05
Oct
07

Part 2 – Artist Profiles

Atmosphere
If you’ve heard of only one hip hop artist out of the Twin Cities, it’s probably Atmosphere. The core members of the group are MC Slug (Sean Daley, 1973-) and producer Ant (Anthony Davis), although many artists from the Twin Cities have performed under the “Atmosphere” name. The group began as “Urban Atmosphere” in the early 1990s as part of the original Headshots crew, and included another MC, Spawn (Derrek Stevens), who is no longer associated with Rhymesayers and now goes by the name Rek the Heavyweight. Over the years, Eyedea and Abilities have performed as part of Atmosphere, as have members of Heiruspecs and other backing musicians in recreating Ant’s beats on live instruments.

Atmosphere has released five full-length albums, Overcast (1997), Lucy Ford: The Atmosphere EPs (2001), Godlovesugly (2002), Seven’s Travels (2003), You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005), as well as numerous EPs, including the 9-volume Sad Clown Bad Dub series, the latest of which was released in the summer of 2007. The next full-length, titled When Life Gives You Lemons, is to be released in 2008. (These records have regularly outsold many national artists within the Twin Cities music markets.) There are also many unofficial Atmosphere compilations of rarities and bootlegs. The various incarnations of Atmosphere have toured all over the United States, as well as the world, including Japan, Sweden, Denmark and the 2001 All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in England. They have also brought many lesser-known Twin Cities and Rhymesayers groups as supporting acts, including Brother Ali and Los Nativos.

With a distinctive baritone and a lyrical flow that can run the gamut between relaxed conversation to frenetic hyperactivity, Slug is undeniably the most famous hip hop artist from Minnesota. Over a career that spans more than 20 years, Slug’s lyrics changed from a boasting, battle-focused MC to one exploring more introspective and self-deprecating themes. Further, as the son of a white mother and an African American father, he, like many other artists within the Twin Cities, trouble simplistic racial conceptions of hip hop.

As writer Peter Scholtes points out, Slug’s name explores this dual nature of confidence and self-loathing: not only could it mean the slug that comes from a gun, but also one of the slowest-moving forms of life on the planet (“Rhyme Out of Joint”). On songs like “WND,” he deflates the masculinity evinced by so many MCs through gun violence, as he spends the entire song vowing revenge, yet discovers that he doesn’t even have a gun. For much of the early Atmosphere records, Slug obsessively deployed a character trope of “Lucy,” who could embody a young girl to an ex-lover; on “Fuck You Lucy,” he simultaneously hates himself as much as hates his ex-lover for still being in love with her.

Slug has collaborated with numerous artists both within and beyond the Twin Cities. These include not only Rhymesayers labelmates but also some of the harder MCs in the Twin Cities such as Moochy C and Muja Messiah. Slug has also established his presence on the national hip hop underground by working with El-P, Aesop Rock, Molemen, Living Legends, Sage Francis, and Murs. Slug’s collaboration with Murs has proved to be extremely fruitful for both: as Felt, they have released two albums together and they also started their own record label, Women Records.

Ant, who is originally from Oklahoma and moved to the Twin Cities at the age of 20, makes beats for a number of Rhymesayers artists besides Atmosphere, including I Self Devine and Brother Ali. While his beats on the early Headshots series, as well as Beyond’s Comparison and Atmosphere’s Overcast, are sparse constructions of eerie drums and instrumental samples—see for instance, Atmosphere’s “Aspiring Sociopath”—over the years he has expanded his palette to include samples of soul, funk, reggae, gospel, and rock on songs like Atmosphere’s “Get Fly” or Brother Ali’s “Whatcha Got.” Countering the trend of moving away from samples in hip hop, Ant not only foregrounds his sampled material, but inventively combines multiple sources into seamless musical textures. He only recently began performing as a DJ with Slug, overcoming his social anxiety to perform at Atmosphere’s eight-night stand of sold-out concerts at the 7th Street Entry and continues performing live today.

