They famously used to live together in a house/hovel in Uptown. Over the past month, six of them moved back in together in a van on the road. We wanted to hear how it went.
The nine members of the Doomtree collective -- five rappers, four DJs/beatmakers -- issued their first all-in-one album Tuesday. To hype the 21-song eponymous collection, six of them went out for a three-week trek opening for Denver rap/rock band the Flobots ("Handlebars"). It was the first official Doomtree tour in the crew's seven-year history.
"Doomtree," the album, has been talked about for more than two years. During that time, one of the crew's rappers, P.O.S., earned national recognition, and other MCs worked on their own CDs. (Each rapper has a solo track on the new disc.) The fact that the album took so long had some Doomtree watchers wondering if the group was starting to splinter.
Mostly all friends from Hopkins High School, they could be forgiven for growing up and growing apart. The things you dream about when you're 18 often fall by the wayside by the time you're 25.
It turns out they're still sharing the same dream -- and sometimes socks and whiskey bottles, too -- as we found out by talking to members as they checked in from various stops along the road.
Calling from: Tempe, Ariz. (first stop of the tour, July 9)
About the tour: "We did the drive in about 36 hours. I did this same drive from Minneapolis in November with Digitata, and the gas for the van was like $870. This time, it's well over $1,200. It's gonna be tough."
"Since we all moved out of the house a year and a half ago, Doomtree has become less of a kids' fun project kind of thing and grown more serious. This tour adds another level."
About the new record: "It's been finished for a while. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out who'd be the best to release the album before we finally decided we'd be the best. Every label was like, 'Well, we'll give you a cash advance, but we want you to give up the digital rights.' It's like they're giving us a dying industry and taking away a booming one from us."
About 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."
About him: Andrew Sims knew most of the other crew members at Hopkins High but didn't start rapping with them until 2003, around when he quit the University of Minnesota just 17 credits shy of a degree. He graduated to the local-MC big league with his 2005 debut, "Lights Out Paris."
"I didn't know what I was going to do with that degree anyway," he said. "After school, I hooked up with Stef [P.O.S.]. He'd call me up like two times a week, 'You gotta come over and record. I got a beat for you.' The rest is history."
Calling from: San Francisco (July 14)
About the tour: "We're doing well on merch, and we're getting good at plundering the clubs. We have a van full of bottled water, Smart Water, Red Bull, whatever people leave behind. When we're spending this much on gas, we'll take anything else we can get.
"The only incident in the van so far is someone didn't screw the cap on tight to a Jack Daniels bottle, so we woke up to a puddle. And it somehow soaked up the stench of socks. So that's the smell right now: whiskey and socks."
About the record: "It was a little bit of a case of too-many-cooks. We all wanted creative input, which was a good thing, but that made it slower. I like doing my own thing, and it's hard for me to write with other people, but this really was fun. When the engine got moving, things fell into place pretty fast."
About his "Doomtree" song ("Let Me Tell You, Baby"): "It was produced by 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."
About him: Aka Kyle Smith, 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. He and Marshall (MK) Larada, a Doomtree DJ/producer, had a punk band in high school. His own new CD, "Rebel Yellow," is due out soon.
"A lot of struggle has gone into Doomtree -- a lot of us giving up everything for this," he said. "And it's been totally worth it."
Calling from: An hour south of Seattle (July 16).
About the tour: "We went to this sushi-go-round place in Portland, Ore., earlier today and it was like $1.75 for two really nice pieces of tuna or whatever. We all just gorged."
About the record: "It feels like forever since we started working on it, but I think it's good timing now."
About his "Doomtree" song ("Game Over"): "I told Paper Tiger [Doomtree DJ/producer, aka John Samels] I needed an incredibly hot beat, something with a Latin flair. My new record is pretty conceptual and intense, so I wanted this to be totally fun."
About him: 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 imprisoned. He moved to Minnesota to live with an aunt and uncle and attended Hopkins High for a year. All this and a lot more comes out on his new record "Hand Over Fist," made with yet another Doomtree beatmaker, Lazerbeak, aka Aaron Mader of the rock band Plastic Constellations.
