Doomtree's No Kings spurs week-long rap party at First Avenue

Crew making winter more fun this year

"I think one of the hardest ones, and the most fun, was the idea you had for 'Grand Experiment,'" Cecil Otter says, turning to Dessa, "where you're, like, 'How about this: It's from the beginning of time. It's about human nature.'"

Dessa covers her face with her hand and shakes her head. "I remember, as soon as it came out of my mouth, I was like, 'What the fuck am I talking about?'"

"I just remember feeling really stupid," Otter says, laughing. "But that was really fun because it was really difficult at first, and then you'd finally start to get it. Okay, now I got it. Now I know I'm going with my view of it."

Vintage Doomtree: Dessa, Cecil, former member MK Larada, and Lazerbeak circa 2006
B FRESH Photography and Media
Vintage Doomtree: Dessa, Cecil, former member MK Larada, and Lazerbeak circa 2006
Dessa performing at the Varsity in 2010
Staciaann Photography
Dessa performing at the Varsity in 2010
Mictlan and P.O.S. at the Fine Line in 2010
Staciaann Photography
Mictlan and P.O.S. at the Fine Line in 2010

That game of lyrical round-robin is one of No Kings' defining strengths. Rather than have each MC take a turn at the helm, most of the tracks feature rotating verses from three or four writers, each expounding on a theme with their own interpretation. On "Bolt Cutter," one of the album's standout tracks, for example, P.O.S. kicks off the song by laying down a very literal narrative about urban exploration and reclaiming abandoned spaces while Sims offers a metaphor about emotional ownership, Dessa zooms out to offer a big-picture look at the resiliency of humanity, and Mictlan completes the circle by bringing it back to a real-time story. Like a relay race through the writers' individual styles and turns of phrase, No Kings is the first all-hands-on-deck release from the crew that rivals the frenetic and bombastic energy of their Blowout shows.

No Kings' beats, too, speak to the collaborative and free-flowing nature of the group, with contributions coming not only from the crew's producers Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger (who would send beats from his home in New York City) but also bearing the fingerprints of Cecil Otter, who has been flexing his production muscles in his blog-buzzy mash-up project Wugazi, and the four other MCs. The album lunges forward with an incredible momentum, each track playing hot potato with a variety of beats, moods, and personalities.

"Everybody has developed really different voices, and voices that maybe weren't as clearly defined—at least, speaking for me, on our last crew record [2008's Doomtree]," Dessa says. "Finding a place where those five circles overlap on the Venn diagram is a much different endeavor now."

"We wanted it to be a real crew album, like a real posse record," adds Lazerbeak. "That's why we went into this one making the beats together, too—it was like, we should make a real fucking posse album."

"I think playing so many shows together is what really brought our styles together," Mictlan summarizes nonchalantly, embodying the crew's self-assured humility. "You have everybody doing solo songs and you have everybody backing up each other's songs on the road; you're also learning each other's style and each other's raps, and they just kind of came together when we put this together."

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