Hip Hop’s history has long been filled with collectives; the musical genre that is at times violent and filled with anger seems to have a special way of bringing artists together. There are notable groups like the Wu-Tang Clan and N.W.A., each with members that found their own way to contribute to the success of the team, coming together to vault the group as a whole into the national spotlight. Then there’s Doomtree.
Based out of the same city known for Rhymesayers Entertainment and frigid winters, the seven emcees and beat-makers have produced a catalogue of work noted mostly by fans of underground Hip Hop, those who vibe with alternative-leaning albums like False Hopes and Doom Below. Much like these past projects, Doomtree’s latest album All Hands is filled with creative wordplay and lacks the glorification guns and drugs portrayed by some of today’s rappers.
Yet it seems to be this same artistic nature that has turned others away from following Doomtree, as the independent group embraced their outside of the box style over the years, forming their own label and taking the route less publicized. With beats that are mostly comprised of electronic sounds rather than the traditional instrumentals Hip Hop fans are familiar to, All Hands certainly fits the creative mold, yet may be too far off kilter for most to handle.
It starts where most video games end: the “Final Boss.” The message, however, is far from playful. “There goes Johnny sweeping the leg / There goes Jake cuffing the hands / There are things that I’ll never understand / They’re just looking for a buyer / Easy meat, cheap prey supplier,” rhymes Sims, evoking thoughts of the images that have all-too-often appeared on TV screens of late. The beat, created by one of the group’s producers, Lazerbeak, adds to the drama with a series of electronic-sounding waves underneath crashing drums and a rattling bass.
Within the first two minutes of the track, the group’s lone female emcee (Dessa) and fellow rhyme spitter P.O.S – who has arguably has the biggest solo career of any Doomtree member – have also contributed. Each track is a collective composition and no member stands above the rest.
Even with plenty of quotable, smart lyrics – a staple of Doomtree’s image over the years – the blippy production from producer’s Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger and Cecil Otter, along with “Beastface,” the lone track produced by P.O.S., surrounds the album. The synth notes and borderline EDM reliance on electronically created noise fits nicely into the video game references scattered throughout, but strays from the drums that are a staple of most Hip Hop acts and leaves listeners with a challenging listen.
Lines like “You can grow out or grow up, just outlast your peers / And the children of the corn syrup got ‘em by the years,” from emcee Mike Mictlan highlight the group’s strength, but songs like “.38 Airweight” which contains Mictlan’s thought-provoking rhyme also features a scatterbrain beat that can distract the listener. Many of the beats have crashing choruses full of vibrant energy, bringing intensity suited for the heated topics addressed by the group’s rappers, but at times come off cluttered.
Other tracks like “Cabin Killer” (fitting of an album birthed in a cabin far away from the distractions of the 21st century) seem better suited to an album like Yeezuswith their borderline chaotic electronic riffs fitting of a title than includes murder. Much like Kanye’s latest project, emotions run high on All Hands, especially in tracks like “Heavy Rescue” which features plenty of drums and “amens,” but in a similar fashion to Kanye’s latest work, the experimental production on All Hands may hold listeners back.
In an album with numerous references to their region (in the words of P.O.S., “so Midwest”), Yeezus—like production is balanced with a notable taste of Lupe Fiasco, both in lyrical content complexity. And I’m reading like a Rorschach / hiding lines in the pantomime, allegory in a smirk,” rhymes Mictlan, requiring a certain level of intelligence from listeners on “The Bends.” His fellow Doomtree emcees each contribute their own lessons along the way as well, adding to the group’s lyrical legacy.
With a sound that’s one-third punk, one-third underground and one-third Yeezus, Doomtree’s All Hands is a work of lyrical importance covered up by synth notes and drum crashes, its messages left to be decoded by their fans.