"I came home in the sixth grade and told my parents I was going to be a rapper," he said. "This is all I've ever wanted to do."
Calling from: Salt Lake City (July 18)
About the tour: "In Seattle, Sims and Mike jumped into the crowd during 'Slow Burn' at this venue that was like a bigger 7th Street Entry. It was a great vibe, real hot, and a crazy crowd. It felt like the floor was on springs, everyone was jumping. Seeing stuff like that -- and experiencing it together -- has been awesome."
About the record: "It represents all of us equally. That's also one nice thing about opening for Flobots is most of these fans haven't heard about me any more than they've heard about Sims or Cecil or any of them. It's more of a level playing field now."
About 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."
About him: The real-life Stef Alexander needs little introduction, thanks to his association with the town's best-known hip-hop collective, Rhymesayers, and his punk band, Building Better Bombs. He finished his third CD for Rhymesayers last month, aiming for an early '09 release.
"Rhymesayers is more like something I stepped into," he said. "I've become good friends with those guys, too, but Doomtree is something I've always been in. They're my best friends."
Marshall (MK) Larada
Calling from: Minneapolis (July 23)
About the tour: "We can't all go out on a tour. It's just a simple case of not enough space in the van and finances. But some of us have to stay and hold down the fort. I'm doing a lot of the design and promotional work, T-shirts and stickers, making sure our small street team is in place, that kind of stuff. Lazerbeak has been handling all the pre-order work with the album."
About the record: "I was worried it wouldn't be as cohesive as everyone's solo records, and it isn't. But I wound up liking that about it. It sort of encapsulates everything that we do."
About him: Larada said of being in a punk band with Cecil Otter, "I'd have rather been in one with P.O.S. if I had known him earlier, because Cecil wasn't very good at it." Born Kai Benson, he got into production in the eighth grade by recording a cheap Casio keyboard and guitar through a double-deck tape deck. Mostly self-taught as an artist, he creates much of Doomtree's artwork.
Calling from: Colorado Springs, Colo. (July 21, start of a 14-hour drive to Dallas)
About the tour: "Any weirdness about being [the lone woman] wore off with these guys around 2004. I've been with them too long for it to be weird. The only difference [on tour] is maybe I could learn to shower quicker."
"Minneapolis has such a strong and progressive hip-hop community, we don't have many gender issues anymore. At some of these shows, I think I have been seen as more of a novelty. I go back to the approach I took early on in Minneapolis, which is I can use the novelty to turn heads, but that's never enough to get people to come back to hear me again."
About 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."
About her: 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. She became a rapper after joining the group Medida around 2002, through which she met the Doomtree guys. Her "False Hopes" EP (Cecil Otter and Paper Tiger also issued EPs of that name) showed off both her spoken-word and singing abilities.
"I hung out socially with the [Doomtree] guys first," she said. "It felt natural to work with them. I first heard them on a CD-R with six tracks on it. You could tell the recordings were genuine. Like there was real laughter on them and a genuine energy."
Calling from: Houston (last stop, July 24)
About the tour: "We sold a lot of copies of the new album, at least 40 a night. It wound up being a great opportunity going out with the Flobots, because we played to 600 to 1,600 people every night, and their fans are all young and excited. They always came to the shows early and were into us, instead of us having to play to half a room full of deadbeat fans, which P.O.S. and I did a lot of when we toured with Gym Class Heroes.
"It was 11 dates total and a lot of driving, but I think we did make some money in the end. Anything we make goes back into the Doomtree bank anyway. That's how we've built it up to where we are now."
About the record: "A lot of the new songs are going over well on tour. The song that Dessa and Mike do together, 'Kid Gloves,' has killed 'em every night, and so has the one with Dessa and Sims, 'The Wren.' It'll be great to have this stuff road-tested a little before our CD-release party [tonight at First Avenue]."
About him: "I met Stef when he was 16 and I was like 21, and his mom was all worried that her baby was hanging out with an older troublemaker like me," said the real-life Zachary Davis, 31, who's usually the DJ on P.O.S. solo tours.
"I hope we can all tour together more now. One thing it sort of proved is that everyone in this group deserves the spotlight."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658