From hand-to-hand CD-R sales in the Twin Cities to some of the most interesting album packaging in recent years (P.O.S.‘ Never Better), the Doomtree collective has ascended the ranks of independent Hip Hop without losing the DIY edge that delivered them. Sims’ sophomore album, Bad Time Zoo is the latest solo project in the tight-knit crew’s recent catalog that’s included gems from Dessa, Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger. Contrary to its title, Sims’ second offering has a swaying view of life’s bitter and its sweet, all with a delivery derived from years of live performances.
On the title track, Sims veers into Pigeon John territory – combining his emcee abilities with a bouncy Pop track from Lazerbeak to pull himself from the Rap genre. While the delivery and the drums are peppy, Sims isn’t blowing any bubblegum. Instead, the song illustrates how Hip Hop and 2011 both have become a fast-paced view-finder of each others’ problems. But for the lethal doses of reality, Sims refuses to be a buzz-kill. “Love My Girl” is a sweet ode to one of the constants in his world, and rather than simply serenade his better half, the emcee bemoans Suicide Girls, and reminds himself on hard it is to find love connections, in a generation corroded by drugs and “pissin’ off daddy with those back tattoos.”
The higher points on Bad Time Zoo are when Sims appears to have less structure and more improvisation to his songs. “When It Rolls In” has an arc, as Sims talks about breakdowns and rain providing absolution to those in need. His sung delivery at parts, against Lazer’s percussion comes back to that Doomtree sound, so hard to pinpoint, and yet to appealing beyond the walls of conventional Rap. “The Veldt” also feels like a live instrument interpolation of Raekwon‘s “Criminology” breakdown, as Sims covers corruption and fuckery on a verbal jog from City Hall to the housing projects. “It’s over at the helm / Over-diagnosed / Over-medicated / Over-sexed / Over-burn / All the boundaries over-stepped / All for one is over now / Water-board / Art of War / Too overt / Man overboard / Over and out,” he declares, going into the chorus. This is the kind of clever commentary that speaks to fans of Company Flow, Sage Francis‘ Li(f)e album, and Minneapolis neighbors, Atmosphere.
Sims admits on “Burn It Down,” “Me, I’m just over the line / Under the gun / Out of my mind.” This vantage point makes for an interesting album. Depending on the listener’s worldviews, Sims might just be the lunatic you’re looking for. The emcee’s ability to tackle heavy subjects without mire-some music is his best asset. Moreover, this work shows his place in Doomtree, but provides him a greater unique identity against his sister and brothers. Bad Time Zoo definitely raises the question of where the cages and bars are in 2011.