Over the past eight years, Minnesota hip-hop staple Doomtree has built a thick fan following addicted to its wide-eyed, adrenaline-pumping beats. The nine-member crew is lined with the talents of five sharp MCs, two velvet DJs and two innovative producers, each of whom can blow minds on their own. But in recent years, Doomtree spent most of its energy focusing on various members' solo projects, released as part of the "False Hopes" series. Doomtree also watched one of its own, rapper P.O.S., achieve a national profile with his 2006 solo album "Audition."
Finally this week, after years of anticipation, Doomtree released its long-awaited "official" crew album, featuring collaborative work from all of its members. The self-titled disc is jammed with 21 tracks that preserve the individuality of the group's parts with sticky hooks, brow-raising lyrics and ruthless beats. Working together, the members of this tight-knit rap family only enhance one another's talents.
With all that said, there are still plenty of burning questions about the state of Doomtree 2008. Reached on the road a couple of weeks before their homecoming show at First Avenue Friday night, two of the group's MCs, Dessa and Mike Mictlan, picked up the slack.
Q: Why did it take so many years to make the first crew album?
Dessa: Doomtree is made up of solo MCs with solo careers, so when we finally had time for this record, we didn't just want to just put some dope beats together; we wanted an album full of cohesive songs. We wanted the meanest, sweetest songs possible. We didn't compromise our standards. We wanted it to be fresh.
Q: How does the new album compare to the "False Hopes" solo albums each of you has released in the past?
Mike Mictlan: It's a first for Doomtree. We're stronger, and it's a springboard for our solo attempts as well. I'm stoked.
Q: How would you explain Doomtree's sound?
Dessa: We all have a rap background and no, we're not "cross-genre." This is hip-hop. Doomtree is conscious -- you're not gonna hear us rap about hos and diamonds.
Q: How did it all begin?
Dessa: Some of the guys have known each other since they were tykes, others of us just met as musicians. Doomtree as a label just jelled and over time, it snowballed into a legit collective and small business.
Q: Sum up each of the Doomtree MCs in a couple words.
Dessa: P.O.S.: vivacious with unapologetically thriving beats. Cecil Otter: a road poet with unique mystique. Mike Mictlan: an MC's MC who has a theatrical stage presence. Sims: a working man's poet with legit political intelligence. Myself: a singer, a sucker for narrative songs.
Q: What's up with the name, Doomtree?
Dessa: Initially it was a proposed name for a Cecil and P.O.S. record. The name followed us when we all lived together in a big rundown house a few years ago. Whether it was the fault of architecture or some sort of cosmic wormhole, dead pigeons always showed up on our doorstep.
Q: A tight-knit group, Doomtree always boasts it's like a family. Does the group have any collective creepy hobbies or rituals, like relatives often do?
Mictlan: Nothing with us is ever very premeditated. We don't join hands together before every show ... I mean we have ... but it's not a routine. Sometimes we do have a group hug.
Dessa: A couple of us are into X-rays, collecting them or getting tattoos of them. I personally think it's pretty magical seeing the interior of a person. It's intense to see what we're made of.
Q: Give us one of your favorite lyrics from the new album.
Dessa: Sims' line, "It seems that the heart is the heart of the problem/They want the view from the roof, don't want to build from the bottom/Truth is we got 'em/Build it brick by brick over fist with or without 'em." This line presents the gist of the Doomtree ethos: We're creating our own sound, our own business, our own ethic, and we'll continue to do so with or without assistance from the outside.
Q: What's up with the freaky wings-and-teeth logo?
Dessa: It was designed by [Doomtree producer/art director] MK Larada. It's visceral. Just imagine the approach of wings and teeth coming at you-- fucking terrifying. Flight and threat.
Q: You guys seem so badass. Is that on purpose? Or does it just come with the job?
Mictlan: Well, individually we are all kinda badass. It's not something we really think about. There's no certain image we're trying to hold up. We're more anti-image. So if we seem badass, it's probably because we are.
Straight outta Hopkins
The five rappers of Doomtree -- most of whom met at Hopkins High School -- break down their solo songs on the new crew album.
A former butcher by trade (no kidding), Mictlan had a troubled childhood growing up around Southern California. His mom fell into drug addiction and was eventually imprisoned. He moved to Minnesota to live with an aunt and uncle and attended Hopkins High for a year.
His "Doomtree" song: "Game Over." "I told [Doomtree DJ/producer] Paper Tiger I needed an incredibly hot beat for this record, something with a Latin flair. I started writing it after I was sitting at my girlfriend's place and I saw a car go down the wrong way on a one-way. My main goal was to have fun."
Andrew Sims knew most of the other Doomtree members at Hopkins but didn't start rapping with them until 2003, around the time he quit the University of Minnesota.
His "Doomtree" song: "Popgun War." "I don't know what the songs are about anymore [laughs]. I think what comes through is that we had fun and were happy to be working together."
Another Hopkins boy, he's also a painter and used to be a sponsored skateboarder, but that ended after he broke his spine in an accident that took three years of recovery.
His "Doomtree" song: "Let Me Tell You, Baby." "It was produced by [Doomtree producer] MK Larada. It's kind of about building my character. It talks a lot about me and my views. Nothing political. And I talk about having great friends in the city and people taking care of me, love lost, love found, all that."
To most Twin Cities music fans, the real-life Stef Alexander needs no introduction, thanks to his association with hip-hop collective Rhymesayers and his punk band, Building Better Bombs.
His "Doomtree" song: "Liver Let Die." "It's a Paper Tiger beat, kind of haunting. It's about bars and the people you meet and know for years and years, but you don't really know them."
Raised in south Minneapolis as Maggie Wagner, she got into the local hip-hop scene via poetry slams, which she frequented while earning a degree in (what else?) philosophy.
Her "Doomtree" song: "Sadie Hawkins." "I'm prone to fits of melancholy, and this is sort of my attempt to say, 'OK, so everything's going up in flames? What are you gonna do?' It's the one track on the album that was made with an outside producer, Maker, who's a guy in Chicago the guys have known forever."
- By Chris Riemenschneider