There's something undeniably envy-inducing about a music collective. Everyone lives their separate lives yet they have continuing influence on one another; they hover nearby for comfort and camaraderie, maintain a steadfast family, and encourage a breeding ground for creatives. The emcees, DJs, lyricists, and producers in the Twin Cities-based DIY hip-hop collective/label Doomtree seem to have that system down pat. Under their own monikers, they create praise-worthy individual records. Together, the group carves out quality time and records masterpieces.
“Every year we do an end of the year, label showcase at First Avenue which is kind of like our legacy club in Minneapolis” says sole female emcee Dessa (Maggie Wander) as the group van careens down the mountains in some “white, alien-looking terrain” a week into a tour that takes it to San Francisco this week.
“We initially started doing that show as a test of our own draw. Over the years it's morphed into this like, pagan celebration of the preceding year,” she adds. “It's hours of music together, you can see how much time we've spent together as friends, and occasional roommates – living together in conversion vans and sharing hotel beds.”
Last November's No Kings, the latest full-length from the seven-piece, is one of those rare accomplishments in the music world; it's at once fun and earnest, boasts quality rhymes, good beats, and catchy hooks, and features a rotating Lazy Susan of frontpersons. No kings, no group leader. The record is obviously the work of a collective, a rather in tune one at that – most went to high school together, some have been friends since junior high.
Among the catchiest of the No Kings bunch is a little hip-hop track dubbed “Bangarang” – yes, also the name of a Skrillex song and EP but, no, it's not remotely dubstep. Doomtree's is tougher and amusing, with a hearty beat and quick-spitting flow. The lyrics mesh the funny with the thought-provoking – “all these rappers sounds the same/beats/sound the same/raps/sound the same.” and later, “I built more than a rap career/I've got my family here.” The band wisely chose to feature the song in a video based around a karaoke night, meaning the words scroll across the screen for the viewer as well. Oh, and that karaoke night is hosted by a sensually stripping Har Mar Superstar, the perfect star for such a video.
“We thought it would be fun to showcase the personalities within Doomtree, and a goofier side to the performers,” says Dessa. “And we've been friends with that dude [Har Mar] for a really long time.” Har Mar is part of the sex-oozy Gayngs collective (also of Minneapolis), which runs in the same circles as Doomtree.
The idea for the video came about when producer-DJ Lazerbeak (Aaron Mader) was sitting at a bar with the producer who made the video and they agreed a karaoke video would be easy, and they could get Har Mar to run up on tables, singing and screaming. Then we get to the core of the reason for it: it's cheap and looks great. “We're an independent label, and we're artists owned and operated, so keeping costs down is the name of the game!” Dessa says.
The obvious question, to me at least, was if the group itself enjoys the occasional karaoke night out. Does art imitate life? In this case, no. No, it doesn't. Dessa and Lazerbeak giggle when I pose the question. “We've never done it,” Dessa says. “A big no,” Lazerbeak laughs. Whatever guys.
Tues/31, 9 p.m., $16
333 11th St., SF