The originators of Rap music have a lot to be happy (or worried) about in 2008. Not only has the music dominated the Pop charts but also inspired a generation of fans into making this once exclusively inner-city art form of funky beats and rhythmic poetry as their personal outlet for suburban angst and middle class malcontent. This distinctly North American phenomenon is still considered by many to be underground but the impact of this particular sub-genre is surprisingly tremendous. Enter Doomtree, a Minnesota-based, Rhymesayers-affiliated collective ready to bombard your eardrums with this ever emerging brand of music.
Doomtree definitely lives up to their not-so-average name and the group's newest album, False Hopes, manages to do the same (with mixed results). The simplistic talk of guns, money and bitches are refreshingly absent from their album and replaced by conflicting layers of bleak metaphors, wrangled introspection and off-kilter bravado. The music, however, marches to the beat of a different drum, providing playful moments of head-nodding pleasure that heavily contradict the constant barrage of focused lyrical energy. As a result, the dichotomy of passion-fueled lyricism and playful sounds make for a unique listening experience that will either bring joy or frustration to the listener.
For those uninitiated, the 11 person collective is made up of RSE's P.O.S., Dessa, Cecil Otter, Sims, Mike Mictlan on the vocal front and Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, Turbo Nemesis, MK Larada, Tom Servo and Emily Bloodmobile on the boards, decks, etc. With so many hands in the pot, everyone has to make the most out of their moment to shine, particular the emcees. As a result, there is so much disenchantment and anger packed into each verse that it would be hard-pressed for the listener not to feel deftly energized (or decidedly claustrophobic and overwhelmed) after hearing just one song from the group. Tracks like "Knives On Fire", Dessa's solo cut "Veteran" and "No Homeowners (Renter's Rebate)" exemplify the fervent eloquence of disappointment and "anguished apathy" funneled through the group's heady vocal appreciation of Bone Thugs 'N Harmony, Freestyle Fellowship and Blackalicious. Even a mellow track like "A Hundred Fathers" manages to press the listener's ears with the rapper's inebriated lyrical expression and vivid descriptions of haunted towns and imaginary monsters. In other words, some Hip Hop fans will bite and others will find this eclectic approach towards rapping a detriment to Doomtree's music.
On the majority of False Hopes, the dark intensity of the group's vocal delivery surprisingly merges well with the enthusiastic tone of the music. However, on a few songs, the marriage of anger and playfulness creates songs that are plagued with awkward and irreconcilable moments, making the album even more of a challenge to get into (especially for the average Hip Hop fan). This contradiction is no more apparent than in "Savion Glover", a verbal exorcism of introspective thoughts and metaphoric wordplay that manages to elude the ass-shaking potential of the spastic drums and funky banjo sample.
Believe it or not, Hip Hop is still growing and groups like Doomtree are paving the way for its future by injecting a much-need dose of angst-filed creativity from America's suburbs. False Hopes is entertaining and different; full of rapid-fire poetics that sustain a high level of energy while the music joyfully bounces with ease. However, this can lead to a noticeable divide between the joyful expression of the beats and the guarded seriousness of the rappers' vocal styles. Their punk-rock approach to Hip Hop isn't for all comers, but it is some real hope for the underground.