.) Individually these artists receive press from outlets like The York Times, NPR, Spin, Rolling Stone, and The Utne Reader. When they take the stage together, they're an unstoppable storm of knuckle tattoos, fedoras, high-tops, and sensible flats—they're funny together, desperately serious together, and their loyalty to one another is evident to everyone who's seen a show.

Doomtree has a well-earned reputation for aggressive, innovative production that spans genre and era—borrowing from punk, classical, obscure rock, experimental, and foreign styles. Even for Doomtree, this new project is bold. If No Kings were a movie, it would be a cross between The Lost Boys and Tron. Or maybe a Quentin Tarantino take of Lean on Me: youth and innocence with a surreal and futuristic, pulp twist. Lyrically, the record rejects the youth culture of fashion magazines, and replaces it with stories and images that might be better set at an anarchists'
summer camp: escapades in subversion and free thinking. Contagious synth lines spike and dive, layers of percussion create a constant forward motion, infectious melodies loop on horns and distorted guitars, sub-bass hits your chest, then your gut, then the residents of the apartment below you.

Ultimately the title, No Kings, is a call for both rebellion and respect—obey no monarchs, seek no thrones. There are 808s in Neverland. There are no kings in Minneapolis. And Doomtree continues their ascent the same way they began: one city, one club, one show at a time.

P.O.S was born in Minneapolis as Stefon Alexander, where everybody still calls him Stef. As a little kid, he developed a fascination with an older cousin's bass guitar. Stef was allowed to take it home and he banged on it happily for years before realizing that it was intended to be played through an amp. "I just thought it was supposed to be a quiet instrument." As a teenager, he fell hard for punk rock. Minor Threat, At the Drive-In, Refused, Kid Dynamite. He played in a series of hardcore bands, sometimes as a drummer, sometimes on guitar and vocals. From the start, he preferred basement shows to club gigs. Simultaneously, he pursued hip hop, rapping in the hallways and after school with classmates who would eventually found Doomtree Records. P.O.S released his first rap record, Ipecac Neat, on Doomtree in 2003. After signing with Rhymesayers shortly after, it was quickly released and widely distributed on Rhymesayers Entertainment. The album earned P.O.S a dedicated following of critics and underground fans. Two years later they devoured his melodic sophomore release Audition, which featured collaborations with heavyweights like Slug from Atmosphere; Craig Finn of The Hold Steady; and Greg Attonito of The Bouncing Souls. On the verge of his third release, with his trajectory unchecked, P.O.S still doesn't take himself too seriously. He doesn't sweat the musical trends. He locks himself in his bedroom studio until the early hours of the morning, emerges with a song, and couldn't care less how someone else would have gone about it.

Like many great rappers, P.O.S creates his own self-contained little microcosm—his characters become familial to us; we get in on his slang and inside jokes. His mother and his son Jacob emerge as familiar personalities. We know his politics too: P.O.S doesn't hesitate to call out the compounding absurdities of pop culture, either with a little friendly ribbing or with a Molotov cocktail. On Never Better he drops deft one-liners that cut to the quick of America's stuff-obsessed culture, Can't take it with them can they?

Amidst the swagger, the laughter and the wit, P.O.S also provides a portal to his personal life—a young man ferociously determined to succeed as a father, a musician, and a human being. He's earnest, sometimes frustrated, irresistibly likable, and he's goofy. With that kind of wingspan, he can rally almost any crowd—live he's like the Pied Piper of the underground. He can make a rap show feel like a revival, a mosh pit, or a reunion. He will stand on chair. He'll invent a dance. Then the beat drops, the hands go up, and you're converted.

P.O.S himself made more than half of the beats on Never Better, and the production bears his unmistakable signature. The album enters a room like bombshell with a black eye—badass, noisy, impossible to ignore. Feedback and relentless drum rolls are only occasionally tempered by sung choruses and clean, chiming guitar lines. Some critics will be eager to categorize the album as a hybrid—some kind of crossover project. But it's probably not. P.O.S is a rapper with range, he's a real musician and an unstoppable performer. For him, genres are as they ever were: permeable.

