Ice Rod leaves Minnesota

Michael "Ice Rod" Gaughan waving goodbye
Tomas Aksamit

One of Minneapolis's most fearless and funny hip-hop artists is leaving town. Michael Gaughan, better known in rap circles as Ice Rod, is relocating to San Francisco to get his Masters of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. While his scholarship should come as no surprise to those familiar with his vivid art, Gaughan has made a name for himself in the comedy and rap worlds for his unflinching, oft-humorous takes on topics of hip hop, sexuality, and society. On August 4, Gaughan's goodbye show looks to give back to the people and the city that helped shaped him.

Gaughan's Minneapolis journey began at the age of 18 when he relocated from Illinois to attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. "The first people that I met said hello to me," he remembers. "Immediately it felt like everyone was accepting of one another." This acceptance helped birth his Ice Rod identity after a sight-unseen warm reception at an open mic.

"I made up the name a few years before I used it. 'Ice Rod,' I thought, would be the name of a really tough rapper. Vibing off of Ice-T and Ice Cube, but more phallic. I didn't need a rap name for a while, and I was rapping as MC Tidal Wave because I had a mullet haircut."

After a year of doing shows with that name, something changed when Gaughan attended a Fifth Element open mic in 2002. Toki Wright was hosting, and when he went up to sign his name, Tidal Wave didn't seem right anymore.

Then, he remembered Ice Rod. "I wrote it down, and when Toki was reading the names, he said 'Up next... Ice Rod," Gaughan recalls. "And the way he said it, he was so intrigued and approved of it already. He didn't know who Ice Rod was, and the audience got so excited. So it stuck. It's a tribute to early-'90s rap — only more phallic and more stupid."

While it's not likely one would accuse Gaughan of taking himself too seriously, he's racked up some serious local accolades over the course of his hip-hop career. Along with City Pages naming him among the 20 best Minnesota rappers of all time, local hip-hop historian Zach Combs, a.k.a. Big Zach, wrote in his painstaking document of Twin Cities hip hop Headspin, Headshots & History that when it came to his performances in rap battles "the crowd loved him and I learned to as well." Goofy as Gaughan may have seemed, he eventually won the coveted monthly Loring Pasta Bar battle in September 2003.

Gaughan stepped away from the mic in 2004 to work on his rock project Brother and Sister, with his real-life sister Katie. Two years later, he once again found creative fulfillment in rapping when working in experimental abstract performance art troupe NOW. Thanks to the project's hip-hop elements easing him back to beats and rhymes, 2007 saw Ice Rod release his debut rap album, It's About Sex and Hip-Hop. Along with local acclaim for his music and a live show that lovingly poked fun at the genre's conventions, Gaughan made an impact in rap visuals as well. Most notably, he painted the cover art for the final Eyedea and Abilities album, By the Throat.

But Gaughan finds his biggest musical success has been his Chatroulette Dorm Room Freestyles. Since last June, Gaughan has been onstage in front of a set made to resemble a college dorm, where he freestyles into a webcam beaming into Chatroulette, the random video messaging site, to strangers who don't know they're a part of a live rap performance. Considering it an "innocent prank," Gaughan chose to simulate a dorm room out of a desire to rap onstage in a different environment, and once Chatroulette came out, the stars aligned.

Along with a final Chatroulette Dorm Room Freestyle at the Turf Club on Thursday, Gaughan's farewell performance will be Saturday at CO-Exhibitions. It will be an art and comedy show, and Gaughan has made an individual thank-you card for everyone who has touched his life in some way. But instead of just delivering them, he's putting them on display for all to see — adding a voyeuristic element to his relationships. It's telling that even in the medium of gratitude, Gaughan is an innovator. While his presence in the Twin Cities will be missed, we can take comfort that he's only a chance Chatroulette click away.

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