“Doomtree,” a noun, means three things: 1) A Minneapolis hip-hop ensemble composed of MCs Dessa, SIMS, P.O.S., Cecil Otter, Mike Mictlan and producers Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger; 2) said ensemble’s record label; and 3) in the words of P.O.S., “absolutely nothing.”
Dessa agrees. “I don’t want to get into a long semantic discussion, but Doomtree in and of itself doesn’t mean much. It’s a word that has come to mean what we make of it,” the rapper/singer says, speaking alongside SIMS while on the road. “When I hear the word Doomtree, I don’t have any visuals associated solely with the two words that make up that term, but I do have a lot of associations about the six dudes who are my family for the last decade.”
The collective has long focused on cutting their own idiosyncratic path, and they’ve done a bang-up job of maintaining the familial vibe and unpredictability that made Doomtree an interesting premise in the first place. Their hip-hop hungrily snatches elements from jazz, punk, pop and other genres while still sounding devoutly hip-hop, even if most of its players come from a smattering of non-hip-hop backgrounds: P.O.S. was in hardcore band Building Better Bombs; Lazerbeak was in indie rock act the Plastic Constellations; Cecil Otter was a semi-pro skater; Dessa is a poet and teacher.
No Kings , the group’s second and latest all-in affair, sounds like the seven-piece hijacked the Magic School Bus, drove it to outer space, and decided to write a record while they were there. The music sports feisty hooks and a hazy production style; its tangled, multihued and pointedly intellectualized lyrics always aim to kick you in the cortex. As it so happens, No Kings wasn’t devised in the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere but instead in a cabin in Wisconsin. The group took a five-day retreat to construct this album, arriving with nothing and leaving with 10 tracks. This marked the first time everyone worked in the same physical space: Beats were blasted on the stereo, and the MCs sat around with notebooks and traded ideas. The first person to come up with something good—a chorus, a line, a theme—set the stage for everyone else. “Own Yours,” as SIMS tells, was spurred by his suggestion to make the song about the rapture, even if the beat didn’t “sound like the rapture.”
While Doomtree’s music favors the heady and serious, they can be playful too. Dessa once described their live show as “a cross between a revival meeting and an intramural hockey game,” and the video for the brag track “Bangarang” is framed as a poorly made karaoke tape. And all but one of the gang recently appeared on the cover of a Minneapolis paper dressed like an awkward, terribly unfashionable family. They might be upwardly mobile now, but Doomtree’s sum aesthetic still bears the camaraderie of friends who shared the same beer-can-and-cigarette-ash-infested living spaces 10 years ago. “The rate of growth we’ve had feels good because it feels organic, and to me, that’s an indicator of sustainability,” Dessa says. “We’ve laid a groundwork pretty effing carefully, and the groundwork is sturdy enough to support some real buildings.”
Doomtree perform Wed., Feb. 15, 8pm. $13. With Lushlife + F.Stokes. Union Transfer, 1024 Spring Garden St. 215.821.7575. utphilly.com