Dessa's first full-length record, A Badly Broken Code, introduced her to a national audience as a rapper, a singer, and a potent, imaginative lyricist. It earned a binder of superlative reviews from sources like NPR, The Seattle Times, and AM New York. To tour the album, she assembled a small cast of talented instrumentalists to re-interpret the disc for a dynamic live concert. Part rap show and part cabaret, the elegant presentation charmed both audiences and critics—not a negligible feat in hip hop, a genre with its share of purists.
Castor, The Twin captures these new arrangements for ten of Dessa's strongest previously released songs. It also includes "The Beekeeper," the haunting advance single from Dessa's new album due in 2012. Vibraphone, piano, viola, and stand-up bass give the record a classical, sometimes orchestral sound for a beautiful and somber effect. The album is immediately identifiable as an intimate recording of live players, with fingers sliding on frets and raw, expressive vocals. The organic instrumentation pushes Dessa's lyrics forward, showcasing the imagery and narratives that define her as a songwriter and an emcee.
The album title references the twin brothers Castor and Pollux of Roman mythology, the pair of bright stars in the Gemini constellation. Pollux was part god, a fighter with metal hands. Castor was the mortal of the pair, but the two were inseparable. After cutting her teeth with her Doomtree cohorts behind the boards, this is Dessa's first record with a wholly organic sound—more tender, human versions of the best material she's released so far.

"Enchanting."
–Chicago Tribune

"Dessa has emerged as one of the most diverse and talented artists in indie rap."
–URB

"A one-woman powerhouse...with a literary sensibility and an aversion to genre clichés"
–Utne Reader

"If wordsmith-songbird Dessa isn't the future of hip-hop, she should be."
-Insight News

"Profound and moving"
-Star Tribune

"equal parts Ani Difranco and Mos Def"
-Rift Magazine

"Dessa combines the dry wit of Dorothy Parker with the beat of Mos Def"
-Minnesota Public Radio

"clear-eyed candor...understated realism and dark wit."
-Culturebully.com

"witty, sardonic, and keenly observant of human behavior."
-TheDecider.com

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.

Cecil Otter

In his music and his manner, Cecil Otter seems to belong to a different era of American history. Usually found brooding under the shadow of a fedora, he’s the kind of guy who’s got a five o’clock shadow by mid-morning. At times, the Minneapolis based emcee/producer feels more like a boxcar storyteller, or the down on his luck country singer in the last dive bar on earth. His character is possessed by some lost American spirit of honesty and romanticism: he takes only one meal a day and prefers for his correspondence to be scrawled on bar napkins rather than in emails.

Cecil fell in love with hip-hop at 8 years old, when his 14 year old sister ran away from home and left him with a box of rap tapes. From there he began writing stories, and the stories later became rhymes. Inspired by underground legends like Ant (of Atmosphere) and Sixtoo, Cecil delved into the crates and circuits of drum machines to craft his own haunting sound and unique style. Later, he would earn his stripes as a co-founder of the Doomtree crew, one of the twin cities’ most dominant underground rap outfits.

Cecil’s most recent collaborations with Doomtree (on the collective’s self-titled disc) appeared on Billboard’s regional Heatseekers charts, as the #1 hip hop album on CMJ, charted #23 on iTunes’ rap charts, and made an appearance in the top 100 of the Mediaguide AAA Albums. But it was the arrival of Cecil’s debut solo album “Rebel Yellow” that announced this unlikely troubadour as a fully formed and utterly unique presence in the world of independent hip hop.

“Rebel Yellow”, completely self-produced, is a work full of nostalgia and intrigue. With a bare-bones, bittersweet precision, Cecil unfolds a seedy universe of heartbreak and illusive redemption, delivering his verses with the self-assured, unhurried cadence of a man walking to the goldrush. In his beats, delicate guitar lines surface and submerge; vinyl crackles like dying embers; and the snare drum sneaks a little flourish but keeps simple time while the audience turns to see what it has missed. Laid end-to-end, these tracks speak of restlessness and a nigh-apocalyptic sonic sensibility. In the end, Cecil Otter is a compelling musician for the same reasons he’s good with cards: The technique runs on charm, patience, intuition, and precision.

Most recently, Cecil’s cast his lot with Strange Famous Records, teaming up with label-owner Sage Francis to give the devil a run for his money. SFR has agreed to re-release Rebel Yellow, get it proper distribution, while working toward the release of Cecil’s follow up album, “Porcelain Revolver.”

$10.00 - $12.00

Tickets Available at the Door

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Doomtree with P.O.S., Dessa, SIMS, Cecil Otter, Mike Mictlan, Lazerbeak, Papertiger

Monday, February 20 · Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM at Shadow Lounge

Tickets Available at the Door