Wings and teeth. No two symbols could’ve been better chosen to represent Minneapolis rap stalwarts Doomtree. The endlessly innovative crew/label has defied categorization from the start, leaving behind convention for what’s best described as aggressive transcendence. Through a tireless work ethic, take-noprisoners production, lyrics that never shy from truth, and an always shifting stylistic mix, this family has carved out an elevated corner unto itself. And like most families, as well as the imagery this one employs, Doomtree is as defined by its internal differences as its similarities: Seven artists whose diversity of tastes and consistency of character combine to make the team an unstoppable, honest, creatively vicious whole.
It’s unsurprising then that Doomtree’s origins are a decade deep, dating back to 2001 when a handful of friends fresh out of high school hatched a plan to make a life out of the passion that’d carried them that far. Handmade CD-Rs (the start of their cult-beloved False Hopes series) and local shows (echoed by the annual Doomtree Blowout festival today) evolved into a proper business and respectable home base. In the time since, P.O.S, Dessa, Sims, Cecil Otter, Mike Mictlan, Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger have become stars in their own right, but no matter where their careers take them (poetry books, the Gayngs super-band with Bon Iver, records with Rhymesayers, Strange Famous and Frenchkiss), they always come home.
While 2008′s full-crew album Doomtree functioned as a group manifesto and (re)introduction to each member’s particular charms, 2011 was all about claiming what was already theirs. As rap, flush with new blood, began to get wild again, Doomtree reminded us that they’ve been doing it for a decade, fusing punk’s explosive energy with hip-hop’s heady swagger. The WUGAZI mixtape 13 Chambers, mashing Fugazi classics with Wu-Tang bangers, was a perfect palate cleanser for the group’s strikingly ambitious No Kings LP. Ready to break new collaborative ground, they stocked up on booze and sandwich fixings, retreated to a Wisconsin cabin and stayed there till they’d created something bold, beautiful and hard.
The title of the record is both a call for rebellion and respect: Obey no kings, seek no thrones. Indeed No Kings displays a gang of friends who are fearless in each other’s company and beholden to none. At times musical and lush (“Beacon”) and at times dark and clanging (“Bolt Cutter”), the beats project the radical power of P.O.S, the inventive classicism of Cecil Otter, the moving moodiness of Paper Tiger and the face-melting heat of Lazerbeak. Meanwhile, Mike Mictlan and Sims trade lithe lines with much swagger over smashing drums on “Punch-Out,” Otter and Dessa get bluesy on top of the mournful guitar of “Little Mercy,” and P.O.S leads the amped-up charge for “Bangarang,” which celebrates “ten years in our lane.”
Both fun and fierce, blade-flashing and uplifting, unpredictable and unapologetic, No Kings is the sound of seven people who look different, talk different and listen to different music coming together and simply going full-tilt on an album from start to finish. Wings and teeth—it’s the Doomtree way.