Onstage, they’re the hip-hop equivalent of a skateboarding halfpipe competition.
A bunch of chest-bumping bros in their early 20s — dudes who generally look like they called in sick at a sandwich shop to be there — hang around the periphery watching with mutual admiration and I-can-do-better skepticism as one of them jumps off the ledge with a microphone. He’ll take a few high-flying turns to show off, then another guy takes a leap. One or two might wind up with a smashed elbow or a scraped knee or whatever else can happen when you’re so into what you’re doing that you aren’t paying attention.
Offstage, though, the chummy fellas of Audio Perm are surprisingly more careful and less competitive. They repeatedly made the claim that their group dynamic is not really about one-upmanship — which, frankly, would be cooler — but more a Beatles-esque goal to “come together.”
“Too many people in this scene are doing their own thing, working by themselves,” said Bobby Raps, who at 20 is the youngest of Audio Perm’s seven MCs (the oldest has yet to turn 23). “We make each other better working together. We push each other and work outside our own personal comfort zones more.”
Bobby and his crew mates sat for an interview around a table at Pizza Lucé in downtown Minneapolis last weekend. Even the members old enough to drink weren’t imbibing, though. They were about to sound-check for their opening slot with E-40 and Too $hort at Epic nightclub, where they also opened for Kendrick Lamar last fall. Conspicuously missing from the crew was producer/beatmaker Cory Grindberg, who’s studying music at Northwestern University in Chicago but is still an active member (he also just produced a new track for Astronautalis).
Another of the three producers, Taylor Madrigal — the nearest thing to the group’s leader — said, “There’s just this natural energy when we’re all together that’s a little bit nuts. Even when we’re not onstage and doing the most boring stuff imaginable, it winds up feeling like a party.”
Most of Audio Perm’s 10 members hail from Edison or South high schools in Minneapolis. They started making music together at Hope Community Center in south Minneapolis, where local luminaries I Self Devine and the Bagaason brothers of Big Quarters fame teach hip-hop courses.
“We learned you can really make music independently in this town and do well, but you have to work all the harder at it,” said Unfuh Qwittable, whose slight lisp helps distinguish him from the six other rappers in the group.
While all 10 members now officially belong to Audio Perm, the name at first only applied to the group’s three sampling-heavy producers, also including Julian Fairbanks, who was the quietest of the bunch in our interview. It’s certainly the rappers who stand out at shows.
Two years since playing its first gig at the old Eclipse Records, Audio Perm has since nailed down such high-profile gigs as P.O.S.’ October release party at First Ave and May’s Soundset festival. At the latter, they drew an inordinately large crowd thanks in part to their genius/shameless scheme to troll the fest grounds holding up signs promoting their set time.
They scoff at the notion that they might be too established to deserve winning Friday’s Are You Local? showcase at Mill City Nights, a contest to send a newbie band down to the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. For starters, “we’re all broke as hell,” rapper 80H20 cracked.
They also have just begun recording their debut album. “We’ve been holding off until we really had a good concept of what we want to do,” Madrigal explained. “Really, this group is still in the incubation phase.”
If nothing else, the Audio Perm guys feel deserving of an AYL? win given their penchant for creating a party vibe. South by Southwest is widely regarded as one of the biggest parties in the land. “I think we’d make the most of it,” Bobby Raps said with a wicked grin.