Local “hippy-hop” rapper Mod Sun is headlining First Avenue tonight (4/20 bro!), and that’s all you need to know about his music.
But, just for the hell of it, let's dig a little deeper.
Derek Smith, the 29-year-old Bloomington, Minnesota, native now known as Mod Sun — an acronym for "movement on dreams, stand under none" — made his first mark in Twin Cities music not by rapping sick lines like “You ain’t down with Rasta? / My gosh, hasta la vista man,” but by playing drums in the once-drooled-over screamo band Four Letter Lie.
That group was glorified after being signed to Chicago emo label Victory Records in 2006. In their glory years, 2006-2009, the band put out two records, toured the country with other MySpace bands, and played countless shows at now-shuttered St. Paul venue Station 4. (Full disclosure: I was a tween at the time and could be found in the front row of most of their shows; thanks mom for enabling me).
Smith was the outlier in the band. He didn’t wear skinny jeans and didn’t straighten his hair, scene staples of the era. He was characterized as the stoner in the dysfunctional boy band (foreshadowing!). Tried and true Four Letter Lie fans knew Smith dabbled in rap, but I, and presumably others, sincerely thought it was a joke.
Smith’s inevitable exit from the band was for the purposes of furthering a rap career. At the time, his ability to garner any attention outside of curious Four Letter Lie fans seemed highly questionable. After all, his early demos had concepts as outlandish as this (listen to the chorus).
These days, Mod Sun has more than 120,000 Facebook fans, more than 169,000 Twitter followers, and more than 215,000 Instagram followers. If social media currency doesn’t register with you, the fact that he's headlining First Avenue should give you an idea of his huge pull.
Normally, I’d be head over heels that someone I witnessed grow over the last decade is seeing this amount of notoriety. Instead, I have feelings of embarrassment (for myself and him) and sadness (for those sucked into his “hippie” cult).
What's so bad about Mod Sun? Let's have a look.
Nearly all of Mod Sun’s songs have some screamingly un-subtle mention of weed. It's reminiscent of Andy Samberg’s classic character Ras Trent. Remember Ras Trent?
But instead of working part-time at Coldstone Creamery like Trent, the white, suburban-born Derek Smith capitalizes on the Rastafarian movement and reggae music born out of Jamaica, appropriates it, waters it down, adds cheesy beats and raps, and feeds it to kids who just discovered weed.
The level of emotional intelligence in Mod Sun's lyrics should certainly hit home with teens sparking their first oneies. In his video for “Stoner Girl," Smith eloquently announces his desire for a “stoner girl” while smoking on Stoner Avenue. Do you think Mod Sun smokes weed?
He says the stoner girl has a piercing and even some tattoos, and he can bring her everywhere because she’s mad cool. Whoa, she sounds pretty cool.
BONUS: There are no strings attached, so they can keep it casual. Even when he doesn’t text back, she don’t get mad at him! Smith is poetic and charming. He also might be a 15-year-old boy.
When listeners get bored of weed, they need not worry. Mod Sun has a song called “MushrooMS,” too. Love the chorus: “‘Cause I’m on mushrooms / Mushrooms / I guess I don’t feel it / All the mushrooms.”
Beyond constantly reminding the listener of his unique love for smoking marijuana, Mod Sun’s other shtick is sending relentless messages of positivity and peace. This mantra seems harmless, especially in a world full of destruction and hatred.
But Mod Sun takes this seemingly constructive message and simplifies it down to the notion that the world would have no issues if we all just chilled out and smoked a bunch of weed.
See “Stop Everything You’re Doin’ Right Now and Smile.”Here's the problem: It’s especially easy to conceptualize the world in this way when you’re a white dude from Minnesota who has never really had odds stacked against him.
The chorus in "Happy as Fuck" proclaims “If you like to get paid or you like to get laid / Then you’ve got to understand that you’ve got it made / And you should be happy as fuck.” If only it were that easy!
Applying the logic of “peace and love” to society's major issues seems laughable. But perhaps it’s not as deep as that. Smith is really only rapping about solving his own difficulties ... in the cheesiest way possible.
It would be easier to ignore Mod Sun if it weren’t for his cluelessness when it comes to other cultures. It’s ironic, taking into account his stance of respect, peace, and love toward everyone.
Smith adopts mock African American Vernacular English, just like loathed Australian rapper Iggy Azalea. He somehow manages to appropriate three cultures in the music video for his song “Shoot ‘Em Down.”
He sports a poncho — thanks South American countries! One of his friends shows up wearing a headdress — thanks Native Americans! And as always, Smith brings his Rasta persona with him wherever he goes.
If this wasn’t enough, the entire concept of the song and video is that Mod Sun is going to “shoot down” his foes — including machine-gun-wielding rapper, you guessed it, Machine Gun Kelly — with a peace sign.
Judging by his show tonight, the Mod Sun train isn’t coming to a halt anytime soon, but hopefully as his pubescent fans — ahem friends as he calls them — age and marijuana gets legalized in Minnesota, there will be less of a reason for music like his to exist.