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Best Of 2004

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Best Of :: People & Places

BEST HIP-HOP ARTIST

What do you need to make a great hip-hop crew? An identity, first of all, and the Star Tribune's Chris Riemenschneider got the hook right for Doomtree: "Rhymesayers with skateboards." You also need early recordings that will eventually become collectible, and the Doomtree label/studio produced enough raw, noise-happy homemade discs last year that, had they been combined, would have made one of the best local rap albums, well, ever. More crucially, you need a recognizable ethos, in which case the Doomtree MCs share a kind of lived-in proletarian radicalism that's far funnier than the Michael Franti or El-P versions. "This is for those who can't pay the rent/Run out of toilet paper/Find the Sunday paper wipe your ass with the president," raps P.O.S. on his hilarious and beguiling squall of a debut, Ipecac Neat, the first proper album from Doomtree. (He adds, more poignantly: "This is for them thugs who dealt crack but stopped because they saw firsthand what crack does.") Hip-hop crews need distinct personalities with distinct talents. Call this the Department of Half-Life, or the Wu-Tang Potential Spinoff Index. By either measure, Doomtree's cup overflows: There is the Lauryn Hill ease of Dessa, whose charisma as both righteous poet and autobiographical rapper make her the show-stopping beginner and conscience of the group. There are also the dense rhymes and weight-of-the-world beats of Cecil Otter, who styles himself the hick philosopher and party hound. Then comes P.O.S., the insecure but magnetic hoarse voice of anger and purpose, a reluctant star. And don't forget Sims, the "kid" or "hype man," whose jokey self-assurance and rich voice hold great promise, as do the many other gifted producers and DJs on board. Not all of these talents are fully fleshed out--and who knows whether they'll stay together as a crew. But few other groups have so captured the imagination of local hip-hop fans so fast, even if fame is premature.

BEST ACOUSTIC PERFORMER

He rarely plays live, but newcomer Rodine's self-titled long-player on Mercy Recordings is a performance in itself: It kicks off with a stark reading of Dylan's "New Morning," which is gutsy enough, never mind all the freshly unwrapped reworkings that follow (to name a few, covers of Ray Charles's "The Jealous Kind," Johnny Cash's "There You Go," Hank Williams's "Last Night I Heard You Crying in Your Sleep," and a pensive dusting-off of the public domain nugget, "Mother's Last Words to Her Daughter"). To be sure, this is a record that sounds like it could've been made in a Minneapolis coffee shop in the '60s, or the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia anytime, but its nods to musical traditions are secondary to Rodine's sweet picking and singing, and the haunting chemistry forged by his collaborators, including Tony Glover, Paul Cebar, the Front Porch Swingin' Liquor Pigs, and the late Dave Ray.

BEST ADULT VIDEO STORE
Sex World

In some instances, size does matter--especially when you're talking 20,000 square feet. At $4.28 per video for two nights with a $50 per movie deposit, SexWorld's gargantuan selection of flesh in motion can be a bit daunting for the neophyte who doesn't know a double-D feature from a triple-X film. But since even newbies are free to browse the aisles 24 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to guess the videos' contents is part of the fun. A helpful hint: The haircuts on the front of the box are almost always a dead giveaway as to movie quality. Any cover that's devoid of mullets and frizzy perms is almost sure to hold superior contents. Though the value of the bald guys is something you'll have to figure out for yourself.

241 2nd Ave. N., Minneapolis, 55401
MAP
612-672-0556
BEST ALBUM OF THE PAST 12 MONTHS

Every year readers pick Atmosphere as the best hip-hop group in the Twin Cities, and every year we point that readership to another act they should notice as well (see "Best Hip-Hop Artist, p. 154). Atmosphere are by now such a self-sustaining cultural phenomenon that the crew--rapper/guiding personality Slug, producer Ant, concert DJ Mr. Dibbs, and other friends--needs a boost from City Pages about as badly as George W. Bush needs our endorsement for president. Yet despite a fan base that sells out First Avenue-sized venues across the country, extends to viewers of MTV2 and The Jimmy Kimmel Show, and reaches into the offices of every major music publication, Atmosphere gets surprisingly slept on critically. It's as if no mainstream rock journalist who appreciates Slug's talent quite trusts her ears to know that this very weird, truly unusual, and intensely personal music is great even by the standards we apply across decades and state lines. Atmosphere's rap is difficult: It has always been difficult, even before the first album, in the mid-'90s, when Slug was calling himself Urban Atmosphere. Ant's disinfected beats are elusive in their funk, more hypnotic than floor-filling, and Slug's way of engaging listeners requires both an attention span and your indulgence. In order to care about what he says, you really have to care about him. But trust your heart. When Slug pays tribute to his hometown on the hidden track of Seven's Travels (his third or sixth album, depending on how you count), he's doing something more moving than using hip-hop conventions of call and response cleverly, or subverting them for the home team. When he raps, "If you know this is where you want to raise your kids, say Shhh," he's tapping a nerve that Common left untouched before skipping out of Chicago for Brooklyn. Slug feels the gut-level pride that Run-DMC once felt so monumentally for their neighborhood, their sneakers, their choice of fast food--but Slug feels it for a life he actually has, not one he imagines, or one he feels he should have, being a rapper and all. Prince used Minneapolis as fodder for his idealized fantasies, paying tribute to an "Uptown" that existed only in his mind; Slug looks outward, thinking about what the place will look like in 20 years. "If you're from the Midwest and it doesn't matter where, say Shhh," he continues, making a subtle joke about identity at the expense of Midwesterners, then adding, "If you can drink the tap water and breathe the air, say Shhh," making a joke at the expense of everyone else. Basically, he's telling the world, I'll come to you, but you also have to come to me, in every sense. That's something more radical than Midwesterners like Nelly or Eminem could have come up with, and we trust the audience knows it.

BEST ALL-AGES VENUE
The Garage

City Pages readers over 21 years of age will be forgiven for assuming the Garage takes this category by default. It has been a rough year for minors who want to see live, amplified music. The Babylon Gallery burned down, the Fireball Espresso Cafe met the wrecking ball, and Eclipse Records closed with plans to relocate. Hip-hop nights at Bon Appetit are as much of a memory as shows at the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, while other venues, however valuable, enforce time and day restrictions on age that keep them from claiming the Foxfire's mantle. (For a complete list of under-21 venues, see the links section on the City Pages blog www.complicatedfun.com.) Still, if the Garage is the only real all-ages club in town--or 20 minutes outside of town, in Burnsville--it compares well to any of the above for the simple reason that it rocks. Run since 1999 by a staff of teenage volunteers and located across the street from a police station, the venue has long been the kind of place parents feel comfortable leaving their kids (overnight lock-ins are customary) and kids feel comfortable leaving their parents. On a given packed Saturday, with fauxhawks in force and pop-punk bands like Five Small Worlds, Align, and Screaming Monkey Boner onstage, the place draws up to 220 young people. It feels like 440, with all the kids dancing and laughing and yelling. The space might be a glorified gym with carpeting, made "clubby" by black walls, black lights, couches, vending machines, a game room, and a 7th St. Entry-style side room. But the audience is as animated as the Japanese cartoons on the TVs that hang around the main stage. And the crowd is only growing.

75 Civic Center Parkway, Burnsville, 55337
MAP
952-895-4664
BEST BAND NAME
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BEST HIP-HOP ARTIST: Doomtree

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