The Blend: Outplaying Your Band

Toussaint Morrison thinks his band is better than yours. It's nothing personal.

That's just how the stars align in his view of local music cosmology. He's not hating on anybody in particular, but don't expect him to back off, either. Morrison is frustrated that The Blend, the five-piece live-band hip-hop ensemble Morrison fronts, seems to be attracting more attention nationally than it has at home.

"I think with the Blend, it's been an uphill battle – because there's nothing to define what we do," he says. "People have an idea of what hip-hop is, and an idea of what rock is, and sometimes we don't fit inside that circle. It's not deemed as 'Minneapolis cool' as we'd like it to be."

In response, they've begun churning out new material. Tonight at the Nomad World Pub, the band plays a release party for three new issues: a DVD and live CD recorded at the Varsity Theater, plus a live acoustic CD recorded at Manhattan Loft pizza place in Dec. '06. The package, Live Sessions 001, foreshadows another EP that will be released in April at the U of M's Spring Jam before the band's latest as-yet-untitled full length drops this fall.

This is a guy who is proud of what he's doing, and frustrated that his group will drive to North Carolina for shows, up to D.C., over to Ohio and then back to the town he's called home since the age of four ... and face a struggle for recognition. This isn't something he's shy about expressing. So stuff like this comes out, even if you didn't ask:

"I do think that the Blend is one of the most talented bands in the country, hands down, and I believe The Blend is the most talented band in the city of Minneapolis."

That's a bold claim.

"It is. One could say it's an outlandish claim," he acknowledges, "but for me it's nothing short of the truth."

The Blend: Outplaying Your Band

Just ask him what he thinks about the local emo rock scene. I dare you.

The charismatic Morrison, who isn't necessarily as brash as these outspoken comments might suggest, got his start as an MC when a teacher at Minneapolis South High School introduced him to slam poetry at the age of 15. He started performing with the Minneapolis slam team in 2003, and in successive years placed highly at the national competition.

To him, the elements of slam incorporated into The Blend's music (they perform at least one poem during each show) add to the live experience.

"There's a lot of people that carry [shows] well. But how many people can survive onstage with no beat? For me, I think that's what it comes down to sometimes. If that guitar wasn't working, who would you be?"

This isn't to say that The Blend's instruments don't work. Musically, the tandem is at their best when finding a particular groove to explore. Take "July" (MP3) off 2005's After What Came Before long-player, which kicks off with a Ben Harper-ish rootsy vibe, and then goes into a hard rock riff. Toussaint describes himself singing on the chorus "like a male Alanis Morissette or some shit."

Though the group has been touring seriously for less than three years, The Blend been around in one form or another for more than five. The two more-or-less original members are Morrison and fellow Minneapolis South alum Linden Killam, who plays sax and piano. True to the name, they incorporate a fusion of styles into their sound, drawing on hip-hop, rock and spoken word.

Between touring, music production and promoting all those upcoming releases, Morrison's scrambling. "It's like a Tom & Jerry cartoon where Tom is trying catch all the cups before they hit the ground," he says.

Luckily, he's got more energy than Tom. Not to mention a better way with words.

The Blend play at the Nomad World Pub tonight, Friday Feb. 15 at 9 p.m.

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