There is no music more local, more bound to a specific sense of place and style than rap. Run-D.M.C. lived on the greatest block, wore the greatest sneakers, and ate the greatest fast food. Only a fool could miss how powerful this idea is for people pretty much stuck with what they've got. And when rap music spread like weeds through the cracks of the industrial heartland, hip-hop culture became an expression of the economic schism evident in every town, the nation's growing GDP diverging from stalled-out social indicators. It was American confidence without grocery money.
At least that was one version of the story, and the one that best helps us understand the thinking behind one of the longest acronyms in Minnesota rap history: S.U.S.P.E.C.T.S. The crew that took the name Souls Under Suspicion Putting Every Competitor to Shame was founded, like hip hop, by scapegoats who believe in meritocracy. One day, in 1994, two eighth graders in baggy pants were wandering around a mall in southeastern Pennsylvania, tailed by a couple of adults whose job it was, presumably, to keep an eye on eighth graders in baggy pants. Golden (from Reading) and Jayechs (from Lancaster) noticed the security guards, but had bigger problems to talk about. What would they call their new Eazy-E- and Bell Biv DeVoe-inspired R&B-rap crew?
"We were shouting names back and forth," Jayechs remembers, "and I looked back and said: 'Why don't we call ourselves Suspects?' just loud enough so the security guard would hear it."
Seven years later S.U.S.P.E.C.T.S. are lounging on the couch in a St. Paul apartment lobby, with their 19-year-old DJ from Bloomington, Squeeze. They are accomplished, if widely unknown, recording artists based in Minneapolis. And they spend a lot of time looking back on the bad old days, and the friends who never left the street. "I felt like they weren't going anywhere," says Golden, who, like the other S.U.S.P.E.C.T.S., prefers we not print his real name. "So I had to get out and go to school and give some sort of language to how I always knew the world worked. Now I'm able to go back there and be like, 'Look, there is a different way. You just got to believe in it for yourself.'"
With help from his grandfather, a former jazz bandleader, Golden became the only one of his friends to go to college, earning a communications degree from Macalester, where S.U.S.P.E.C.T.S. will perform this Friday. Jayechs followed him here to pursue the hip-hop dream, and both return home frequently to produce music by old pals on their label, Souls of Life Records. Yet the sadness of the dead end they escaped is evident in every song on their third album Delusions of Grandeur (SOL), whose very title suggests a loss of that old hip-hop confidence.
With its wash of digitally manipulated soft rock, "Wake Up" may be the most affecting rebuke of the snooze button since Fugazi's "Turnover": "I'm feeling FM stands for fuck me," raps Jayechs, telling himself: "You better get your ass out of bed and live life/Or retire 30 years from a job you never liked." "Sunset@Lowry Park" is similarly reflective, setting Golden's catchy disco crooning against a sampled Ani DiFranco guitar strum, as Jayechs raps that he is "acquiescing to the charms of sleeping in my grave."
The grown-up scapegoats speculate that their musical flexibility and do-it-yourselfishness stem from their upbringing: Golden's family would sing 18-part harmonies on the high holidays. Jayechs's dad would play him the 1968 salsa hit he penned, "Ya Yo Te Quiero,"--a record that, in the end, earned him $357.
"When I started, Dad told me: 'Keep your publishing rights, always,'" laughs Jayechs. Hip hop needs grocery money, too.
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