Truthbetold on Tribe & Big Cats! next record, Soundset strategy

By Mike Madden

How Rhymesayers set up the Soundset Festival

One of the groups set to make their Soundset debut this year, the duo of the Tribe and Big Cats! was born out of a somewhat unlikely relationship. MC Chris "Truthbetold" Hooks spent parts of his youth in Chicago's south side and began rapping at just six years old, eventually tuning in to guys like Big Daddy Kane and Eric B. & Rakim; producer Spencer "Big Cats!" Wirth-Davis, on the other hand, grew up in St. Paul suburbs and studied classical music in high school to go along with tenures playing bass in various garage bands.

Formative differences aside, however, Truthbetold and Big Cats! have produced an ordinarily unified and idiosyncratic sound. On last December's Make Good, featuring appearances by the likes of Harlem's Smoke DZA and Twin Cities spitter MaLLy, the duo set the album off in directions at once trunk-thumping and silky ("Drive," "Stay High") and hazy and layered ("We Gone," "Jordan Numbers").

Gimme Noise caught up with Truthbetold to chat about learning to rhyme through his uncle's guidance, the Twin Cities' rap scene, and how TTxBC is approaching Sunday's big event.

TTxBC's Facebook page says your uncle didn't just introduce you to rap, but actually made you get into rapping, at the age of six. Could you expand on that?

He was DJing, and he was rapping with some of his buddies. He straight-up forced me to rap back then, and I just kept on doing it.

Did it take you a while to actually enjoy rapping?

Yeah. But I eventually started getting into records and learning more about hip-hop. I got Eric B. & Rakim's Paid in Full back in '93 or '94, when I was about five or six, and that was an inspiration.

Atmosphere's Slug recently remarked that he thinks, as he has for years, that the Twin Cities rap scene is over-saturated. What do you make of that?

It's definitely over-saturated, and there's a lot of garbage out there. Sometimes it seems like everyone I meet is a rapper or a producer or a DJ. And worse, people in the Twin Cities are too nice about people's art. A lot of it is shit, and nobody gets told that.

The last time Gimme Noise talked to you, in December, was the day of Make Good's release. How has the response to the record been since then?

Really good, very positive. What's weird about the shows we're playing now is that people show up and know the lyrics -- and I'm still trying to learn that shit myself [laughs].

What are your intentions for TTxBC moving forward?

We wanna take over the world. This next record we're putting out, Space, on July 10, I feel like that's gonna be our biggest record yet. It's a real smooth album.

Big Cats grew up studying classical music in St. Paul. How does that affect TTxBC's creative process?

The thing about Spencer [Big Cats!] is that he gets song structure. One thing about the rap scene is that there are a lot of rappers, but not everybody knows how to write songs. I think we really [write songs], especially because of Spencer's knowledge.

Much of TTxBC's music has a sort of "conscious" feel to it but is still sonically lively. What do you think is advantageous about that approach?

It makes it easier for people to listen to and to get into, and it's just the kind of stuff we like to make. I listen to "conscious rap" and stuff, but I could never make a political record. And I listen to Waka [Flocka Flame] all day, but I couldn't imagine doing a trap record, either.

Soundset's got to be one of the largest, if not the largest, gigs TTxBC has played yet. How will you approach it as opposed to, say, a bar show?

The only real difference is we'll just be on a bigger stage and, yeah, it'll be more people. But I try to bring the same energy and delivery to every show. Spencer and I don't practice for shit, we just try to go out there and give it our best.

*How Rhymesayers set up the Soundset Festival
*Danny Brown on XXX, almost signing to G-Unit
*Big K.R.I.T. on country rap, dream cars, and playing Soundset

• General admission tickets $46
• VIP tickets sold out
• 11 a.m. Sunday, May 27
• Canterbury Park Festival Field, Shakopee

Nine hours of music will be spread over two main stages and the Fifth Element stage. The day's events also include a B-boy/B-girl DJ tent, live painting exhibit, skate demo area, the Soundset custom car show, and the Last of the Record Buyers live production showcase.

The Official Soundset 2012 Afterparty. 18+, $10-$15, 10 p.m. Sunday, May 27, at First Avenue, Minneapolis. Hosted by Brother Ali and MaLLy and featuring surprise performances by Soundset artists. Beats by Get Cryphy DJs (Plain Ole Bill, DJ Fundo, Jimmy 2 Times, and Last Word).

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