Though it's said there's strength in numbers, if your posse doesn't have game, it doesn't matter how many of you there are. But that's not the case for Doomtree, which, with its seven members boasts, enough game to start its own wildlife preserve.
The Twin Cities crew is essentially led by P.O.S., aka Stefon Alexander. He was the first to release an album--2003's Ipecac Neat--and, for a while, was on esteemed Twin Cities indie hip-hop label Rhymesayers. The Doomtree collective has numbered as many as 11, and though it took significant time for everyone to get things rolling, its members couldn't be hotter.
Last year, rapper Sims followed up his acclaimed 2005 debut, Lights Out Paris, with the terrific Bad Time Zoo. The electric Dessa, a female spoken-word artist/soul crooner/rapper, released her full-length debut, A Badly Broken Code, in 2010. Rapper-producer Cecil Otter made waves with fellow producer Swiss Andy when they remixed Fugazi and Wu Tang into Wugazi's 13 Chambers in 2011. Producer Lazerbeak released his debut solo album, Legend Recognize Legend, in fall 2010, and created all the beats for Sims' Bad Time Zoo. Other members Mike Mictlan and Paper Tiger have also been busy.
Despite that, the atmosphere around the release of the label's second collaborative album, No Kings, isn't much different than its eponymous 2008 release.
"It still feels like we're all trying to make our way," Alexander said. "It looks different to fans. It looks different if you're looking at it from any place but the inside out, from where we sit. In order to get put out in the first place, we had to bust our ass and work pretty hard, and it still feels that way."
With each artist coming into his or her own, it's no surprise that No Kings bristles with energy and vitality. The album showcases the breadth of collective tastes, though it is a tad schizophrenic sonically--from the clattering minimalist, Daft dance-punk of "Bolt Cutter" to soaring, soul-tinged anthems like "Fresh New Trash" and the smoky breakbeat blues of "String Theory." The record truly reflects the group's wide influences, since unlike last time, it was written completely collaboratively.
"All of us do have different tastes and different styles. In the first years of Doomtree, you'd notice that all of our visual aesthetics were really similar, and throughout the years, we've all defined our styles," Alexander said, before moving on to explain the process. "All the producers--myself, Lazerbeak, Cecil--got together and discussed the beats. We made the beats together and then took those beats with us to a cabin where all the emcees of Doomtree spent five days working on it together."
This new album keenly represents the Doomtree collective--from the eclectic approach to the uber-democratic creation process. On this record, everyone was more outspoken about their wishes than the first time around. But it appears familiarity has not bred contempt but rather a certain comfortability, and, of course, a detailed road map.
The group has been working together for a very long time as musical partners and musical friends, said Alexander.
"When it came time to actually collaborate for the first time, it was surprisingly easy. All of us know how to navigate each other just from touring."
Indeed, the album's title and approach reflects a motto--No King--by which the crew has abided since its formation, as difficult as that has been.
"Not everybody has to agree on everything, but everybody has to at least be sort of into it," said Alexander. "Before we figured out who was consistent in certain ways and who gives less of a fuck about certain things, everything took a year-and-a-half. 'I think we're going to sign with this digital distributor.' 'Oh, I don't know man.' And that 'I don't know man' would necessitate four months of back and forth."
But that back and forth is also a reflection of how passionate Doomtree members are about what they do and how they do it. The band had a great local model in Rhymesayers, and Alexander would pick label employees' brains for tips before signing with them. He eventually cut back lest they think he was taking advantage of them to benefit Doomtree.
"Pretty much after we got the ball rolling, it was on us to figure out how to keep it rolling straight," he laughed.
While it may have taken a lot of time and effort to get started, Doomtree is certainly not wasting the momentum its members have gathered. Alexander has a P.O.S. album coming out sometime this summer. Dessa and Sims are also working on new records. Lazerbeak has an instrumental album with DJ Plain Ole Bill coming out soon, as well. Clearly, the group's work ethic hasn't changed.
"Because of the kind of workers we are, because of the kind of thought we put into what we're doing, and because we all want to have musical lives as long as we can--with or without celebrity--there's a constant to the work and the time and effort you need to put in," Alexander said, before dropping some Midwestern advice. "You have to work in the winter--otherwise you're probably going to drink yourself dead."
That motto fits Alexander and Doomtree to a T: They're not dead, so they must be working.[ Video is no longer available. ]