Maybe the biggest stage of all when you’re in seventh grade, the school bus is where Sean Anonymous got his first taste of rapper fame.
“We got bored rapping to the same hip-hop songs on the radio over and over, so we started freestyling our own words over them,” recounted the real-life Sean Quinn, 26, son of a North Ireland immigrant and a native of Mound and Winona. “The other kids reacted like I was doing something miraculous. And I was pretty bad, actually.”
It’s no miracle that a decade and a half later, Mr. Anonymous has earned more legitimate notoriety. After several nose-to-the-grindstone years of steady gigging and recording — including a short stint on last year’s Warped Tour — his well-schooled efforts are paying off with his busiest summer yet.
Following a headlining set at the Memory Lanes Block Party two weeks ago, the scrawny, bespectacled, tattooed, pierced-lipped MC has a handful of gigs over the next two weeks that will put him in front of an unusually wide range of audiences: an opening slot with hippie rockers Roster McCabe at the Skyway Theater on Friday; a dressed-up set at Voltage: Fashion Amplified at First Avenue on Saturday; another warm-up gig with collegiate Colorado rappers the Flobots at the Cabooze next Thursday, then an afternoon slot at the Stone Arch Festival next Saturday.
As was the case at Memory Lanes, the Voltage and Stone Arch sets will pair him with the improv rock band Dream Crusher, just one of a variety of collaborators the freestyling rapper has enlisted. He also records and occasionally performs with the trio Wide Eyes, featuring MC Tony Phantom and burgeoning producer/beatmaker Dimitry Killstorm. He’s working on a new EP with Chicago rapper Phillip Morris. His solo shows usually feature DJ Name and such regular guests as Lizzo of the Chalice and Rapper Hooks (a k a Truthbetold) of Tribe & Big Cats.
Ironically, he said, all these different partners are “helping teach me more about who I am.”
“I’m learning more and more from each person I work with, and I think getting better and better,” Sean said, echoing a mantra often heard from Eyedea, whom he cites as one of his biggest influences.
Like many rappers his age, Sean witnessed and performed some of his earliest gigs at the defunct Dinkytowner Cafe while still a teenager. He finally brought his Anonymous name into the limelight with last summer’s playful yet hard-hitting seven-song EP, “Anonymo.” The fruit of yet another musical collaboration — with Cincinnati’s DJ Corbitt, who also has made beats for Saigon and Bun B — the EP ranges in style from the lustful horndog track “Sunny” to the weedy “Hot to Death” to the guitar-licked rap-about-rap “No B.S.,” which featured elder cohorts Blueprint and Abstract Rude.
Even in some of his darkest and grittiest tunes, Sean often interjects some form of optimism and encouragement. Take these lyrics from “Now We Know,” a should-be-classic he recorded with Wide Eyes:
You can rise, get the fright up out your lungs / You can rise, kiss the sky, take a bite out of the sun / I made these wings of broken memories / One day I’ll learn to sing with my oldest enemies.
Those lines were inspired by his Irish roots. His dad grew up in Belfast amid religious and political violence, and Sean picked up a lot of old stories and new perspectives from visiting family members there.
“They’ve been through the hardest times of anyone I know, and yet they’re some of the happiest and most giving people I know,” he said.
That family influence likely explains one trait that sets Sean apart from other rappers: humility. You can hear it in his surprisingly non-egocentric tunes (most of them, anyway). It’s even evident in his chosen rap name.
“I’m a shy guy by nature, so I don’t put too much of myself in the music,” he said. “I’d probably be more famous if I bragged about myself more.”
Now’s probably a good time to start.
A fledgling nonprofit funded with money from the Legacy Amendment and the Summit Brewery’s Backyard Bash, the Minnesota Music Coalition is hosting an ambitious conference this weekend in downtown St. Paul called the Minnesota Music Summit. Workshops for musicians and music professionals are taking place Friday and Saturday afternoons at McNally Smith College of Music, followed by music at the Amsterdam Bar at 7 p.m. with Caroline Smith & the Good Night Sleeps on Friday and Charlie Parr on Saturday. Oh, and it’s all free and open to everyone. Details at MNmusiccoalition.org. …
Other acts on the lineup for next weekend’s Stone Arch Festival — with three free stages along Minneapolis’ historic riverfront over three nights — include: Caroline Smith, Rockstar Storytellers and Apollo Cobra on Friday; the Honeydogs, Bloodnstuff, Toki Wright and Boys n’ the Barrels on Saturday, and Bomba de Luz, Van Stee, Hounds of Finn and Southside Desire on Sunday. See the full schedule at StoneArchBridgeFestival.com. … You can catch the Honeydogs at another big three-stage event this Sunday, the Sixty-Five Roses Festival, a fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at Pourhouse in downtown Minneapolis (11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., $15-$40, SixtyFiveRosesFestival.com). Other acts fighting for the good cause are Retribution Gospel Choir, the Color Pharmacy, Zoo Animal, Story of the Sea, Big Tree Bonsai and Taj Raj. …
Dillinger Four is turning its 10th annual July 4th bash into a three-day mini-fest at the Triple Rock with the Riverboat Gamblers, Off With Their Heads, Banner Pilot, Tenement and a dozen more bands. Wristbands are on sale for $45 via Ticketfly.com. … A similarly rowdy bash is taking place Saturday at the Turf Club, the Eleganza! Extravaganza led by Brian Vanderwerf’s new band (ex-Chooglin’, Midnight Evils) and featuring the Mighty Mofos, Poverty Hash, the F- Knights, Floorshakers, Wizards Are Real and more. Also look out for Appetite for Zaccardi, a new Guns N’ Roses tribute band helmed by Romantica/Kruddler bassist Tony Zaccardi — one man’s childhood dream fulfilled.