Travis Lee
Travis Lee, better known as “Travitron,” is generally considered to be the godfather of Twin Cities of hip hop. Coming to Minneapolis from Brooklyn in 1981 to study at the University of Minnesota, Lee brought the style of hip hop with him, the clothes, the jewelry, scratching records, and the graffiti-style promotional flyers. He hosted some of the first hip hop parties in the Twin Cities, ran the important early venue Club Hip Hop, and formed his own crew, the TNT Breakout Crew in 1984, which prominently featured the female MC Sugar T. Lee also began the first all-hip hop radio show in the Twin Cities, “The Hip Hop Shop” on KMOJ. Today, Lee lives in North Minneapolis where he is intimately involved in neighborhood activism.

I.R.M. Crew
The I.R.M. Crew, which stood for “Immortal Rap Masters,” was the first Twin Cities hip hop group to release a nationally-distributed single. The group came out of North Minneapolis and consisted of Devastating Dee (Doug Shocklee), Kel-C (Kelly Crockett), TLC (Curtis Washington), and Cuttin’ Kal (Calvin Jones). It also featured the beat-boxing of B-Fresh, also known as I.B.M. (William Harris), who would later become Truth Maze. They were managed by Charles Lockhart, who owned his own record label, Cchill Productions, based in St. Paul. The group released an EP entitled The I.R.M. Crew (1986), which featured the songs “I Dream of DJs,” “Diseased America,” “Unh Baby, and Let’s Dance.” “I Dream of DJs” incorporates the “I Dream of Jeannie” theme song a year before DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince sampled it for “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble,” while nationally-distributed record company K-Tel picked up “Unh Baby” as a single. They also released two 12 inches, “Baseball” b/w “The Cchill Cut” (1987); “R U Ready 2 Change the World?” b/w Who Said Our Dee Jay Couldn’t Cut?” (1988). Due to internal burnout and the bungled distribution and management of K-Tel, the I.R.M. Crew broke up soon afterwards.

Truth Maze
Truth Maze (William Harris, 1968 – ) is a poet, MC, multi-faceted drummer, and social activist, and is widely considered to be one of the legends of the Twin Cities hip hop scene. He began his career in hip hop beat-boxing with the I.R.M. Crew, and it was at this time that he formed the Minneapolis B-Boy Organization, a group dedicated to countering the surge of violence that crack and various national gangs brought to the Twin Cities. This act has made some refer to him as the “Afrika Bambaataa of the Twin Cities.” After his father’s murder in North Minneapolis in 1985, as well as his own desperate situation after the dissolution of the I.R.M. Crew, living on the streets, he rechristened himself “Truth Maze.” He formed the Micranots in 1991 with I Self Devine and DJ Kool Akiem, but broke with the group before the release of any of their widely-available albums. Moving to Atlanta, he began to study other musical and belief traditions, including the Yoruban traditions. Returning to Minneapolis in 1996, he worked with a variety of groups, as well as performing as part of the spoken word scene as part of the group TrúRúts. His first solo record, Expansions + Contradictions (Psoems 1:1) (2006), mixes blues, jazz, Yoruban drumming traditions, with hip hop; one song, “In This City,” was recorded live on the streets of Minneapolis, discussing the problems of the streets, who’s at fault, and what can be done. The album ends with “Universal Shout Outs,” a testament to all his influences, his family tree, prior hip hop artists, both in the Twin Cities and beyond, as well as victims of police brutality.

I Self Devine
I Self Devine (Chaka Mkali) was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles and moved to MPLS in the late 1980s. There he formed the seminal early 1990s hip hop crew The Micranots, along with Truth Maze and DJ Kool Akiem. This group was responsible for popularizing hip hop in the Twin Cities on a wider scale than had previously been accomplished. After leaving the Twin Cities for Atlanta in 1994, the group recorded two cassette-only EPs, Hoods Pack The Jam and The Catacomb Files, after which Truth Maze left the group. I Self and Akiem went on to release three more albums, Obelisk Movements (2000), The Emperor and the Assassin (2003), and Return of the Travellahs (2003). In addition to I Self Devine’s first solo record, Self-Destruction (2005), he has performed as Semi-Official with DJ Abilities on The Anti-Album (2003) and with Slug, Musab, and Gene Poole on The Dynospectrum (1998). On all of these records, as well as in his life, I Self brings not only militancy to his rhymes, but also solutions, as he is a youth organizer for a Minneapolis non-profit organization, Hope Community, Inc. as well as an advisor for the B-Girl Be Summit.

