Top 20 best Minnesota rappers: #20-11
In 2012, rap music is as definitive a part of Minnesota lore as the Mall of America -- or anything else Muja Messiah name-checks in "Leech Lake" or Slug mentions in "Shhh." Names like Hip Hop High, Headshots, Rhymesayers, the Hip Hop Fest, Soundset, and more signify tangible pieces of a local culture that has been steadily growing for decades, and shows no sign of waning. A bevy of local musicians do more than their fair share to keep hip-hop alive and vital, and so they're the ones who figure into our top 20 Minnesota rappers. --Reed Fischer
20> Ice Rod
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 2003-present | Songs: "Your Body is a Sk8park" and "Camera Phone"
Michael "Ice Rod" Gaughan is the Andy Warhol of our rap generation. Before you die, you must witness an Ice Rod show. His flamboyant outfits and retro steez make him a walking art show. Ice Rod was "wag" even before the word existed, and he probably should be taking royalty credits for that shit. He currently is on the road with his "Chatroulette Dorm Room Freestyle Tour" which is even better than his days taking stage dressed like the Ultimate Warrior and rocking out on a double- or triple-neck guitar with half-naked girls dripping in gold. No one can match the creative genius that is Ice Rod, and if he ever completes that transfer to record, watch out Christian right-wingers. You might have a new enemy. --Lars Larson
"Grab a bottle of Jameson and put it in my face," is Jake "Prof" Anderson's version of pillow talk, and part of a lengthy conversation he's begun about his drinking and the partying that comes along with it. His latest solo album, King Gampo , has its share of serious moments too. Whether the versatile rapper is unloading his rapid-fire side, or taking a more soulful lean with his impressive singing voice, it's all in the spirit of engaging an audience -- even if they're likely to laugh at his expense. What they won't do is doubt his dexterity on the mic. --Reed Fischer
18> St. Paul Slim
Origin: Saint Paul | Active: 2002-present | Songs: "Shut it Down" and " Horses in the Ghetto "
If hip-hop music is the CNN of the streets, then maybe that makes St. Paul Slim the Anderson Cooper of our rap scene. Slim is deadly series and truthful with the subject manner alerting heads that not everything is so great in the Land O' Lakes, but when it calls for a time to just let loose he can jam out with the best of them. He has already shared stages with Atmosphere, Slick Rick, and MC Lyte and he is a current labelmate with another rising rapper in Prof. In most circles he is known for his quiet demeanor, but they always say it's the quiet ones you have to look out for. --Lars Larson
17> Big Jess
It's kinda funny now that Northeast Minneapolis is looked at like a hipster haven or the "new" Uptown with its bars, diners, and places to socialize. Back when World Premier dropped "Nordeast" was just a close knit neighborhood full of hearty drunks who loved their Grain Belt and were proud of their local boys done good, the Unknown Prophets. Big Jess rapped about life on the other side of the river, representing with lower working-class rhymes and epic production. One of the veterans of the scene, he's not getting older he's just getting wiser. --Lars Larson
16> Joe Horton
The endlessly well-spoken Joe Horton used to rap under the name Eric Blair, but recently confirmed that his alter ego is dead -- or in a cabin somewhere. Combine his animated-as-fuck performance acumen with his creative writing scholarship, and you'll end up with the unique Horton-fronted project No Bird Sing. It's a three-piece band -- filled by guitarist Robert Mulrennan and drummer Graham O'Brien -- that's as punk as anything in the local hip-hop scene. Horton's also the type to oscillate quickly between comedy and serious commentary in the middle of a live set. "I don't care if you're a platypus and you're having sex with a rock," he told the 2012 Art-A-Whirl crowd at 331 Club. "If we don't have love, we don't have anything."
Andy "Astronautalis" Bothwell is the freshest transplant on this list. With only about one calendar year of time as a Minnesota resident, he's been an impressive addition to the home team with a blistering live performance style and songs to back it up. Last year's This Is Our Science straddles about a dozen genres, but at its core is his ever-malleable voice. Be it freestyle tales of dispair, or tightly written hooks that are as infectious as they are gloomy, is it any wonder that Justin Vernon recorded an impromptu album with Astronautalis earlier this year? --Reed Fischer
Origin: Minneapolis | Active: 2001-present | Songs: "Burn It Down"
One of the things -- perhaps the thing -- that works so well about the Doomtree juggernaut is how well it balances out the crew's different, but distinctive, personalities. Sims has his own unique space in that group, fitting somewhere between P.O.S.'s cerebral, skate-punk aggression and Mictlan's loose-cannon party-boy antics. There's something almost inscrutable about that mix, too: sure, there's a deep-seated anger that boils somewhere deep in Sims' raps, whether he's revealing the hypocrisy around him or his own complicit behavior. But somewhere beneath it all there's also a big soft, sappy core that just wants to love his girl. --Jeff Gage
13> Muja Messiah
The stereotype that emo backpackers rule the Minnesota rap scene is challenged by one of the hardest spitters to ever ink Minneapolis on their neck. Muja Messiah's brash early days with the firebrand group Raw Villa ("Minnesota started out on some old positive vibe; Villa was like the first fuck-you group," says Muja in a 2000 interview ) live on in his solo work and new group Villa Rosa, and his sense of style and blunt force have not dulled even as his profile rises. His critically-acclaimed 2008 album Thee Adventures of a B-Boy D-Boy remains a local classic, exemplary of the cocky charisma, real-talk political diatribes, and multifaceted street narratives that have set him apart in this scene and abroad. --Jack Spencer
12> Toki Wright
Toki Wright began to make an imprint locally as one half of the C.O.R.E. before branching out on his own, and his time spent touring hard with Brother Ali and being involved with big festivals helped cement him as a major figure in the Minnesota rap scene. It's easy to see why: Toki's songs are powerful and his performances capture everything a rap show should be. Energetic, fun, thought-provoking and heavy-hitting, his wide range reflects the art of true MCing, aiming to both challenge your mind and move your feet. --Jack Spencer
Our own floetress, Desdamona has been singing and rapping around our Cities for years. Her niche is a neo-soul kind of rhythm mixed with spoken word and some original boom bap. Our Des works a 24/7 schedule as she teaches hip-hop to students around the country and is always on tour with various projects, which include Ill Chemistry (with Carnage), Ursus Minor and Sly and Robbie. It's easy to say she's our Queen Elizabeth of the scene, she was here in the beginning, and she will be here till the end. --Lars Larson
Gimme Noise will reveal #10-1 on Thursday.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.