Various Artists: Won

Various Artists Won
Noiseland Industries

If you like the theory that rap audiences divide neatly between "gangster" and "backpacker," January 26 provided a perfect test case. That night, major-label Houstonite Paul Wall performed at Escape Ultra Lounge in downtown Minneapolis, while Los Angeles indie Pigeon John played the nearby Lone Tree Annex. Here was hip hop's cultural fault line in high relief: a white rapper on B96 celebrating the diamonds in his teeth, versus a black MC on Radio K lamenting his temp job. "So seems like one half [of you] will be at Paul Wall and the other half at Pigeon John tonight," wrote Lars J. Larson that evening on, the online message board he founded five years ago. "I say we meet up on 6th Street at 1:00 a.m. and have a good ol' fashion dance off. Backpacks [vs.] Air Force Ones."

No showdown occurred, of course. In the end, reports from both shows turned up on DUNation--the ideal faceless interface for fan discussions of race, identity, success, and street cred (amid the usual portion of ass jokes and bluster). To this regular lurker, DU's first compilation of mostly exclusive TC recordings feels like a soundtrack. Non-fame in cold weather is the running theme, with Brother Ali admitting that he rides the city bus home after shows, Tony Bonez finding a rhyme for "government cheese," and EMS threatening your garbage: "You don't know me yet/Until I'm in your backyard stealing charcoal briquettes."

On "I Got Problems," even veteran rapper Musab's stomach is growling. "I ain't clockin' from rap," he discloses, before weighing other illegal options. The tongue-defying version comes from Carnage, who goes abstract: "Confusion with whether or not I'm losing by not choosing only music...I'm feeling mystery, like what the 'DU' in DUNation stands for." (Actually, it stands for "Division Underground.") These themes come together on a Cheap Cologne instrumental, "Middle Children," which links regional and generational frustration by sampling Brad Pitt's "We're the middle children of history" speech from Fight Club. But then the Kanye-like bongos and funky noise behind Mike Mictlan's throaty shout make you believe his retort on the Arrested Development-updating "Revolution": "Generation X is a time bomb, the fuse has been ignited"--never mind the mixed metaphor. Who could be discouraged when local rap sounds this good?

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