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BEST HIP-HOP ARTIST Minneapolis 2004 - Doomtree

Readers' Choice: Atmosphere

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.

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