Local Music: Hanging with 'Superstar'

What's Minneapolis-reared folk-rocker Matthew Santos doing on the hip-hop charts with Lupe Fiasco?

If you've heard "Superstar," the excellent new single by Kanye West/Jay-Z protégé Lupe Fiasco, then you've heard Minneapolis native Matthew Santos. You probably just haven't heard of Matthew Santos.

Now living in Chicago -- when he's not on tour with Lupe -- the Jeff Buckley-like folk-rocker will return home for the holidays a little earlier than usual to perform Saturday at the Fine Line. Even with his name on the Billboard and iTunes hip-hop charts (the track is officially listed as "featuring Matthew Santos"), the best hometown homecoming gig he could get was the first of two opening slots for Jistoray.

But Santos, 24, is used to bouncing between different worlds -- whether it's from hip-hop to his own folky-rock music, or from Coachella and other festivals with Fiasco to small clubs for his own gigs.

"Culturally, I've been all over the map lately," he said by phone from Chicago. "It's been great. I think outside the box a lot easier than I used to."

Santos credits Minneapolis for initially broadening his musical horizons. A Southwest High grad, he said, "I probably never would've listened to hip-hop if my friends hadn't sort of lubricated me with Atmosphere, Eyedea and the Rhymesayers stuff."

After moving to Chicago in 2001 to study music at Columbia College, he met Fiasco through a mutual friend (engineer Greg Magers). The rapper recruited Santos to sing on "American Terrorist," one of the standouts on his 2006 debut "Food & Liquor." He's back for two tracks on "The Cool," the new Fiasco record that hit stores Tuesday.

"Superstar" is where he really shines, playing Adam Levine to Lupe's Kanye as he delivers the melodic, repetitive chorus, "If you are what you say you are, a superstar/ Then have no fear, the camera's here."

"It's really challenging and creatively satisfying working with Lupe, because I'm working completely under his vision," said Santos, who also sings and plays in Fiasco's band on tour. When it comes time to get back into his own mode of music, he said, "The transition isn't all that difficult.

"It'd be different if Lupe wasn't the kind of conscious rapper that he is. His words are powerful, and he appeals to an open-minded crowd."

Santos recently released his first full-length album, "Matters of the Bittersweet," and is working on a follow-up with veteran Chicago producer Jim Tullio (Mavis Staple, Steve Goodman). With his wavering but soulful voice and a playful acoustic sound akin to Jack Johnson and Bob Schneider, there's plenty of reason to believe that Santos could land his own hit single.

Until then, he said, "It can be fun leading this sort of double life."

Respect: Heiruspecs

It seems like only yesterday when I was introduced to a band of baby-faced St. Paul kids playing surprisingly smart and innovative "live" hip-hop on the Teen Fair stage at the Minnesota State Fair. I remember it well, because the young bassist had a big streak of pizza grease from the neighboring Green Mill stand going down the front of his white T-shirt.

"I didn't really invest much in my stage presence back then," Heiruspecs co-founder Sean McPherson said with a laugh. His band is celebrating its 10th anniversary with two gigs Saturday at the Turf Club -- including the club's first-ever official all-ages show (5 p.m., followed by a 21-plus show at 10 p.m., $10).

Formed not too far from the Turf at Central High School, Heiruspecs was such a St. Paul band then that they put directions to Minneapolis on fliers. Ten years on, the group has two memorable studio albums to its name, one bad big-indie-label experience (Razor & Tie), another bad experience touring with a big-name rapper (Ja Rule) and countless botched pronunciations of its name.

A new CD featuring rarities, live tracks and four new songs will be on sale at the shows, and the band is working toward a new album for next year. Said McPherson, "Our first jobs were playing in this band. Now that we've all had real jobs and gone through school and everything, we realize what a gift it is to get to do this."

Rude Girl can't fail

Somewhere, Joe Strummer is smiling over this one: Rude Girl, a nine-member all-female Clash tribute band, is slated to perform the entire "London Calling" album and other favorites Saturday at the Triple Rock (10 p.m., $7). The lineup includes saxophone, viola and accordion, but the members assure us they aren't wussing out in the music.

"The stereotype is women get together and wind up playing softer, quieter music, so we wanted to do the opposite," said guitarist Emily Boigenzahn.

While Boigenzahn comes from a musical family (her dad is Slim Dunlap) and some of the other members are in different bands, Rude Girl isn't very experienced overall. Perfect! Boigenzahn said they have been rehearsing all year with the stated goal of headlining the Triple Rock by year's end. I'm smiling now, too.

Random mix

Since its rocks-offing stage show is still its best attribute, Chooglin' made the wise decision to record a live album at 7th Street Entry on Saturday. An even better idea: The hard-boogieing garage-rockers have recruited photographer Daniel Corrigan to assemble a booth at the gig, where he'll take individual shots of audience members to use as artwork for the CD. That way, it's guaranteed to sell at least 250 copies (the Entry's capacity). Look for mostly new songs at the show (9 p.m., $6). ...

They've gone on to work for everyone from Jonny Lang to the Blue Man Group and even Don Rickles' band, but the members of Greazy Meal still love getting together whenever they can. Four of the jazz/funk specialists -- Jim Anton, Tommy Barbarella, Brian Gallagher and Dave Anania -- will be jamming at the Kitty Cat Klub Dec. 27-28 under the moniker Afterbirth of the Cool. ... Possible heirs to Greazy Meal, young funk-rock band Down Lo is back from a year of hard touring to promote a new CD, "In Our World," Saturday at the Cabooze (9:30 p.m., $5). The album is a collaboration with Los Angeles-based rapper Deploi. ...

Apparently, it's not too late to release a holiday album: The George Maurer Group performs Sunday at the Dakota Jazz Club to promote "Sniff the Mitten," a (Spinal Tap-copping) live album of big-band-style Christmas classics recorded this time last year. ... Also playing the Dakota on Dec. 30, the New Standards just issued a holiday EP called "Candy Cane" that's on sale at gigs . The trio's recent holiday concert at the Fitzgerald Theater is airing Christmas Eve at 7 p.m. on the Current (89.3 FM). ...

Hold onto those iTunes gift cards until next week, when we run the fifth annual Twin Cities Critics Tally, a music writers poll on the best local albums, songs and live acts of 2007.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658

  • related content

  • Audio: Mathew Santos 'Shadows In a Shoebox'

    Thursday December 20, 2007

  • MATTHEW SANTOS

    Opening for: Jistoray,

    2 Wurds.

    When: 9 p.m. Sat.

    Where: Fine Line,

    318 1st Av. N., Mpls.

    Tickets: $6. 612-338-8100.

    Web: Myspace.com/matthewsantos

    See Santos and Fiasco perform "Superstar" at Lollapalooza at startribune.com/a3797

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