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Feb. 25, 2012

It seems almost quaint to think there was a time not that long ago where most Americans thought about rap and hip-hop in terms of an East Coast/West Coast binary. To be sure, even then it wasn’t representative of the whole picture, but in the years since coastal beefs became a played-out tabloid story, rap has continued to mutate into new strains in scenes throughout the flyover states, to the point where most metropolises of any size can lay claim to some sub-genre or another. It’s a testament to the music’s universality that any population, even internationally, can take it and mold it into something unique, something relevant to their lives. Of course, the Internet makes any niche phenomenon global, but you can almost tell your geographic location by what rap heads are rocking, from Baltimore to the Bay Area and from Miami to Minneapolis, where things tend to be less flashy and more comfortable with indie-rock aesthetics.

Saturday night’s show offered the chance to catch two of the Twin Cities’ most buzzed-about acts, Toki Wright and the Doomtree collective. In the opening slot, Wright demonstrated his energetic, firebrand flow, which has a way of being political without being didactic.

He’s got a wide scope musically, stretching beyond classic boom-bap (though there’s plenty of that for purists) to include Portishead samples and bass-heavy dub, making him a valuable voice on Rhymesayers Entertainment, which can sometimes feel too closely identified with the moodier sounds of Atmosphere and Brother Ali.

Headliners Doomtree are a diverse group, featuring a few lyricists who, based simply on their looks, would seem more at home in an indie band than a rap crew—and, indeed, the core of the collective comes from varied musical backgrounds. On stage, the MCs—along with their producers, Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak, who worked away in the background—seemed a little out of sync with each other, although, to be fair, they were missing a rather sizable piece of the puzzle in P.O.S., who was unexpectedly called away from the tour by the birth of a new child. Despite the absence of perhaps their strongest voice, Doomtree gave an entertaining show, though it lacked some of the dynamism needed to sustain itself over nearly two hours. Still, any flaws were more or less obscured by an abundance of enthusiasm, including vocal support for building a grassroots creative network to unite Midwest artists. I guess one of the benefits of having a strong city scene is that you can start trying to foster that same sense of community on a regional level.

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