with Sick Sense & Skinwalker, Pat Maine is KiNNetiK
Way before even getting to the venue, people were warning me that Doomtree, the Minneapolis DIY hip hop collective, would be playing without their most famous member. P.O.S. is on the Warped Tour this summer and friends, editors, even the group itself on promo posters seemed to be almost apologizing to me for his absence. I wasn’t worried. I’ve seen P.O.S. several times, including once in February at Kilby Court with fellow Doomtree members Sims and Mike Mictlan, all being supported by Lazerbeak, all three of whom would be appearing at this show. Both MC’s were clearly capable of working a crowd by themselves then, so why should tonight, being supported by the rest of their tightly knit collective, be any different? The lineup this time consisted of most everyone but P.O.S. from the group. As far as emcee’s go, Sims has the growl, Dessa’s got the purr, Cecil Otter’s got the poetry, and Mike Mictlan has the machine-gun delivery, all backed up this time by Lazerbeak (who has his own hand signal now) on the buttons and Paper Tiger on the turntables.
I’d spent my week wondering what the format for this kind of show would be––four emcee’s all competing? All doing their own songs? Taking turns at short sets? This group is so prolific, both together and as independent artists, that the catalogue of music from which to pull a show out of was truly immense. Since their inception, Doomtree (as a label) has been releasing short EP’s either as collaborations or alone, called False Hopes, recently releasing volume 14. On top of that, the group finished an eponymous full-length last year, as did Mike Mictlan and Lazerbeak as Hand Over Fist, Cecil Otter’s long-awaited full-length, Rebel Yellow is out now, and Sims’ album, Lights Out Paris came out a few years back. This coupled with new material from Dessa’s upcoming full-length and Sims’ collaboration with Lazerbeak which should both be out within a year (I hope), and these six artists have more than enough music to play around with.
So I ride my bike to Kilby Court and as all too often happens there, I hear the first act finishing up as I walk up the alley. There’s always a moment when I think I’ll make it, but then a song ends and nothing follows. Sorry Pat Maine! I’ve since checked this local dude out on myspace and his music is definitely worth the listen: eerie, acoustic guitar driven hip hop with conscious lyrics. I’ll make it my business in the future to see him at one of the many shows he’s playing around town. Luckily, I did make it in time to see the duo of DJ/producer Skinwalker and MC Sick Sense, two thirds of Salt Lake City act 1st Class. The set starts out a little slow, like the guys are warming up, but Sick Sense seems to hit his stride after a few songs and really starts working the mic for the crowd. The beats are solid, the rhymes about weed and ego are reasonable and never abrasive in the way that so many lesser rappers try too hard, but overall something is missing. Maybe it was the absence of their third component, Mr. Smith, or maybe the crowd was too small and unfamiliar with their songs for everyone to get really engaged. Either way, there is a lot of potential in these kids, but I’m waiting for something really impressive. Their record, The Future of Classic, is out now on Xcommunicated Records.
After digging on that chiller atmosphere, I knew Doomtree was going to blow that former garage wide open, but the show wasn’t so much a lit fuse leading to an explosion as it was a long musical war of attrition. Their beats are bombastic with huge drums on top of staccato cuts of samples and bass, and while every emcee has their own style, they are united by a love of the written as well as spoken word. Some of the rhymes and phrasings they spit could only be dreamed up by intelligent folks with creative minds. The group had decided to keep it “loose,” which meant that every night on the tour was going to be a unique show, which was fine by me. The emcee’s kept trading off, switching mics, backing each other up with vocals and call and response work on some songs, and full fledged hip-hop showmanship in threes or pairs on others. It happened to be Cecil Otter’s birthday that night and the announcement, along with the format led to a really intimate feel for the whole show. The atmosphere was casual but dedicated, with every artist calling songs and joking around. Moving easily from blisteringly fast crowd movers like Mictlan’s “Game Over” to more quiet moments with Dessa working her pipes singing “Mineshaft,” the show pretty much ran the gamut.
A personal high point was Cecil Otter laying one of his classic verses over a light remix of Grizzly Bear’s recent single, Two Weeks—that will be stuck in my dreams for months. Sims rocked us so hard with new material and classics that he nearly lost his voice by the end. Not only that, but with a set list of around 30 songs (I lost count) including many acapella break downs and a few freestyles, I think the crowd was more exhausted than the band. The metaphor that kept emerging in my head was sex with an old lover: long and intense but with many smaller climaxes. Afterwards there’s the smell of sweat and cigarette smoke. I rode home and my throat was tired from yelling, my arms were leaden from “gettin’ them in the air” and my ears were still ringing. These kids are creating their own niche, truly breaking ground with unique hip hop and touring like they mean it to support the music. They are definitely worth seeing.