Abstract Pack
The Abstract Pack was a St. Paul-based hip hop crew that formed in 1993 that consisted of members Glorius L, MSP, Knowledge MC, Gambino, Eklipz, RDM (Roosevelt Darnell Mansfield III) and Sess (Herbert Ford Foster IV). With the exception of Eklipz, originally from Colorado and attending college in the Twin Cities, the rest of the Pack were at Central High School when the group formed. Performing at first on school talent shows, the group then formed part of the original Headshots collective. A pivotal point for the entire crew was when Sess, considered by everyone in the group to be its best MC, was killed by a drunk driver in 1996. His death made many of the members of the Headshots crew take hip hop more seriously; the fourth Headshots cassette, entitled History, was dedicated to Sess, and the first and last songs on the Abstract Pack’s one and only record, Bousta Set It (For the Record) (1998) contain some of Sess’s recorded verses. The album, which has become a classic of Twin Cities hip hop, is filled with an array of eclectic, Native Tongues-style samples and lyrics which creative deploy and transform both local and national references on songs like “For the Record,” “Let Me Show You,” and “No Coast.” Much like the breakup of Headshots in general, the Pack soon broke up after the release of Bousta Set It, yet many of its members are still involved in hip hop. Glorius, Rasta, and Eklipz formed the group Braille Method and relocated to Los Angeles; Knowledge MC has released a Christian rap CD in 2005; and RDM has produced a number of solo albums, as well as serving as producer for other Twin Cities MCs.

DMG
DMG, which is short for “Detrimental Ganxta” (H. Armstrong), is a St. Paul rapper who was discovered by Scarface during a 1991 MC battle in the Twin Cities. Soon afterwards, the Houston-based Scarface signed DMG to his Rap-A-Lot label. While with Rap-A-Lot, he recorded his own album, Rigormortiz (2003), which reached #40 on the Billboard hip hop chart, which made it the highest-selling hip hop record from a Twin Cities artist up to that point. DMG guested on albums by the Geto Boys, Facemob, and Devin the Dude, and his most recent release is Black Roulette (2003).

T.C. Ellis
David “T.C.” Ellis put out one of the first rap records in Minnesota, entitled “Twin Cities Rapp.” Later, he joined Prince and began to rap with the New Power Generation, one of Prince’s side-projects, along with Tony Mosley. He is briefly featured in Prince’s film Graffiti Bridge. Ellis also founded the High School for the Recording Arts in St. Paul, which provides opportunities for youth to learn basic and advanced sound recording skills. In 1991, Ellis released a more R&B-style album, True Confessions, on Prince’s Paisley Park records.

Eyedea and Abilities
Eyedea (Micheal Larson) and Abilities (Gregg “Max” Kelten) are two of the best-known artists to come out of the Twin Cities hip hop scene. Both grew up in St. Paul and attended Highland Park High School. Two years his senior at 16, Kelten moved in with Larson’s family after leaving home and the two soon began working together after Kelten acquired turntables. While still a teenager, Larson began winning some of the most high-profile MC battles in America. These included the Scribble Jam MC Battle in 1999, RockSteady Crew MC Battle in 2000, the 2000 Blaze-Battle in Chicago 2000, and the nationally televised, HBO Blaze-Battle World Championship in 2000. Larson took the prize money from his victories and built his own studio, E&A Studios. Not to be outdone, Abilities won the 2001 DMC Championship, the most prestigious turntablist competition. They also came to prominence by touring with Slug as part of Atmosphere.

Eyedea and Abilities have released two albums together, First Born (2001) and E&A (2004). In addition, Larson crafted The Many Faces of Oliver Hart or How Eye One The Write Too Think (2002). Abilities released a mixtape entitled Finally (1999), which has been re-issued on CD by Rhymesayers, as well as …For Persons with DJ Abilities. He also performed all of the scratches for El-P’s debut album Fantastic Damage (2002). On both of their records, the duo have tried to push the boundaries of what constitutes hip hop, as Eyedea crafts abstract, cerebral lyrics, while Abilities explores sonic combinations far outside the mainstream of hip hop. While both have been pursuing outside projects for the last three years, including Larson’s explorations in improvised jazz and rock with his groups Face Candy and Carbon Carousel, Eyedea and Abilities reunited to perform for the first time in over three years for the 6th Twin Cities Celebration of Hip Hop in August of 2007.

