Doomtree MC Mike Mictlan stood on a beaten wooden stage at Austin’s Beauty Bar on Sunday, the club’s closing night; he delivered the impassioned lines of “Team The Best Team” while the other four mic wielders in the group formed a semi-circle behind him, stomping out the song’s deliberate beat in unison. Moments earlier all five rappers – Mictlan, P.O.S., Dessa, Cecil Otter and Sims – were bounding around the stage like ninjas, blazing through high-speed verses individually and in unison while DJs/producers Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak stabbed at their drum consoles to deliver menacing, stuttering beats.
The energy and sense of unity that fueled the Minneapolis collective through a dozen sweaty, generally packed shows during this year’s SXSW came largely from the feeling of discovery generated during the recording of November 2011 release No Kings, its second album and the first that saw the members write as a whole instead of collecting solo tracks released on the group’s Doomtree record label. “We’re all so busy with our own things that we don’t see each other as much as we’d like to,” Sims said after the show. “So even though this is day 55 of the tour, getting together still feels like a special occasion.”
Given their individual workloads, it’s not surprising that the members of Doomtree had to retreat to a remote cabin for five days last summer – away from cell phone service and romantic/marital ties – when the time came to write the new album. P.O.S. is a lauded underground rapper who’s released three albums with Atmosphere’s Rhymesayers Entertainment; Cecil Otter is also a producer who spearheaded last year’s Wugazi DJ project that mashed up Wu-Tang Clan lyrics over Fugazi instrumental breaks, Dessa is an accomplished MC and published poet, and several members have contributed to the Minnesota/Wisconsin indie collective Gayngs, which has featured Bon Iver and Har Mar Superstar among many others.
The result of that creative getaway is a cohesive group statement that showcases the talents of all the Doomtree members, from Sims’ high-speed delivery on the booming “Bangarang” to Dessa’s textured, soulful vocals on “Little Mercy” to their stark storytelling on “Bolt Cutter.” The unified nature of those songs help them get blown up and turned into a pummeling force in concert, where the members get to show off their experience from years of performing as solo artists and together.
“We didn’t think it would go as well as it did, but once we got away from everything else and started writing as a group for the first time, we were coming up with three songs a day,” Otter said. “We’ve all grown up together, some of us went to junior high with each other, and have been a group as Doomtree for more than 10 years. When you’ve been playing together that long you know what works for everyone else and what they’re doing, and that makes everything as close to perfect as it can be.”