One of them had his local coming-out as a Are You Local? contest finalist last weekend. Another is now breaking out of several years in the underground with a once-a-month single series. And one has yet to even play a live gig or officially release his debut EP.

Together, though, these three talented dudes make up a promising new crop of Twin Cities hip-hop makers. It's especially exciting that they run a pretty wide gamut musically ("hip-hop" locally is becoming as indefinite a term as "rock"). Also, they have diverse personal backgrounds and generally come from outside our scene's usual channels (although one is loosely affiliated with Rhymesayers).


His back story: South Minneapolis native Malik Watkins, 24, said he felt out of place growing up as one of the few black students at Minnehaha Academy, and one of the few straight-A students from his neighborhood. "I got it from both sides, black and white," he remembers. While attending the University of St. Thomas, he dove into rapping alongside his other studies. "I just felt like I had something to say," he said.

His music: Showing traces of Nas and early Jay-Z, MaLLy came to light with the ambitious, guts-spilling 2009 album "The Passion." But it failed to drum up the attention he is now getting with his Fifteenth of the Month series. The free monthly downloads include the steam-blowing party track "Lights Off" and last month's grittier "7 Days," which were all sparked with new beatmaking partner the Sundance Kid (Jonathan Cliby, truly a kid at 21).

"We didn't really even know each other at first, but it was like we had an unwritten understanding of each other," MaLLy said. "It happened so fast, I was like, 'Let's just issue a song every month. Let's not wait.'"

His outlook: MaLLy and the Kid plan to release a full-length album over the summer, which the rapper said will continue his streak of personalized lyricism.

"I write almost entirely off of experience," he said. "If you listen to my music, then you know who I am."

Next gig: 10 p.m. Sat., Nomad World Pub. $5.



His back story: Chicago native Chad Heslup, 32, had a bleak enough childhood to make him the Twin Cities' most credible gangsta rapper (he's much better than that, though). His dad was never around, and his mom was a crack addict whose six children were split up into foster homes when Chad was only 8. "She lost her kids and still couldn't get it together," he said. Heslup went on to earn a Boys Hope scholarship and attended Drake University, thus cementing his rapper name Longshot and his main lyrical theme: "It's about how you overcome your struggle, whatever it is."

His music: After trying to make a name for himself in Chicago with several Wu Tang-like, mad-grinding albums, Longshot entered (and won) a Rhymesayers-sponsored competition to rap over a DJ Jake One track in 2009, which led to his relocation. "I could have wound up in L.A. or New York, but Minneapolis seemed like the best fit," he said. Since arriving, he has steadily built up an arsenal of unreleased tracks with a who's-who of local producers/beatmakers, including Jake One, Lazerbeak of Doomtree, Brandon Allday of Big Quarters and even Ant of Atmosphere. It's no fluke the guy has been getting around.

"You will never catch me making my own beats," said Longshot, who's a prep cook on the side. "I like working with other people on my music, just like you do in a kitchen where different chefs do different things to make one incredible dish."

His outlook: A grab bag of Longshot's more playful and off-the-cuff tracks will be compiled onto a mixtape he's releasing next month, "Live From the Gravebomb." He's saving his more serious works for a full-length album he plans to release over the summer, including "Make a Difference," a social call-to-arms that he forcefully delivered -- including an impressive a cappella section -- last weekend at the Varsity Theater as one of three finalists in's Are You Local? contest. The name of the new album, by the way, will be "The Struggle."

"I have my fun stuff, like the things you'll hear on the mixtape, but my records are always very serious," he said. "I always have something to say -- a message to deliver -- and that's still the best way I know of how to say it."

Next gig: Mixtape release party April 5 at Cause. Free.



His back story: Somewhere amid hanging his paintings and drawings at galleries such as Rogue Buddha, teaching at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and raising a daughter, Gregory Rose picked up a microphone. He was always a fan of a wide variety of urban music, having grown up an hour outside Philadelphia and commuting to neighboring big cities. But he never really sang -- not until being egged on by his longtime art collaborator Chris Heidman, who's also a musician in the electronica-rock duo UltraChorus and who runs So TM Records, the label behind Total Babe and Nice Purse.

"Chris and I have been known to pass paintings back and forth and work on each other's stuff," said Rose, 35. "The music is sort of an extension of that."

His music: Working under his longtime nickname G-Hop, Rose proved to be a natural singer with an unnatural style. He doesn't really rap, but he does sing in a very rhythmic, repetitive way. Or at least that's the way it sounds after Heidman and fellow musicmaker Jeff Lorentzen are finished with his vocal tracks. Said Rose, "They cut and paste and loop my vocals a lot, almost like a collage. So in that way, it's still a lot like traditional hip-hop music."

The results can be heard on the six-song debut EP "Pennsyltucky," arriving March 28 and a candidate for this year's great out-of-nowhere local debut. Tracks range from the catchy and playful dance romp "Busted" (a cool video is up at YouTube) to the moodier and hauntingly soulful "I'm Strong," both of which loudly echo Prince's deep cuts of the '80s. Said Rose, "I've been hearing that a lot, but the truth is I don't own a single Prince record. I think I'm just working off a lot of the same stuff that inspired him."

His outlook: He has yet to perform live and doesn't plan to ease up on his other commitments, but Rose is confident his foray into music won't be a short-lived flirtation. "It's been amazingly fun," he said. "It's something that was totally unplanned, which might be partly why it's so fun."

Next (first) gig: TBA. Said Rose, "It'll happen in the very near future. Sort of like with painting: I want to be confident it'll be good enough."

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