Kanser
Kanser is one of the most established and influential crews in Twin Cities hip hop. Formed at Minneapolis’ South High School in 1992 as part of the Interlock crew, the group has changed members over the years, and now consists of MCs Big Zach (Zacharia ?) , aka New MC, and Unicus (REAL NAME, 1975—), who is originally from Haiti, first moving to Connecticut and then to the Twin Cities in 1992. A number of producers and DJs have worked as part of Kanser, including Mesh, DJ Elusive, Big Jess from Unknown Prophets, and, on their early records, Ant. Rocking numerous house parties on 14th Avenue in South Minneapolis, as well as the limited clubs that played hip hop at this time, they released two cassettes, Network (1997) and Now (1999). In 1998, Big Zach began the weekly Headspin series at Bon Appetit in Dinkytown, and soon afterwards the weekly MC battle at the nearby Loring Pasta Bar. Unicus has booked hip hop for the Dinkytowner for the last three years, as part of a series called “The Hook Up,” which has helped build the venue into one of the most important sites of Twin Cities hip hop. The group has released four full-length CDs, Inner City Outer Space (2000), Quintessential (2001), It Wrote Itself (200?), and Self-Titled (2005). Big Zach’s first solo album, White Jesus, is scheduled to be released in November of 2007. The group’s lyrics have changed over the course of their albums, from the more party-oriented themes of their first records to exploring ideas of violence, religion, and politics on Self-Titled.

Brother Ali
Brother Ali (Ali Newman, 1978—) is a legally-blind, white Albino Muslim MC. He was born Jason Newman in Madison, WI, yet converted to Islam in his teens as his parents moved to North Minneapolis in 1992. His first album, the cassette-only Rites of Passage (2000), was completely self-recorded and self-produced; it caught the attention of Rhymesayers, who released it in 2000. It was around this time that Ali achieved the attention of the larger underground hip hop community by upsetting Eyedea at the 2000 Scribble Jam MC battle. Ali has toured with Rakim, MF Doom, GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan and most recently as part of the Paid Dues Independent Festival, a touring festival of independent hip hop artists including Slug, Sage Francis, Murs, and others. Ali has since released two albums, Shadows on the Sun (2003) and The Undisputed Truth (2007) as well as The Champion EP (2004). The latest album has garnered Ali national media attention and even a spot in The Source’s prestigious “Hip Hop Quotable” section. On the album, Ali confronts not only his own problems, such as the breakup of his marriage and his homelessness after the release of Shadows on the Sun, but also the joy his son Faheem brings, as well as lambasting the socio-economic inequalities in America. He engages explicitly with questions of race and hip hop on “Daylight,” as well as his Muslim in the larger context of American politics and culture.

Carnage the Executioner
Originally from Chicago, Carnage (Terrell Woods, 1975 – ) originally came to Minneapolis in 1978. Growing up in a series of group homes around the Twin Cities, he formed The Overlords in 1992 with DJ X-Caliber, which then morphed into NEMNOCH and later, after the addition of two more MCs, Pagne and Concentrate, into the futuristically-themed group S.W.E.E.P.S. (Sub-Terrestrial Wordsmiths Exhibiting Extraordinary Poetic Structure). Following in the footsteps of Rhymesayers, he started his own crew and record label, Hecatomb in 2004, as well as developing a mutually influential relationship with Eyedea, appearing on a number of each other’s records. Currently, the other artists with Carnage on Hecatomb include Concentrate, Illusion, X-Caliber, Desdamona, Fundamentalist, Capaciti, and Project 13. He sold 3000 copies of a solo EP entitled The Carnology Vol. 0.5 (2004) single-handedly out of his backpack, and has gained much exposure by beatboxing with Desdamona as Ill Chemistry. (His use of a live looping mechanism to record himself beat-boxing and then rhyme over his own loops sets himself apart from many other beat-boxers, both within the Twin Cities and beyond.) His first full-length album, The Sense of Sound (2007) features production by Booka B, as well as DJ and turntablist Jimmy2Times. Possessed with an astonishingly quick and versatile vocal delivery, both in his rhymes and his beatboxing, Carnage uses hyper-quick changes in vocal inflection and rhythmic syncopation in his rhymes, with words that engage subjects outside the stereotypes of woman and homosexual bashing. These range from the African slave trade to monster narratives; if MF Doom channels The Fantastic Four’s nemesis Dr. Doom for his identity, then Carnage, with his XXXL frame, is the Incredible Hulk.

