Greetings and salutations, acolytes. You have most likely noted that, as of late, your Esteemed Professor has given a great deal of attention to rap music, something not oft encountered amongst devotees of the Devil’s Music. I have, to be honest, been listening to both rap and metal in nigh equal quantities as of late, and thus I feel as though I would be doing myself a disservice if I did not devote a similarly-divided amount of time in my writing. It is important to remember that, beneath the umbrella of the Devil’s music, rap and metal are more alike than many may realize.
In both genres, it is a dangerous practice to judge either form of art based solely on their most visible practitioners. The mainstream of rap music is not unlike the mainstream of metal; both are populated by overly simplistic, watered-down products designed to maximize record sales to a mass market (It is worth noting that the rap side of the equation is much, much more successful at this, thanks to its wide appeal). Likewise, with both genres, there is a rich and vibrant underground filled with musical brilliance at every turn, lurking in wait for those brave enough to venture forth into the darkened caves and tunnels.
The Minneapolis-based Doomtree rap crew is a perfect example of such musical brilliance. There are seven members of the Doomtree crew: rappers/occasional producers P.O.S, Dessa, Sims, Cecil Otter, and Mike Mictlan, along with producer Lazerbeak and DJ/Producer/artist Paper Tiger. Each member brings something specific to the table, and in reality they are not so much a rap crew as a family that make music and perform together. The Doomtree folk are as tight-knit a group as one may ever find, constantly playing shows together, collaborating on one another’s albums, even releasing a pair of group efforts released under the Doomtree moniker.
P.O.S, better known as Stafon Alexander, is one of Doomtree’s founders, although he came to his rap career in a most peculiar fashion, given his background as a member of numerous former and current punk/hardcore bands. This background flavors his lyrics and often bleeds through into his music; his songs are rife with themes of of social upheaval and political discontent, the cornerstones of punk rock. Although P.O.S’ recent release, We Don’t Even Live Here, is not my favorite release of his (that distinction belongs to his 2009 release Never Better), and it has a few missteps here and there, it is still rapidly growing on me and becoming one of the year’s favorites. Heavily centered around social disobedience and somewhat violent rebellion, it also contains one of my favorite lyrics of the year, from the track “Arrow To The Action / Fire In The Hole“: “Bolt cutter in the trunk, Bolt Thrower in the tape deck.” It is also worth noting that P.O.S is in need of a new kidney due to some lifelong health problems; more information can be found here. It’s a sobering reminder that musicians don’t have health insurance.
Andrew Sims, referred to simply by his surname, is another fine example of Doomtree’s incomparable talent. While he does not share P.O.S’ punk background, his songs are fraught with the urban disenfranchisement and anti-commercialism common with punk, and so there is definitely common ground here. In particular, his 2011 release Bad Time Zoo sticks in my mind, driven by an overarching concept of modern Earth as “the veldt”, a social jungle populated by groups of people mirroring the varying predators and prey of the animal kingdom. The metaphor is a simple one, but there is a surprising amount of depth once you scratch the surface, as is illustrated by the brilliant video for “Burn It Down” (which is not only one of my favorite Sims songs, but one of my favorite music videos ever, seen below). It’s an intelligently written and well-executed album, bolstered by brilliant production work by his Doomtree cohort Lazerbeak.
Dessa (born Margret Wander) is perhaps my favorite member of the Doomtree family. She is not only an exceptionally gifted rapper, she also possesses a beautiful singing voice, filled with a certain world-weariness and character that lends an emotional weight to her lyrics – and make no mistake, her lyrics are incredible, sharing the general sense of urban decay common to the Doomtree sound, but with a much more introspective and personal touch. Some of the most incredible moments on her 2010 release A Badly Broken Code are carried almost entirely by her singing, and it is this versatility that has truly captured my attention. This versatility is further illustrated by 2011′s Castor, The Twin, and album that features reworked versions of previous tracks with the production replaced by live instrumentation on piano, vibraphone, mandolin, viola, double bass and timpani. Such an artist is a rarity, and it is a shame that she is not better known.
Cecil Otter, as Kyle Smith prefers to be known, is a bit more of an unknown quantity for me. Thus far, I have only heard his Rebel Yellow album and his old False Hopes Mega! split with P.O.S (“False Hopes” being a long-running series of releases from the various Doomtree members), and I do not feel that I have fully absorbed his music sufficiently to get a good feel for what he does. His lyrical flow is a bit more relaxed than his cohorts, often delivered in a somewhat singsong voice. He also dabbles in production, producing several songs for his Doomtree cohorts and for his own albums, and is going to be releasing his second official solo album, Porcelain Revolver, some time soon.
The final rapper of the Doomtree crew is Mike Mictlan (also known as Mike Marquez), and he is another relative unknown to me. I started with his recently-released free mixtape SNAXXX!, and unfortunately I did not particularly enjoy it on first listen. I have not given it a second listen, although I should probably do so at some point. I did go back and check out his initial Doomtree release, False Hopes Eight: Deity For Re-Hire, and have found that more to my liking, so I expect that I will give SNAXXX! another chance at some point. A warning about the video for “Spicy Peeñ“ (embedded below): it is borderline NSFW, and moreover, it is bizarre.
Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger
I am rolling the final members of the Doomtree family into one paragraph, because as producers/DJs, neither Lazerbeak (better known as Aaron Mader) or Paper Tiger (also called John Samels) actually does much rapping (although Lazerbeak has been known to sing on occasion). Both have released instrumental albums, a concept that I find interesting simply because hip-hop music is so centered around wordplay that removing that portion of the equation seems nigh unthinkable. Then again, it gives the listener a chance to appreciate a pair of artists whose contributions are underrated, and that is always something welcome. It is worth noting that Paper Tiger is also Doomtree’s resident graphic artist.
If you have made it to this portion of the article, I would like to thank you for staying with me. It is my sincere hope that one or more of these wonderful artists have caught your interest, because their myriad talents are deserving of a wider audience. It is also my sincere hope that I can help change the perception among the followers of the Devil’s Music that rap is bad, because the broadening of one’s musical horizons is a step on the path to enlightenment.