You’re not gonna catch SickDaPunchLiner at Soundset.
Mr. Peter Parker would lose his job at Go 95.3 if he sat down with the ruthless St. Paul MC. The only way you’d ever hear him on the Current is if his entourage spammed the request line with threats of intimidation.
SickDaPunchLiner has more in common with DMX or Lil Wayne than Brother Ali. He brandishes submachine guns in his videos, talking shit with a heavily Auto-Tuned sneer, and he’s flourished as an emblem of everything that MCs in our indie-rap haven have defined themselves against.
“Maybe you do backpack music or alternative hip-hop like that Atmosphere does, but that’s not me,” Sick says. “This is my perspective on Minnesota. Your perspective may be different, but this is the part of Minnesota that I’m in all the time.”
The lyrics on Sick’s 2016 mixtape They Doubted Me are replete with classic flyover-state inferiority, but Sick didn’t grow up in Minnesota. Until he was in eighth grade, his family lived on Chicago’s South Side, right by where 18-year-old rapper Lil JoJo was gunned down by a rival in 2012. After they relocated, he attended Wells Prep for two years before transferring to High School for the Recording Arts, where he first got his hands on Magix Music Maker. The move north changed Sick’s life, but Chicago had already made its mark on him.
“People are in danger all the time, and you’ve gotta protect yourself,” Sick says of Chicago. “I see people getting hurt on the street. I see people selling different things on the street. I see people trying to protect their family. A lot of different dark things, and that makes me rap about the things I rap about.”
SickDaPunchLiner’s music bristles with tension and mistrust. In curt, belligerent bars, he mixes stories of his caustic childhood in Chicago with boasts about his current paper chase in St. Paul to create a slurred, unflinching reflection of life on the Twin Cities streets. It’s not a side Explore Minnesota would be keen to highlight. The rhymes of Atmosphere and P.O.S (who Sick claims to never have heard of) inspire and aspire, but Sick focuses on the unseemly truths of being a young black man in a dire and largely concealed environment.
“I feel like it’s a misrepresentation of Minnesota going on right now,” Sick says. “People are like, ‘Minnesota is nice, it’s sweet,’ but then you get here, and in certain areas it’s like, ‘Oh my god, this is Minnesota? This looks like Chicago or Detroit.’ That shit does happen here. Kids get killed at nightclubs in Minneapolis all the time. Kids get beat up in school and on the streets.”
SickDaPunchLiner has made it his mission to tell the truth of his Minnesota — the car-jackings, the gangbanging, the segregation. He’s Minnesota’s most unwelcome champion. On “Why They Sleep (Minnesota Anthem),” Sick and collaborator 50 Tyson point pistols down the lens and throw hand signs while they rap, “We gon’ put on for Minnesota.” It sounds like a threat.
“People expect you to be a certain way here, and you can’t be yourself,” he says. “I can’t talk about certain things that people go through in the struggle or violent acts that happen. Minnesota looks at that like, ‘We don’t want that to represent Minnesota. We’re not that.’”
Sick manages a team of street rappers called WeTeam100 Promotions, which includes cold, merciless artists like Choppa Ruuso and Bossmann. The crew also boasts 50 Tyson, the autistic Minnesotan who became a viral sensation after his rudimentary bathroom freestyles landed him on Tosh.0, but who has since rebranded as an audacious gangster rapper aiming diss tracks at rappers like Lil Yachty and 21 Savage.
This combative attitude doesn’t jibe with North Star Staters, and Minnesota media has ignored every song SickDaPunchLiner has released, even though his last four singles averaged 28,000 YouTube views each. Like Lil Jamez, the largely disowned Minnesota street rapper who heads up the roster on Floyd Mayweather’s TMT Music Group, Sick is doomed to radio obscurity for what he represents.
“I love Minnesota, but I know for a fact my market is not Minnesota,” Sick says. “The music that’s played here is that Atmosphere type of music, and if you’re not in that lane, you get overlooked. I think I’m being overlooked as well as hundreds of other artists.”
The only Midwest media outlets that’ll touch SickDaPunchLiner are underground hip-hop trench sites like MinnesotaColdTV, localized hubs that feed off the over-the-top aggression of hip-hop culture. In his introductory interview with Chicago’s ZackTV, Sick wears an army vest stocked with extra clips, and about five minutes in, one of his crew picks up a loaded AR-15 and nearly fires a live round in the studio. It was perhaps Sick’s most headline-grabbing escapade to date, but it barely blipped the local or national blog radar, so in order to get his makeshift label in rotation, Sick’s done the least Minnesotan thing a rapper can do.
In May, Sick absconded to California to work on his follow-up to They Doubted Me and a distribution deal for WeTeam100. Locals usually only make this kind of business jump after a decade of grinding out shows at the Amsterdam and the Entry, but Sick’s ultraviolent bent means he’s aiming at a slim margin on even the national level. He has to go big out the gate, or he’ll risk never busting at all.
“If your market isn’t gonna accept your type of music, then you’re already as big as you can be,” Sick says. “My music is more like something out of the Atlanta, California, or Chicago area. Minnesota is not the acceptance, so that’s why I’m leaving.”
The move to the West Coast isn’t permanent — Sick has an infant daughter in St. Paul to help raise — but a summer learning the ropes in one of hip-hop’s most storied battlegrounds should only drive SickDaPunchLiner further from his Minnesota peers.
There’s a question of how much of SickDaPunchLiner is genuine and how much is unbridled hip-hop bravado. The dreadlocked rhymer wearing military surplus in a YouTube interview seems too cartoonish to be legitimate, and commenters on hip-hop blogs often accuse him of fronting. Sick admits that there’s an element of entertainment to his music, but he insists that he’s illuminating a reality.
“They call us drill rappers, street rappers, trap rappers, gangster rappers, whatever,” he says. “But I look at us as more realistic rappers. At the end of my music, you’re gonna get a meaning. My music states facts.”