Heiruspecs
Heiruspecs is a live hip hop band that began in 1997 while all of its members were attending St. Paul Central High School. The name is derived from “haruspex,” which was a Roman soothsayer who predicted the future by examining the entrails of sacrificed animals. The two original members are Felix (Christopher Wilbourn, 1979—), one of the groups MCs, and Sean “Twinkie Jiggles” McPherson (1981—), the group’s bassist. While playing shows at Central as well as various coffee shops and community centers around, they released two albums, Live From the Studio (1998) and Antidisestablishmetabolism (2000). After the release of their third album, Small Steps (2002), on the St. Paul-based Interlock label, they group hit the road as a backing band for a variety of underground hip hop artists, including Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, and Sage Francis. Their last record, A Tiger Dancing (2004) was released on the nationally-distributed Razor & Tie record label, and brought the group national attention. After a van accident in the winter of 2006, the group took a break from touring and have worked on numerous side projects, as well as their next full-length album.

Doomtree
Doomtree is a mixed gender and mixed-race crew hip hop crew that emerged in the late 1990s. Past and current members include P.O.S., Dessa, Cecil Otter, Marshall Larada, Mike Mictlan, Sims, Emily Bloodmobile, Emynd, Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, Tom Servo, and Turbo Nemesis, a mixture MCs, DJs, and producers. While there has only been one officially-released full-crew album, many of the artists have released albums under the False Hopes series; the first was a 2002 CD-R featuring P.O.S. and Cecil Otter, and Sims, Dessa, and Mictlan have also released installments. The best-known member of the crew is P.O.S. (Stefan Alexander), who has released two albums for Rhymesayers, Ipecac Neat (2004) and Audition (2006), the latter of which received critical acclaim in magazines like Spin and Vibe. He has performed alongside Sims on the Vans Warped Tour and also plays with a hardcore band named Building Better Bombs. Many of the members, in fact, emerged from the Twin Cities punk and hardcore scenes, and a number of Twin Cities hardcore bands are sampled on Audition. Lazerbeak is also in the indie rock band The Plastic Constellations. While there are occasional full-crew shows, especially the yearly “Blowouts” that have taken place at venues across the Twin Cities, individual members perform solo or in groups under the “Doomtree” label. Dessa, who has become a substantial presence in both the hip-hop and the spoken word scenes, recently was given the Sound Unseen Film Festival’s “Artist of Distinction” award.

Toki Wright
Toki Wright one of the most active MCs within the Twin Cities hip hop scene. Born in North Minneapolis, he began like many hip hop artists, rapping and dancing at school talent shows. Eventually, he met Adonis D. Frazier in 1998, with whom Wright formed The C.O.R.E. (shortened from The Children of Righteous Elevation). Frazier’s father ran the Circle of Discipline boxing gym in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn neighborhood, one of the more economically depressed sections of South Minneapolis, and it was here that Frazier and Wright began hosting hip hop shows the gym. The C.O.R.E. has released one album, Metropolis (2003), and continue to perform as part of The Chosen Few, a Twin Cities super-crew that incorporates some of the harder, more gangsta-themed MCs of the Twin Cities, as well as Scribble Jam beatbox champion DJ Snuggles. He also has another group, Aphrill, which is a collaboration between Wright and Nomi from the Twin Cities group Kill the Vultures, with production by Benzilla. Wright has also released a number of solo EPs, in advance of his forthcoming debut full-length, A Different Mirror.

Wright’s work in hip hop has taken him to Africa. While writing for The Source on hip hop in Africa, he conducted a hip hop workshop between Tutsis and Hutus and has also performed with a number hip hop groups in Uganda. The recorded result of these trips can be heard on his song “Kyendi Kyendi,” which means “I Am What I Am,” with Ugandan artists Sylvester and Abramz. Most recently, he toured with Brother Ali as his hype man, not only on Ali’s nationwide tour, but also on the Paid Dues Independent Festival.
Wright’s other hip hop activity is with Yo! The Movement and he is instrumental in organizing not only the group’s many community activities and projects, but also the annual Twin Cities Celebration of Hip Hop. Toki Wright, then, is not just one of the most established and active Twin Cities hip hop artists, but he is also instrumental in shaping the present and future of it through his community action.

