By Emily Eveland
By Sarah Stanley-Ayre
By CP Staff
By Zach McCormick
By Jack Spencer
By Sarah Stanley-Ayre
By Rob van Alstyne
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Few artists represent the Twin Cities hip-hop ethic better than Brandon Allday and Medium Zach, the Mexican-American duo known as Big Quarters. From humble small-town beginnings in Clearbrook, Minnesota, to a cemented footprint in the Minneapolis music scene and community at large, brothers Brandon and Zach Bagaason are celebrating the release of their third full-length album, Party Like a Young Commie, at the Triple Rock on Friday, December 16. The album is a prime example of their signature sound, one of reflective, personal stories told over rich and soulful '90s-influenced beats, and stands as their best effort to date.
Spurred to create at a quicker pace by their subscription service BQ Direct, which sent five tracks a month to fans via email during its 32-month run, Zach and Brandon amassed more songs to choose for an album than with previous efforts. "Our first record, Cost of Living, was all the songs that we had," says Zach. "I think [it] would've been ideal when working on every record to have a lot of songs and just pick the best ones." The subscriptions gave fans a glimpse at the rough cuts of the new album, and the original songs have been further explored by bringing in a number of musicians and singers to flesh out beats and add depth. Brandon Allday contributes half the beats on the record, an increase from past albums, while Medium Zach spent more time with individual songs. "[The] reason why the record took a long time was that I had big ideas, and didn't necessarily know where they were going yet," says Zach.
With contributions from vocalist Mankwe Ndosi; multi-instrumentalists Baby Gracious, Budo, and dVRG; and producers Julian Faribanks, Bold Illin', and Mike Swoop, alongside live instrumentation from the Bagaasons, Party Like a Young Commie has some of the fullest and best beats of Big Quarters' career. Lyrically, the flows have tightened and the content is stronger than ever. Blending the levity of a party record with the gravity of earnest introspection, the album is a reflection of the close-knit community of people who the rap group is both having fun with and speaking to directly. "We're showing that we're connected to our first album and the perspective we had on the first album, but also, over time, our writing has evolved," says Brandon. "On the first record, I was younger, I was mad about certain things. I was speaking to people that were outside my circle, maybe people that wouldn't even listen to the record. I feel like the Brown Babies record [from 2009] and Party Like a Young Commie more so, it's us telling our personal story, talking to our family, talking to our inner circle."
The lyrics weave between things as inane as beard-clipping and liking honey mustard to deadly serious topics like gang violence and colonization. The large and small are presented with a fluidity that comes off as so natural it's hard to notice immediately, but multiple listens reveal layers of complexity in even the simplest-seeming songs. The rappers have a chemistry unique to most rap groups, certainly stemming from their familial ties, and Zach says making music together helped to strengthen their bond. "Through our differences throughout the years as brothers, and not always getting along with each other, we always connected on music," he says. "We have different personalities, different interests, but we always connected on the music. When we made these different transitions in life, part of what brought me [to Minneapolis] was to not be in a small town anymore and to know that there was music going on here that I could actually use as an outlet."
With this record, Big Quarters are attempting to help the local scene they came up in by donating proceeds to Hope Community Center. Money will go toward improving Hope's Songwriting and Production program that they teach, helping aspiring teen artists write and record their own music. Brandon says that "proceeds from the CD sales are going to getting new equipment [and] maintaining the equipment, because ideally, we'd like to have more people being able to come through." Zach continues: "Maybe down the line it [will help] develop aspiring artists to make better music, learn what it means to have a DIY career in music, but also run sessions themselves. Obviously me and Brandon won't be able to be there forever." Much of the local hip-hop scene's younger generation has been through Hope, and increasing the organization's resources stands to directly and concretely give something back to the scene. Beyond the improved setup, Big Quarters are giving upcoming artists the same advice they've used to create their own music: to tell their own story and to build closely with friends and family. This philosophy pervades in the best local rap music, and Big Quarters represent it to the fullest.
BIG QUARTERS play a CD-release show with Los Nativos and No Bird Sing on FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16, at the TRIPLE ROCK SOCIAL CLUB; 612.333.7399