Concert preview sidebar: A primer on Dessa's Doomtree collective

By Columbus Alive
From the September 26, 2013 edition

Somewhere around the turn of the new century, on the heels of releases from indie hip-hop record label Rhymesayers artists like Atmosphere and Brother Ali, Minneapolis became the nexus of the underground hip-hop scene. Some of the Twin Cities' output was forgettable, as it always is in any musical movement, but a lot of it was righteously fresh, even today, and especially for those prone to so-called backpack rap. Here's a rundown of four artists (outside of Dessa) from the Doomtree collective who are still releasing worthwhile projects.

P.O.S.

The obvious starting point if you're at all new to Dessa and her Doomtree collective. P.O.S. is one of the founding members of this hip-hop crew, and he's also its most famous and talented. Mixing elements of punk and hip-hop, P.O.S. songs contain aggressive, rhythmic propulsion, shout-along choruses, intricate wordplay and, most importantly, frequent “Big Lebowski” references. “Drumroll” from 2009's Never Better is a good starting point, though it's not particularly conclusive of P.O.S.'s stuff.

Lazerbeak

The producer responsible for much of Doomtree's output is also prolific with his own instrumental releases, putting out almost an album a year since 2008. While I can be particular about my instrumental hip-hop, Lazerbeak's releases always resonate with me, striking a balance as mostly minimalist bangers with melodic flourishes that add depth and subtle force prime for repeat listens.

Mike Mictlan

Mictlan's latest album, Snaxxx, showcases a layer of grime and glitched-out electro-funk that intersects somewhere between El-P, Death Grips and Dizzee Rascal. Mictlan also collaborated with Lazerbeak for 2008's Hand Over Fist, which fits a little more neatly into the Minneapolis scene's typical boom-bap backpack rap spine. The new focus is not always effective in this context, but it shows just how diverse Doomtree can be.

Cecil Otter

Otter's 2012 mashup album with Swiss Andy (13 Chambers under the name Wugazi) is perhaps the best distillation of Doomtree's sounds and ethos. The album is exactly what it sounds like (a marriage of Wu-Tang and Fugazi), and even if mashup albums pitting unexpected bedfellows in hip-hop and rock is nothing new these days, the release is worth a listen. The rest of Otter's output is not nearly as interesting, but his 2009 release Rebel Yellow stems from similarly diverse sources of inspiration, owing debts to Atmosphere (in sound and approach) and Woody Guthrie (as a drifter-dust bowl spiritual forefather).