Cheap Cologne
Cheap Cologne (John K.), is a Minneapolis-based DJ and producer who has worked with a number of artists both within and beyond the Twin Cities. He has also performed multiple times as part of the Vans Warped Tour. He received national attention in 2004 when he created his own remix of Jay-Z’s The Black Album, combining it with Metallica’s eponymous Black Album, thus creating the Double Black Album. The album received national acclaim, standing out from the slew of remixes created after the notoriety of Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album. Even James Hetfield expressed his admiration for the album. It also attracted the attention of the Recording Industry Association of America. After receiving threatening letters from the RIAA, he went on MTV and said it was a joke and, amazingly, the RIAA relented. Since then, Cheap Cologne has released two albums Just A Little Sample (2003) and Something Random (2005).

Muja Messiah
Muja Messiah (Robert Hedges, 1970—) is an MC who was born in North Minneapolis and first came to prominence in the late 1990s with the group Raw Villa. The group released an EP entitled Rebellion (2000) and have finished work on another album called The Way Things Should Be that is awaiting release. Muja Messiah’s solo work aims at producing a harder, more gangsta-oriented sound from the Twin Cities, a sound that has historically been less accepted in the Cities. His first solo record, The Adventures of the B-Boy/D-Boy was released in the fall of 2007 and features collaborations with I Self Devine, Slug, and The Roots’ Black Thought. A member of the 5 Percent Nation, he does not shy away from oppositional politics in his music. On “Patriot Act,” he muses why he should be afraid of Al-Qaeda when he “was already afraid of America first.” Elsewhere, on songs like “You Betcha” and “Get Fresh,” he proudly affirms his Minnesota home, yet in a way that brings light to the violence that plagues parts of the Cities. At the same time, however, he embodies the so-called “No Coast” sound by drawing on musical styles emerging from all over the country; “Get Fresh,” for instance, draws on the synth-laden beats of Dirty South snap music.

—-
One characteristic of Twin Cities hip hop is that it is home to many artists that fall outside normative categories of hip hop. The numerous female hip hop artists that make the Twin Cities their home have attained a level of success in the Twin Cities that equals and often surpasses the recognition enjoyed by their male counterparts. There is a strong contingent of so-called “homo hop” artists, queer figures in hip hop that buck the pervasive homophobia that dominates so much of hip hop. Finally, there are numerous diasporic artists that have come to the Twin Cities from places like Laos, Ghana, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, Iran, Mexico, and Liberia, artists whose music makes connections between their old home and their new home. For the most part, these artists are not ghettoized into a limited subculture: some are founding members of the scene, while others collaborate with the Cities’ more established artists. The ones discussed below are only a handful of those working in the Twin Cities today.

Desdamona
When Desdamona moved from Iowa to the Twin Cities in the summer of 1996, she found an exciting scene just starting to coalesce, though one that was overwhelmingly male. The multi-talented vocalist, expertly adept at vocal styles ranging from spoken word, singing, as well as straight-up, boom-bap MC, can largely be credited with changing that. Winning the Minnesota Music Association’s “Best Spoken Word” award five times, she caught the attention of the wider hip hop scene in 2000 with her song “We Will Always B,” which Brother Ali included on Rites of Passage. Touring with MC and beat box marvel Carnage as Ill Chemistry as well as on her own, she was eventually signed to the nationally-distributed FS Music label. Her music often critiques the historic exclusion of women in hip hop as well as carving out her own space within that history. In “I Wanted 2 Be an MC,” she tells the tale of her own journey through hip hop, how she was forced to “call all her rhymes poetry” when people told her she couldn’t be an MC. Desdamona also actively works to foster new spaces in which women can not only participate in hip hop, but succeed. She took part in organizing the Encyclopedia of Hip Hop Evolution concert series, which morphed into B-Girl Be.

