Doomtree: Family Over Fame

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The Doomtree collective is different than many of today’s modern hip hop groups. They’re not in it for fame, bitches, cars, bling, or money—even though it would be nice to someday get paid for following their musical passion. Doomtree simply exist to produce music. Doomtree define themselves as not only as a record label and a group of solo artists working together as a music group but also above all else, as a family.

“For the first few years, it was easy, because we were a tight little tree house gang, but then life became more complicated and those complications became part of our unit as well.” says Dessa the only female rapper in the collective, “What doesn’t read immediately when you see us on stage is that we are a family in the fullest sense of the word. So there are glorious moments, there are emergency loans, there are hospital visits, there are dysfunctions, there is squabbling, we are a family, with all that entails.” The Minneapolis based collective that is Doomtree consists of rappers: P.O.S, Sims, Dessa, Mike Mictlan, Cecil Otter, and producers: Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak. The group features members with heavy hitting aggressive styles like Sims, Mike Mictlan and P.O.S, which are balanced out with the serious, sultry and story telling styles of Dessa and Cecil Otter.  Paper Tiger, who doubles as the groups live DJ, elaborated on how crew members’ distinct styles end up meshing together, “I think individually we have our own kind of voice and direction and I think that’s a strong and powerful thing. We all get together and bounce things off each other and we use the group dynamic to step it up a little.” Doomtree has been functioning in some capacity with weekly meetings and constant grind for over a decade. The majority of members have known each other since junior high, with the exception of Mike Mictlan who is originally from L.A. This gradual journey towards the creation of the current incarnation of Doomtree as a label and artist collective started organically when members like P.O.S., former Doomtree member MK Larada and Cecil Otter were still in high school. According to Lazerbeak, it was around this same time when he, fresh out of high school, went with P.O.S to purchase a beat machine. Since that time, Lazerbeak has created a catalog of approximately 500 beats.

Doomtree Records has released approximately 20 albums to date—including solo projects and co-releases from group members plus two albums that feature all seven members of the Doomtree collective.  Like many hip hop artists, they started by making home burnt EPs known as their False Hopes series, which document the early careers of each group member. The False Hopes tradition has continued throughout Doomtree’s history and according to Dessa the group sees them as “unofficial” releases—similar to the mixtapes released by Atmosphere.

As the group of friends slowly transitioned into a label, each member of the group has had to fall into various roles, “We started the label because no one else wanted to put our records out, so now we kind of have to take on roles within that label to keep things afloat,” says Lazerbeak. According to P.O.S, Doomtree has become more of a way of life than anything else, “All I’ve ever tried to do with my life is make music with my friends.  The only thing I’ve ever actually put any real effort, time and equity into is making music.” Being as close as family and working together through the ups and downs could be a reason they’ve had such a gradual and stable build for the last ten years. “All of us do this as something that we love and care about and want to maybe eventually get paid for.” says P.O.S, “As of right now we do it because it’s our baby and we want to hold it up and be able to put out music whenever we want to.” Doomtree is essentially the perfect combination of friends working together as colleagues to fulfill their individual dreams as artists. Though Paper Tiger jokes that if someone would just give them a million dollars it would make the process a lot easier.

Because Doomtree is made up of a team of seven completely different artists they definitely face some challenges. It’s easy to imagine a group like this in a studio choking each other out and irrationally fighting over egos, styles and directions. Unfortunately for the reality show junkies, it’s not quite like Making The Band. Despite the lack of high drama, the production and creation process is still a slow and painstaking process. Sims says, “We’re still learning how to write with five different songwriters, especially since everyone is so connected to their idea of song writing, it’s really difficult to make a good song with five different songwriters together.” Dessa has a similar outlook, “There’s definitely some moments of conflict and differences of opinion, but I think we end up trying to sequence our albums in a lot of different ways. Until we find the song order that best lends continuity to the whole record.” Whether the road to perfection is a smooth or rough one, both the solo and group efforts that Doomtree Records release, speak for themselves in terms of quality.

Running an DIY label isn’t without its struggles. “We are figuring out how to best run the business at this point.  I think we are doing a really good job with the way we’ve done it.” says Sims, “That’s kinda one of the things we are stubborn about. We don’t wanna give up our vision with our company, we’ve been hesitant to bring anyone else on. We’re doing a good job and we’re being competitive with other indie labels and we’re doing it all by the seat of our pants.”

The balancing act between being artists and running a business is not always an easy one. Dessa says, “I know it’s not a proper thing to say in this era of yoga and meditation, but I think balance is overrated. I don’t balance it very well. But for right now, I’m in my late twenties, I like the grind. You don’t get a lot of sleep, but you don’t get bored.” The members of Doomtree have their hands full. Everyone does their part in making the entire process of running the label and putting out records and touring work. Minneapolis is a spawning ground for upcoming and already prominent artists and labels such as Rhymesayers—who are an obvious influence and role model for the Doomtree crew. “Seeing these guys on the street, and seeing them three times a week at all these shows they were playing all over the city, really gives you a sense of urgency.” Cecil Otter says, “I think we’ve all had the work ethic where it’s like we wanna do it ourselves until people wanna come start working for us and do it our way. That was a really inspiring thing to be around.” Dessa agrees, “I think we were probably influenced by the encouraging motto that was set by Rhymesayers Entertainment. They were able to start a business, to run that business independently and to slowly build a national and international presence by themselves. In that way we probably all were inspired by the model from those guys.” Needless to say, living in a city that is so accepting and full of music can motivate like-minded people to take their inspirations and aspirations to the next level.

After over a decade of hustling in the music industry the crew of seven is finally embarking on their first tour together. Every single member of Doomtree seems elated that it is finally happening. P.O.S is beyond stoked to finally have the entire collaborative out on the road this November, “There’s always challenges on tour and there’s always challenges when there’s tons of people around.  We all have a lot of history, but its nothing, I don’t think there’s going to be problems.  I think the hardest thing will be keeping the show under three and a half hours.” Dessa agrees that the entire crew is stoked, “It has been a long time coming, so I think all of us are more excited about this tour than we’ve been in a long time.” Tours in the past always seemed to have at least one or two people from the collective missing. Dessa explained the process it took for this tour to happen, “Doomtree has had a really slow but steady organic growth, and it takes a while if your building independently to really set up the infrastructure and the financial stability it takes to fully get seven people paid when they’re traveling together.”

Doomtree is bound for success, especially with the positive outlooks and work ethic held by each member. Sims is certain that they are going in the right direction with the steps they are taking “We are turning into a competitive label and a force to kinda be reckoned with on a national level. We aren’t cut throat, we are more community based and I think that that is one of our biggest assets and biggest strengths.”  P.O.S is extremely optimistic on the future of the collective as well, “I just want to make as many awesome songs as I can with my friends and just have that be what it is.  The idea of competing with other rappers, the idea of competing in the music industry just fuckin’ wore off when I was young.”

For Doomtree it isn’t about being number one in the industry—but instead simply doing what they love. Check out the entire Doomtree crew on Nov. 6 first at Kilby Court and later that same evening at Urban Lounge.

Mike Mictlan and Dessa performed at Kilby Court last fall in a condensed version of the Doomtree Collective. Next month's tour brings all seven members to both Kilby and Urban Lounge, Nov. 6. Photo: Patiri Photography