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Sean Anonymous: Rapping for people is my favorite thing to do in life

Sean Anonymous: Rapping for people is my favorite thing to do in life
Photo courtesy of the artist

Minneapolis rapper Sean Anonymous is living proof that getting older is akin with getting better. Now in its seventh year, Sean's annual birthday show is getting a massive upgrade to the First Avenue mainroom. Also part of Saturday's festivities will be the release of a new 7-inch, "Cold Shoulder" with Lizzo/ "Sultan of Swat" with Phillip Morris, and it's gonna be free to the first 100 people through the door. Sean and DJ Name will be joined by Dreamcrusher, Toki Wright & Big Cats, Dem Atlas, and electro outfit Enemy Planes. All proceeds from the show and 7-inch sales will be donated to The Twin Cities Music Community Trust.

Gimme Noise sat down for lunch with Sean and DJ Name to chat about the party, their evolution as artists, and the music's message.

Gimme Noise: How did the birthday party start seven years ago?

Sean Anonymous: Rapping for people on a stage is my favorite thing to do in life, so I couldn't think of anything better to be doing for my birthday. It just made sense. I threw the first one -- and it was pretty successful -- at the Dinkytowner for my 20th birthday seven years ago. Then the second one was damn near sold out, which was one of the closest shows we had to selling out at that point, and I was like, 21, I'd only been doing shows for a couple years, and it was the most fun. It slowly became an annual thing.

This is the first time you're celebrating a birthday at First Avenue.

About five months ago, my buddy from PBR came up to me and asked if we'd like to put this 7-inch record together under PBR. PBR paid for us to record it, make it, paid for the studio time... and he had this idea to make these 7-inches and sell them for charity, and do a show at First Ave. Eventually we put two and two together and combined the show and my birthday party.

Sean Anonymous and DJ Name have some fun with the Drake Shake app. Photo provided by Sean Anonymous
Sean Anonymous and DJ Name have some fun with the Drake Shake app. Photo provided by Sean Anonymous

So the proceeds from the 7-inch are all going to charity, and everything from your show is going to the Twin Cities Music Community Trust. What do they do, and how did you choose them?

The whole idea behind Twin Cities Music Community Trust is to help musicians pay for medical bills and other bills when they get hit with unforeseen illnesses, or if they have some kind of medical problem. For me and my musician friends, I can testify to the fact that we somehow hurt ourselves all the time, and a lot of people don't have insurance. A lot of people are getting by trying to work part-time jobs and playing in eight different bands, and struggling. The cause really hits close to home.

And Barb Abney from the Current is hosting it.

I love Barb. She is one of the nicest, funniest people I've ever met. She loves hip-hop. She just seems so genuine. She also gives good hugs. She's a great host.

You obviously share Barb's love of hip hop. Do you remember the first hip hop albums you ever bought?

I remember hearing MC Hammer when I was, I think three or four years old. Like, maybe one of my first memories is being in my Mom's car when I was 3 years old, and she put on MC Hammer, and I remember dancing with my sister in the backseat to it... In 6th grade I went to Zumiez to buy a skateboard, and for some reason there was a DJ in there, and he was spinning Jurassic 5. So I went and bought Quality Control from Sam Goody in the mall that day, and that album changed my life for sure.

DJ Name: I got into hip hop really heavily in the early '90s. Luckily for me, my Dad was a radio DJ, and he worked at a top 40 station in a major market. We lived in Dayton, Ohio, and he worked at a station there that played a lot of hip hop and R&B, when a lot of mainstream stuff was really cool. I would basically get, like, boxes of all the new singles that were coming out, because that was back in the day when people would ship hella packages to the radio stations trying to get play. I want to say that Kris Kross or Onyx were the first CDs I bought, and I know I got into Wu-Tang pretty early. Some of the stuff might be a little embarrassing now, like MC Hammer or Boys II Men.

Sean: I was so surprised in 7th grade when I heard Eyedea and Atmosphere. For the longest time, I didn't know those dudes were from Minneapolis at all. My friend just had it in his car, and I just started listening to them. It was so awesome to know that there was other rap music from Minneapolis, because I hadn't known that at that point. I had just started rapping in 7th or 8th grade. I probably jammed those albums for a year before I realized that those dudes are actually from my state, like, there's rappers in Minnesota?!

