Published on February 27th, 2012 | by Shelby Mongan0
Doomtree with Toki Wright @ Bottom Lounge – 2/23/2012
More than a decade ago, some crazy talented high school kids in Minneapolis managed to find each other and started to experiment with beats and rhymes. Fast forward to find one of the most energetic and unique rap crews in the game today. Doomtree consists of five emcees (Dessa, Mike Mictlan, Cecil Otter, Sims, and P.O.S.) and two producers/DJs (Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger), all of which bring unique personalities to the table. I’ve recently become a big fan of the collective — their beats are addicting and their flows make me want to use the word sick” unironically — so I knew I had to be at Bottom Lounge for the Chicago stop on their No Kings tour.
If there was ever a group that reinforced the old adage, Don’t judge a book by its cover,” it was Doomtree. My first thought when the group came out onto stage (aside from the fact that superproducer/DJ Lazerbeak looks eerily like SMS podcast host Patrick Delehanty) was to wonder where they had found a bunch of kindergarten teachers at this time of night. Doomtree advertises itself as a Midwest rap collective and it’s obvious when you see them. To quote my friend and concert companion, They’re just a bunch of dudes.” Still, when the beat drops and they start to rap, you understand why they have a rabid underground following. I can easily say that they put on one of the most entertaining and energetic performances I’ve ever seen.
As I said before, Doomtree has been a group for over ten years. Nothing strengthens a performance like strong relationships. They were all clearly on the same wavelength when it came to the music and seemed to have an almost psychic sense of the other members on stage. These are clearly long-time friends who have made strong creative connections. That feeling of comfort radiated to the audience. It never felt like we were separate from them; we were invited into their flow and their music. Ease in the audience is a large part of having fun at a show. From the beginning, when Lazerbeak emerged wearing a bedazzled #1 fan Cecil Otter shirt after losing a bet over merch, there was no sense of us and them. It was all we.
The group hit the pavement on the heels of No Kings, a release that made my end of the year list for 2011. The album itself covers a wide range musically and showcases each emcee’s style clearly, while still feeling like a cohesive album. It’s an impressive feat to release such a collaborative piece without muddling the individual flavors in the group.
The tour showcased not only songs off of their recent album and their previous self-titled release, but also gave each member stage time for songs from their solo releases. Mixing songs like this had potential to make the show feel too crowded and scatterbrained. Luckily they avoided that, alternating between group and individual songs. Lazerbeak opened the show with a 10 minute DJ set before welcoming the rest of the group out. Solo songs still featured other members on backing vocals, making the songs richer than they had been on record. It was, I believe, the group participation on every song that made the show cohesive and fluid.
One thing that is obvious about the crew is their remarkable talent. P.O.S. is the most well-known of the group, thanks to stellar releases like 2009’s Never Better, and solo female Dessa got the most love from the crowd. Still, there are no token members, and no one is dead weight. Each emcee has a jaw-dropping flow — Mike Mictlan had a verse so fast and so clean that I was actually left speechless — but maintains his or her own style. There really is something for every taste in the group.
Opener Toki Wright, from the Rhymesayers Entertainment label, was a great way to start the show. Namedropped in Doomtree’s Bangarang, Toki was on his first stop as opener on the tour. Right out of the gate, he hyped the crowd up and built energy despite being alone on stage (aside from DJ Gabe Garcia helping to spin beats). His lyrics are smart and socially-conscious. He was clearly elated to be on stage on this first stop and the fact that he was having the time of his life was infectious in the audience.
From powerful rhymes to a room-wide dance competition with the crowd vs. the collective (which featured the most ridiculous dance moves from Sims and Mike Mictlan), Doomtree put on one of the best performances I’ve seen in recent years, if not ever. Their set was polished, the energy was high throughout, their talent was impressive, and, most of all, I had a lot of fun. As they say, 10 years in our lane and Doomtree knows how to put on a real show.