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Underground Hip Hop Is Alive And Well In The Doomtree Family

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 22, 2015 5:00PM

Photo via Doomtree's Facebook page.

Because we're all adults here and can admit we aren't experts at everything, I'll concede I wasn't familiar with Open Mike Eagle, a Chicago-born MC, before seeing him open up for Minneapolis hip hop collective Doomtree at The Abbey Pub on Friday night.

He was incredible though. With a Frank Ocean-like sound and stage presence, and raps containing that innate Midwestern sarcasm his hour-long set almost made me forget who I was really there to see. It was a reminiscent experience though. There was a time when I didn't know who Doomtree was either. The seven rappers and producers that make up collective—each with their own respectable solo careers—prove that underground hip hop is still alive and well. They still somewhat rely on the dwindling word-of-mouth method of building a fanbase, a strategy that has always been more personal and special feeling than Pandora. If it weren't for a recommendation from a college friend years ago, I may not have been at the Abbey on Friday night.

In the wide spectrum of music, hip hop has become a particularly sectored genre. Just to hear the extreme wealth of knowledge and references in the Doomtree members' stage banter, songs and freestyles Friday night should have clued anyone in the audience into the fact that just because they're not looking to sign to a major label, they've got the chops to do so.

Fresh off the release of their newest LP All Hands, Doomtree's members (Dessa, Cecil Otter, P.O.S., Sims, Mike Mictlan, Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak) once again proved their worth. There is no weak link. There is no low point in their music or their shows.

Hip hop groups have dropped off since their heyday in the 90s. Some might argue that this is because of the constantly increasing egotism in rap music but there are no egos at a Doometree show. Each member is given his or her chance to shine, each member graciously steps to the back of the stage when it's time for another to step to the front and, in turn, each is given an equal amount of love from the crowd. To be fair though, the cheers for Dessa (the group's sole female representative) were especially loud on Friday night.

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Doomtree classics like "Bangarang" and "Bolt Cutter" were of course included in the set but each member was given his or her own chance to show off their solo material as well.

(On a personal note, I interviewed P.O.S. in 2012 prior to a Chicago show backing his last solo release We Don't Even Live Here. That interview was never published. Sadly, days later the rapper was forced to cancel his entire touring cycle due to a kidney disease that eventually required a transplant. To see him back in Chicago for the first time since then, healthy, smiling and finally performing tracks off that album, was the underlying high point of the evening.)

Atmosphere has been a frequent flyer to Chicago during festival season but consider this Chicagoist's call for local fests to pluck more heavily from Minnesota's seemingly bottomless well of hip hop talent when forming your bills this year.