What was that like for you? When did you realize, I'm going to do this?

Sean: I think I had it in my mind. I think I was set on being a rapper before that, or I knew I wanted to be a performer growing up. In 6th grade, I kind of wanted to be an actor for a little bit. In 8th grade was the first time that I performed for people. I performed at my school's talent show. I knew that I wanted to be a rapper, but it just reconfirmed the fact that I could do it in the place that I was at.

 

The first Wide Eyes EP came out in 2005, and you recorded it in four days. From then to your most recent Wide Eyes release in November 2013, The Sick and the Dead, with Phillip Morris, how have things changed?

Sean: It has changed so much. Now its more organized. Getting the stuff done that we need ultimately takes less time, but the amount that we put on ourselves to get done is a lot more. Especially in the last couple of years, we started taking the time to put forth the effort that we need to be on the level that I want. I'm happy where we're at. I never want to stop. This is what I say: I'm fine with being happy, and I like to be happy with where I'm at, but I never want to get too content. If you're content, then what is the reason for you to push and be better? I just want more and more, and I think that's a good thing.

DJ Name: As far as stepping up to the level that we need to be at to be a contender, we are kind of perfectionists. Recording stuff at home is all fine and dandy; you've got to start somewhere. When we're in a nice studio recording our first piece of vinyl ever, we're going to sit there whether it takes an hour or it takes four trips to the studio, but we're going to get that as close to the idea of perfect as possible before we let other people hear it.

How do you know when you get there?

DJ Name: We learned a rule from our friends in More Than Lights, back in the day. Its called, don't step on it. You just kind of have to let go after a certain point. I feel like with a lot of things in the studio, especially with this 7-inch, we just had to trust our engineer. He had to just do what he does, and we had to trust that.

Sean, how is working with Wide Eyes different than doing solo work?

Sean: The things I like about working with a group are pretty much the same things that I don't like about working with a group. Its amazing to be able to bounce ideas off somebody, and somebody comes with a fresh perspective or concept for a song that I would never have thought of, and it inspires me to do things. I work fast if I'm working with other people. At the same time, you have to take in more of people's opinions, which is a good thing, but if you're an artist you want to stay true to your vision and what you're doing, and not compromise that much. I like both, but its been really great doing solo stuff recently, because its more hands-on.

You're involved in the Occupy movement, which was inspired in part by the Arab Spring. The entire Arab Spring started with just one man in Tunisia, a fruit vendor who was protesting his local government. What is the difference that you are trying to make, as a person who has a voice and the opportunity to change the world around him?

Sean: Out of everything that's wrong with the world, and everything that's right in the world, I can't really choose one or two battles to fight. We live in an amazing place, and its an amazing and fucked up time that we live in. I want to focus on the positive, and at the same time not forget about the negative, and not forget about the fact that there's people that need help. Its hard to focus on just one thing. If people are just respectful of each other, and nice to each other, I think it would make the whole world a better place.

This positivity carries through in your music, too.

Sean: I do listen to people talk about drugs and guns and hoes... I feel like, if that's really a thing in your life, go ahead and talk about it, as long as you're not putting it in a beautiful light. I think we all know people that have gone to jail, and people that have gotten fucked up with drugs, and things like that. I think about putting these stories out there, but not in a glorifying way. I just put my personal feelings and my stories out there, and people that listen to them will take away a wide spectrum of different things. As long as people can listen to my stories and the way that I feel and either relate to it, or if they're having a bad day and they listen to my song and it makes them smile, or if they're working through something and they happen to be close to what I'm talking about in a song and it helps them, then I'm happy.

Sean Anonymous: Rapping for people is my favorite thing to do in life

Make Some Noise! Sean Anonymous 7th Birthday and 7-inch release. With Dreamcrusher and special guests Toki Wright & Big Cats, Dem Atlas, and Enemy Planes. Hosted by the Current's Barb Abney. 18+, $10/$12, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, January 11 at First Avenue. Info here.


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