On January 24, 1986, a baby boy was spanked by the doctor and handed over to his waiting parents. Over the next three decades, that boy would grow to become one of the Twin Cities’ most enduring talents—the lyrical virtuoso now known as Sean Anonymous.
Mr. and Mrs. Anonymous probably had high hopes for their Capricorn child, but what they surely never expected was that his birthday would become something of a hip-hop holiday in the Twin Cities. It all started in 2006, when the then-20-year-old Anonymous decided to throw himself a rappin’-ass birthday gig at the Dinkytowner. It’s continued every year since, with a rotating cast of well-wishers taking the stage alongside Anonymous.
2019 marks the party’s 13th year of existence. Applying Jewish law, that means this is the year the Sean Anonymous Birthday Show becomes a man in the eyes of God. A pimple-faced, squeaky-voiced adult of a concert. To celebrate this great mitzvah, we sat down with the 33-year-old big boy to discuss the inspiration for the birthday show, a few highlights from the years past, and just how dang proud the Anonymous family is of their widdle baby.
City Pages: When you first started the Sean Anonymous Birthday Show, did you ever think it’d become such an institution?
Sean Anonymous: How long did Doomtree do the Blowout? 10 years? [ Ed. note: It was 11, ending in 2014.] I’ve been doing this longer than Doomtree! I was starting to wonder: How long do I do this? 20 years? I’m at 13 now, so if I do 20, I’ll be close to 40. I might just do it forever.
CP: You could get to the point where you’re retired and this is the one show you perform every year.
SA: Doesn’t D4 have something like that? I could see this being my D4th of July. I like that. That could be a good inspiration.
CP: I’d read that when you first did the show, you were like, ‘I like to rap, and it’s my birthday, so I want to rap for my birthday,’ but can you take me back to when you first decided to throw the Birthday Show?
SA: That was my 20th birthday, and as a little rapper rapping at the Dinkytowner, I didn’t have very much foresight. I didn’t think it was something I’d do for 10 years. Truthfully, it was just a way to guilt all my friends into coming to a show. At that time, we could probably bring out 50-75 people to a show. The first birthday show brought out 100-150 people.
CP: At what point did you realize this was something you wanted to do every year?
SA: The turnout was so amazing, and not just the turnout, but the vibe of the show. It felt like a birthday party. Whether you’ve know me my whole life or you’ve never heard my music before, you walk in, and the confetti is popping off, and people are drinking, and somebody's making out in a corner; that party vibe is so infectious that I had to keep on doing it.
CP: What’s the satisfaction for you? What keeps you wanting to do it every year?
SA: I’m a glutton for this type of stuff. I love birthdays. I love my friends’ birthdays, and I love to celebrate my birthday as well. I hope that doesn’t come off as self-centered or pompous. It’s nice to have one show a year where I curate the whole vibe. It’s all up to me to put the work in and make sure that it’s unique and it feels like me.
CP: How do you go through and pick who you want to perform with you on the show?
SA: I was actually just talking with my grandparents about this at Christmas. When it comes to Birthday Shows, I have extra criteria. Number one is are they talented? Do I like their music? Especially at my Birthday Shows, I want it to be a show that, even if I wasn’t performing at it, I’d want to come out to. Number two is do they draw? Can they bring a crowd out? The third criteria I have is that I want the backstage area to be as live as the stage. It’s a birthday party. I wish everyone could come backstage with us where we’re popping bottles and cake is flying and there’s a dance party. I want it to feel like a family.
CP: You’ve gone through a lot of venues over the past 13 years. A few at the Dinkytowner, a few in the Mainroom. Why did you decide to go back to the Entry this year?
SA: Those shows at First Ave in the Mainroom were so, so rad, and they really helped my career. The first year was the year we booked Soundset, it was the year I played the Pizza Luce Block Party for the first time. That summer, we did one of the biggest tours of our lives. But it is so much work and pressure to throw a show in the Mainroom. The year before, we were in the Triple Rock, and we sold it out, but going from a 400-person venue to a 1,500-person venue is a huge jump. The biggest we ever did was close to 800 paid, which was the biggest solo show I ever booked in my life, and it was still so much hard work. I’m not scared of hard work, but that’s three months of grinding and hard work and planning to have a half-full venue.
CP: Looking back on the last 13 years, what are some highlights? Any crazy stories?
SA: So many. One of my favorites was two years ago. I was on stage. They brought out the birthday cake, and everyone started to sing, but I heard a familiar voice I hadn’t heard for a while. I turn around, and Lizzo is there, and she’s singing “Happy Birthday,” which almost brought me to tears. For the previous five years, Lizzo had sung “Happy Birthday” with me and performed at the Birthday Shows. For a period of time, almost every big set I’d played, she was there harmonizing with me. But she hadn’t been able to make it the past two years. I didn’t know she was in the building, and I heard her beautiful voice, and it brought me back. It made me verklempt for a second.
One of my favorite memories was in 2014 or 2015, one of the Mainroom shows, I had a wireless mic, and I decided to stage dive for the first time. That’s quite a distance to travel because you’ve gotta go over the photo pit. I’m looking at it, I’m feeling a little scared, but the set was building up to a fever pitch. Sometimes you just get possessed, and it compelled me to just jump into the audience. As soon as I do, I kneed one of my friends in the chest. Then, the wireless mic bounced off Chuck U’s head and hits me in my mouth. I just keep on rapping because the adrenaline’s going.
I finish the set and go backstage, but we had an encore planed. Psalm One was backstage, and she’s like, “Yo Sean, how are you doing?” And I was like, “I’m doing fantastic.” Then she looks at me, and she’s like, “Oh, you don’t realize it, you’re bleeding from your mouth horribly right now.” I was so hopped up on adrenaline that I didn’t realize I had blood leaking out of both sides of my mouth. I was supposed to start my encore about 30 seconds later, but I had to delay it a bit and go into the bathroom backstage a stuff toilet paper in my mouth to stop the blood from coming out. I’m not sure if it ever did stop coming out, which is gross for anyone that had to use that microphone again.
The saddest moment of a birthday show is that one time my mom fell down the stairs at the Dinkytowner. I think she was more faded than me. That was my 21st birthday. It was like 20 stairs, super steep. She was all right, though.
Another funny anecdote about that night is that I didn’t make it to the DMV before my 21st birthday, so I used my friend Austin’s fake ID to get into my own 21st birthday party. I’d been using it to go to shows at the Dinkytowner for two years at that point, and when I went in, the doorman was like, “Oh, you’re just turning 21 now huh?” The ID probably said I was 23 or something. Those days were a little different. The wild wild west.
CP: Looking past this year, what would you like to see the Birthday Show become?
SA: Every year is its own thing, and I like to live in the moment and focus on just one thing at a time. I’m kinda working this out as I go along. Soundset started as a show at First Ave, and it turned into a festival. That’s not something I can do. I think I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing, for the most part.
Sean Anonymous Birthday Show
With: Dem Atlas, Greg Grease, Lady Midnight, Chance York and Big Cats, and DJ Keezy
Where: 7th St. Entry
When: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11
Tickets: $10/$15; more info here