Maria Isa
Maria Isa (Maria Isabelle Perez Vega, 1987—) was born on the West Side of St. Paul to Nuyorican parents. Both her parents were involved in the Young Lords; her mother, Elsa Vega-Perez, began a number of Latino and Latina organizations and has become one of the most important and community activists in the Twin Cities. Isa has performed Puerto Rican bomba since she was five, but made her hip hop debut in 2005, opening up for Los Nativos. Work on her first album, M.I. Split Personalities (2007) began almost immediately. Traversing bomba, hip hop, and reggaetón on the album, Isa adopts three personae on the album to explore her diasporic identity, Moochie, Lolita, and Maria Isa. “Sabrosa” (roughly translated as “tasty”) encapsulates much of the vocalist’s work. Entwining multiple strands of history, not only does it share a title with a song from the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication (1994), but the song is based around a thundering bomba by Raices (“Roots”), an Afro-Puerto Rican music and dance ensemble based at El Arco Iris (“the rainbow”), a community organization where Isa teaches. Affirming her “Sota Rican” identity in these numerous ways, Isa simultaneously affirms the inclusiveness of the hip hop scene in the Twin Cities, as well as the many cultural influences that go into the art form as a whole.

M.anifest
M.anifest (Kwame Tsikata, 1982—) was born in Accra, Ghana and moved to the Twin Cities in 2001 to attend Macalester College in St. Paul and study economics. The grandson of legendary ethnomusicologist J.H. Nketia, he grew up with all of his grandfather’s records. M.anifest foregrounds his Ghanaian identity through his hip hop, not only by including Ghanaian drumming patterns in the beats of his songs, but also by rapping in the Ghanaian language Tre, as well as engaging in Tre call-and-response with his audiences, and dressing in the red, yellow, green, and black color scheme of the Ghanaian flag. He has performed with Carnage, Desdamona, and I Self Devine, among others. His first solo album, M.anifestations, was released in September of 2007, in which he “represents Africa with a spectacular street vernacular.”

Los Nativos
Los Nativos consists of MC and Producer Xilam Balam, MC and Drummer Felipe Cuauhtli (1976 – ), and DJ Tekaptl. The group originally was known as “The Native Ones” and were original members of the Headshots crew. Their first show, recorded at First Avenue, can be heard on the second Headshots cassette. They have released one full-length album, Dia de Los Muertos (2004), and a EP entitled Red Star First (2005). They have toured Mexico on their own, as well as touring with Atmosphere and Eyedea and Abilities, travels that have taken them as far as Japan. Their work has earned them praise from The Source. Their lyrics and music combine the various cultures, races, and ethnicities that make up their identities (Felipe, for instance, is Chicano and Black) and incorporate traditional Mexican music and languages, especially the Nawat language, into their beats and rhymes. Unabashedly oppositional in their politics, Los Nativos attempts to unite the indigenous Indian communities from across North and South America, wherever they may be. They have organized an Anti-Columbus Day event for the past five years, and Felipe co-founded the Multicultural Indigenous Academy in St. Paul, which aims to teach students of different cultures through culture, not just about culture, as well as building understanding and alliances between groups that may not normally interact with each other.

Tori Fixx
Tori Fixx (1974 – ) is one of the most important figures in the nation-wide queer hip hop, or “homo hop,” movement. Raised in Minneapolis, the MC, DJ, and producer, Fixx got his start DJing with Prince at Paiseley Park, before moving out to San Francisco and joining one of the first homo hop groups, Rainbow Flava. After returning to Minneapolis to work as a DJ and producer, he also founded US2 Records, which represents other national queer hip hop artists. Fixx actively works to foster a musical community beyond the Twin Cities, evidenced by an event he organized last summer. After a screening of Alex Hinton’s documentary Pick Up The Mic, which examines the past and present of American homo hop, Fixx helped organize a concert with many of the artists from the film, including Deadlee, the Aggracyst, and Katastrophe. He has released six albums that have traversed hip hop and house music; the title song of his latest album Code Red (2007), was written in response to Tim Hardaway’s comments against homosexuality. Fixx, however, has had little collaborative contact with the rest of the Twin Cities hip hop scene, in no small part on account of the pervasive hetero-normativity that marks nearly all hip hop, including anti-homosexual feelings within the Twin Cities hip hop scene itself.

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1 Response to “Part 2 – Artist Profiles”


  1. January 3, 2008 at 3:47 am

    respect, well researched

    cheers/yo


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