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Guests are required to remove their shoes when they enter Twinkie Jiggles's basement apartment in Uptown. Street cleaners have long since removed the winter's collection of salt and sand, but the no-shoes rule doesn't change with the seasons in the Twinkie home. Inside, plastic pink-and-white bouquets are strung from the cramped living room's drop-down white-tiled ceiling, like decorations in a strip mall's Thai restaurant, which are meant to inject Eastern charm into a cheese-puff world. "Does it smell like bacon in here?" asks Twinkie (born Sean McPherson), the bassist for Heiruspecs and Traditional Methods. "I just made a bison burger. I'm on a low-carb diet," he says, his hand disappearing into a bucket of Breyers CarbSmart ice cream.
The six members of the live hip-hop band Traditional Methods are seated in a half-circle on metal chairs and a thrift-store couch in Twinkie's living room. Rappers Zach Combs, a.k.a. New MC (also of Kanser), Shiz (Sean Minor), and singer-rapper Sarah White cast nervous glances at the floor like they're about to be interrogated. "The second time I saw Sarah White, I was standing next to her at a Kanser show," Twinkie remembers. "I was like, 'Wow. This girl is beautiful.'"
White was born with the enviable gene that elongates her already striking features: She has sky-high legs and almond eyes, and a milky smooth radio-announcer voice that demands attention. White has been involved in the local underground hip-hop scene since high school. She's also an activist, frequently turning up to protest police brutality or the war. Traditional Methods' debut album, Falling Forward (Interlock), is imbued with a similar dissenting spirit.
On "Uniforms Patrol," the three emcees weave politically charged and soulful flows over brooding guitar plucks and drummer Kevin Hunt's death-march drumbeats. "Racial profiling no denying it's a fact/If you stay closed-minded, turn your cheek it will impact/Your children, their children, ones that rule the next," White raps, offering a less incendiary version of "Fuck tha Police" that slings education instead of AK-47s.
Police brutality became a major issue for White while studying it in a class at MCTC. "The facts were so overwhelming," she says. "Minneapolis is one of the top cities where people are killed by police and [the officers] aren't prosecuted." White says almost every guy she has dated has been roughed up by cops at some point. "It's not all cops," she says. "But there's a lot of racial profiling in the Midwest that people don't know about."
For Shiz, his teenage years in the multiethnic Riverside neighborhood included numerous clashes with police. "Being a black young male in Minneapolis, it's normal to get beat up," he says. Once, in the Phillips neighborhood, Shiz says, he was hanging out and smoking pot in a friend's backyard when cops busted up the gathering and encouraged a rookie to beat him up. "Racism and police brutality is a very large issue here," says Shiz, who finds many Minnesotans to be frustratingly ignorant or complacent about such problems. "In Minnesota, you have a lot of passive-aggressiveness," he says. "It's not honest. That's the feeling I get here a lot."
At this point Combs perks up, turning his view from his tennis shoes to express his love for Minnesota and south Minneapolis in particular. He's uncomfortable in the spotlight, though on record his thick rhymes could swallow the entire room. Twinkie says Combs's songs make him feel more proud than he has ever felt about where he's from, and Combs is quick to lend his Minnesota pride to the conversation. "The whole passive-aggressive thing? I mean, I know racism exists, but on a lower level, I can go to a party in south Minneapolis, and it's just cool."
The six-member crew went through the maw of Hades in the two years it took to make Falling Forward. They lost three friends, one to a cocaine overdose, and Combs's younger brother and a handful of the group's friends wound up behind bars. Throughout it all, positivity remained at the core of Traditional Methods' message. Jazzy grooves complement the proletarian party as Shiz, Combs, and White sing the praises of Mandela, unity, and faith on "Falling Forward": "You can't sell coke and look God in the face...Face God and deny him, I try to walk with God but emphasize the word 'tryin.'"
Aside from the deep friendship that links Combs and Shiz, the band members are most connected through their music--through their lyrics of hard living and the beats that punctuate them. This artistic unity has helped the group overcome the emotional tumult of the last few years, allowing them to find a foundation in their differences. "It's been a real struggle for us," Shiz says. "But just being able to create music is really positive for us."
Guitarist Josh Peterson, a history major at the U who splits his time between the Heiruspecs, Traditional Methods, and school, says the group benefits from being involved in a number of other projects. Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder, just as rarely interrupted proximity can lead to onstage kickboxing bouts or cryptic lyrics about a band member's addiction to low-carb ice cream. "Bands who spend a lot of time together maybe stop liking each other. And then, you know, that whole passive-aggressive Minnesota thing comes out," he laughs. "Then it's all over." With Peterson's strategy for longevity in mind, the group passes on Twinkie's offer to hang out and get high on low-carb ice cream. There's a Timberwolves game to watch, and besides, the place reeks of bacon.