"I'll play, but it ain't your game and it ain't your rules," raps Sims on "No Way," the track that begins Doomtree's 2011 album No Kings. "And it ain't your world, and I brought my crew."
The lines seem to promise that a multi-MC barrage of contention and determination is on its way. Indeed, this is a busy group. Members of the Minneapolis hip-hop crew, which performs at the UW Union South's Sett on March 9, go through productively messy cycles of solo releases and other collaborations between proper Doomtree albums. No Kings is only the second one.
The album's beats - mostly from producers Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger - bring a charge of excitement, with dark and ominous tones, like a good Batman comic. "No Way" begins with menacing palm-muted guitars, and the shout-along single "Bangarang" draws steely chills from synths. Granted, it all starts to sound a tad dreary by the album's midpoint, "Little Mercy."
The best tracks, "Beacon" and "String Theory," start with verses from Dessa, who on solo tracks like "Seamstress," from 2010's A Badly Broken Code, demonstrates a knack for storytelling, spoken-word, melody and rapping, all in one indomitable flow. On "Beacon" she's vocally nimble but with a melodic lilt: "Take what is lovely/leave before the rains hit." It's a subtle contrast to P.O.S.'s verse in the song: "Flush flustered rush for doors/advance fire plan/handy with the way out/routes explored."
Still, as good as these songs are, it's nice to hear Dessa's lighter side on "Sadie Hawkins," from Doomtree's 2008 self-titled group album, which feels refreshingly varied next to No Kings.
There's a lot more variety to Doomtree than No Kings gives up, from Cecil Otter's work on Wugazi's great mixes of Wu-Tang Clan and Fugazi, to Mike Mictlan's underappreciated MC skills. In its way, No Kings captures a little of all of that, but tightens it up in the service of 12 cohesive tracks. For the members of Doomtree, it's clear that the cycle of solo and group work will go on, fueled by the collective momentum on display here.